Mother Words: Fortified
- Blog Post by: Kay Krhin
- October 5, 2010 - 8:37 AM
Tuesday's essay for Mother Words week on Cribsheet involves the adventure of spelunking with two kids under 4.
Fortified - By Rachel Rosenberg
After about 15 minutes, most people begin to hallucinate. Usually they see bright green visions.”
With that, darkness enveloped us and I gripped Teddy, our 20 month-old son, tighter. I knew that my husband John and our daughter Millie were standing nearby holding hands.
No one spoke for a moment until the guide asked if everyone was doing ok. There were unsure murmurs from the Boy Scout group next to us, but Millie and Teddy stayed quiet.
“This is the darkest it can possibly get,” she continued, her voice echoing off the dripping walls.
“Even if you turn off all the lights in your house and hide in a closet, there is always a small fraction of light that your eyes detect. In a cave they are deprived of any light and so your brain begins to manufacture images.”
While the last statement rattled around us on the limestone, she flipped on her plastic red flashlight.
“Now, is anyone here claustrophobic? This next room can be a challenge for some folks.”
I looked at John. We both shook our heads. No way. For the past hour-and-a-half we had been maneuvering our two young children (both under 4) along slick, narrow paths in ancient limestone caves that once held the promise of gold for those brave enough to climb in and start digging.
Much earlier in the tour in the first room we all marveled at “cave bacon” (a stalactite that appears to be a massive slice of translucent pork hanging from the ceiling), and then our kids quickly lost interest in the wonders of wet marble. Not long after our encounter with subterranean pork, John and I realized the woman at the Chamber of Commerce who recommended this activity probably had never been (A) on a cave tour or (B) trapped in a small space with young children for any amount of time.
While Millie found the cave itself boring, she was simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the older boys. They were a constant source of energy, insults, and sound effects. When they were particularly loud Millie uncharacteristically asked me to hold her, placing her helmeted head on my shoulder.
After the complete darkness drill and over 90 minutes into what was billed as “about an hour tour,” our group began to disappear through a dog-door sized hole at the top of yet another mud-coated staircase. The guide reassured those who worried about claustrophobia, all but shoving them through the hole, and John and I caught one another’s eyes and shared a silent, mutual thought: What made us think spelunking was a safe and interesting activity for our little family?
As if reading our thoughts, there was a tiny sob at my hip. My helmet tipped askew as I looked down. Millie’s hands were over her eyes, her mouth crumpled.
“I just want to go home. I really want to be out of this cave,” she whimpered, speaking for all of us.
I picked her up, her muddy shoes dragging the length of my jeans. Millie tucked her head on my shoulder and the four of us curled around one another seeking warmth and comfort.
From the stairs above us, we heard a noise and our guide emerged.
“I really think you are going to like this next room. It’s the best one.”
John spoke up first, “We can do this. Come on.”
Teddy lifted his head while still sucking his thumb and Millie started climbing the staircase reluctantly.
Measuring 36 inches, Millie was able to turn sideways without crouching through the passage. I had to bend my knees to the ground and perform a partial shimmy. John held Teddy in front of him like he was carrying a 25-pound Thanksgiving turkey from the oven to the table, maneuvering Teddy through the passage first and contorting himself second.
Millie surfaced ahead of me and when the troop saw her, the boys yipped and congratulated her on the accomplishment.
“The little girl made it!” one of them pointed out to his father.
Shyly, Millie ducked her head, her clunky white helmet obscuring her immense smile. I pulled in her close, squeezing her shoulder in pride. The four of us rotated together taking in with delight the luminescent lace-like minerals, the guide’s laser pointer revealing images of dolphins, dragons and Santa Claus.
We stood surrounded by the physical manifestation of the toil of molecules, time, stone, and water and found ourselves changed, as well. Our family fortified, drop upon drop, endlessly forming a structure that is more durable, more interconnected, more magnificent.
Rachel Rosenberg lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and two children. Between preschool drop-offs and pick-ups she works with urban schools serving low-income students. She graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA and holds an MA in Education Administration from San Jose State University.
© 2013 Star Tribune