My Compass

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Not all those who wander are lost.” My entire adult life I was. I was wandering in the woods making the wrong turns at each fork. The compass I carried in my pocket was broken. I couldn’t figure out the right path. I tried to forge my own, only to completely disregard all Leave No Trace ethics and pay for it dearly – time and time again. On occasion, I’d see a beautiful overlook and sit and enjoy it for a moment, only to light a fire and burn the forest down. I was a bull in a china shop.

And then I found out Cheeky Monkey was on his way. I stopped in my tracks. I was terrified. The forest darkened. The path was dimly lit by a small flame and I followed it. It took me deeper into the forest and further into unknown territory – trails that I could barely make out and the only noise I could hear was the faint calling of a Black Bird. The Black Bird was comforting, but still unfamiliar. He made promises to keep me safe in the forest, but I didn’t trust it. I dug deep to find the compass in my pocket, but there wasn’t enough light to read it. I squinted and held the compass up to the flame, but it was no use. I couldn’t see a thing. The Black Bird called out and I hesitantly followed. I held the compass in the palm of my hand, hoping to find enough light so I could read it.

I finally reached a campsite lit by a warm fire. There, I found a small tent with warm comfy pillows and sleeping bags. There was enough space three of us.

Ludington State Park

Cheeky Monkey came to my life in the most inconvenient, but the most perfect time. He was an unexpected surprise, but one that quite literally saved my life. Being a mom wasn’t something I ever “dreamed” of. My mother was quite absent during my teenage years and even before that, I didn’t feel she was present in my life. I knew she loved me, of course, and I loved her, but beyond that, I hardly felt like I knew her. And once she fell into addiction, I was on my own, raising my little sister who was 7 years younger than me. I had no idea what I was doing and I was just trying to survive day-to-day.

So when I was on the path to being a mother, I was terrified. I was convinced I was going to leave the baby somewhere or forget it. I didn’t know what to do and I had, quite literally, no one to turn to talk about my fears. Black Bird was my biggest support. He kept me grounded. He worked hard to provide and save money for the upcoming new addition. And when Cheeky Monkey arrived, I cried. I cried a lot. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried breastfeeding and he wouldn’t latch and he cried. He cried a lot. When the midwife came after 4 days, Cheeky Monkey’s lips were dry and he was dehydrated. The midwife showed me how to pump and because I was so terrified that I would starve him, I stopped trying to get him to latch and exclusively pumped. He became a happy and energetic baby. And grew into a happy and energetic toddler. I was less than happy and energetic. In fact, I was likely at my worst. I was depressed. I had lost myself in being a mother. I had lost my entire identity. I was a good mom, but a horrible human.

Everything changed when Cheeky Monkey was 3 years old – I found Hike it Baby. Hike it Baby is an organization dedicated to getting families with children outside and on the trails. This was exactly what I had needed. Cheeky Monkey was a bundle of energy and being indoors was turning into a real challenge. Hike it Baby gave him the space to get his energy out and gave me the opportunity to get back outside where I spent my childhood.

Parker Mill County Park, Ann Arbor, MI

For the first year of Hike it Baby, Cheeky Monkey and I hiked alone a lot. But being outside allowed us the space to connect. I carried him on my back in an OnyaBaby baby carrier most of the time and this gave us the ability to have many adventures together. I will always remember his little voice in my ear, as we climbed a steep hill, “I believe in you, Mommy. I know you can do it.” And I did. We did. On hikes when no one would show, the same little voice would often say, “It’s OK, Mommy. We will always have each other.” And we did. Wind, cold, rain, snow, and sun, we had our adventures together. He made me fall in love with nature again. He made me love life. He made me a mom. And he made me a better a human.

Waterloo Recreation Area, Chelsea, MI

To this day, I look into his big beautiful blue eyes and I admire the little wild child he is – an old soul, but with so much enthusiasm for life. He squeezes every ounce of joy out of every day. He is kind and stands up for those that can’t or won’t stand up for themselves, even if that sometimes makes him a target. I will never forget, when at just over 2 years old, he asked if we could go to Alabama to visit Martin (Martin Luther King, Jr.) and how obsessed he was over the Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum. I am sure he was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in a past life. I admire his willingness to forgive. If I yell at him or make him upset, I will apologize and he will always say “It’s OK, Mom, I forgive you.” He is a loyal friend and loves to learn new things.

But he is also a ball of energy which can sometimes be overwhelming. He is the child that will not test the pool water, but will cannonball right in. He will touch the stove, even after being warned that it is hot. He will talk and talk and talk about everything and nothing at all. His lust for life is something I long for. He looks just like me, but I hope I can be just like him some day.

Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor, MI
Photo by Amy Diebold

So when I finally reached that campsite with the tent, large enough for three, I sat inside, took the compass out of my pocket, and opened it up. Inside was a picture of a blonde-haired child with big round blue eyes and a toothy smile. I smiled to myself. The compass wasn’t broken. It was a locket – and inside was my future. It led me here, to the exact place where I am supposed to be. He is my compass. This little boy will change the world some day. After all, he’s already changed mine.

D. H. Day Campground near Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes