Majka Burhardt on Being Asked about Mothering and Climbing
Dear Kaz and Irenna,
Today you are 10-months old. This week, the last of winter’s snow left our garden, and the final crocus patch bloomed and closed just in time to escape your attempts to eat its purple petals.
I spent our first winter together pulling you behind me in a tandem sled that gave me independence while keeping me tethered. The woods outside our front door were the winning hat trick: my exercise, your naps and our collective sanity all in one. Together—always together—the three of us did a five-month in-depth study of our backyard ski trail snowpack. We broke trail in two feet of powder, snowplowed rain-soaked crust and swooshed perfect tracks through ankle-deep corn, all in equal measures. And, when things got desperate, we snowshoed.
Your father and I have a combined fifty years in the pursuit of the vertical for life, work and most everything in between. Together in the mountains, we were a well-oiled machine. So when, childless, I envisioned parenthood, I saw your dad and me with a version that was light and fast with lean, efficient systems enabling flexible and endless adventure. Snowshoes—and the gaiters and postholing that accompanied fifty percent of my “ski” outings with you two—were never part of my picture.
Then again, having two of you was never part of my picture.
Back when you both lived inside my growing belly, I fielded questions about my future climbing plans with noncommittal shrugs. I didn’t want to over- or under commit myself. Then it was suddenly January, you were 6-months old, and I was shifting my weight back and forth on stemmed-out mono-points wondering if I should place another ice screw. Now is a good time to tell you that your mom’s always liked gear. And it’s also probably a good time to tell you that, 10 months into your presence in the world, I seem to like it even more. All winter, as you learned to crawl, I climbed myself higher and further with two new rules: I’d place one screw for just before the moment that mattered and one screw for after. Twins, I would tell my partners, my clients, myself—I am the mother of twins.
But don’t be fooled: I don’t think and talk about you all the time when I’m climbing. And that is good—for all of us. We all need time apart, just not too much. This winter I felt utterly myself when climbing, and while with you. It wasn’t hard to know this meant I was supposed to be doing both. What was hard, however—and might always be—was the knowledge that I needed to do both well.
Sometimes I wish I could make it easier on all of us and want less. I wish I could take climbing and the elation and lust and risk that accompanies it out of our family picture. In our newfound time, we could make kale cupcakes, hand-sew your clothing and maybe even remember to brush your newly emerging teeth. But instead we are learning how to manage vertical passion as a family.
Will we all go climbing together? Will we tie in over glaciers, up aiguilles and through icy notches? I think we have to wait and see what you want and what your dad and I can stomach as you become the extension of ourselves we cannot control.
For now, and at least a little while longer, I can pluck you away from danger and into my arms. I can go climb at 8 a.m. and come home at 4 p.m. and be devoured by double kisses and four sticky hands.
Not everyone will think that I’m making the right choices. This March, I taught a 30-year-old man named Yun how to ice climb over the span of four days. On our first day he learned I was your mother and he asked me what I was doing guiding him if I had you at home. On our second day he told me, as if commiserating, that he understood that I could guide nearby home, but could never take a climbing trip. On the third day he announced that perhaps I could take a climbing trip, but never one with your dad. And on the fourth day, as I pumped milk from my body sitting two feet away from him on a sunny belay ledge four-hundred feet up our route, he asked me where Peter and I were planning our next expedition.
Today, ten months into knowing you two, I can say with certainty that our life together is like those four days with Yun, but spread out and compressed in an endless and beautiful loop. There will be limits I don’t want. There will be understanding I don’t expect. There will be climbing. There will be plans that change for the better and for the worse. And, if I have my way, the four of us will always be both tethered and independent.
This article first appeared in the AMGA’s GUIDE Bulletin magazine (Summer 2017).