We all have our own Everest to climb. On the least inspiring days, mine comes in the form of five loads of clean laundry piled on my bed, waiting to be folded. On the most inspiring days, my Everest is a giant canvas in my studio, waiting for me to find the landscape in my imagination. Whether it be an emotional journey or an overseas adventure, we all have felt the pull of a challenge and the reward of reaching a goal. However, as mothers, many of us have put our deeper call on hold. While this is a necessity for a period of time, I think it’s also just as necessary to show our children how to be women who are following our hearts, even if that leads us away from them momentarily. I find myself at times stumbling and other times dancing between the two worlds of tending to the dailyness of family life and the pursuit of my own passions. I hope that the two will someday weave in and out of each other like a braided river, waters and currents crossing and blending.
I’m inspired by women who make these two worlds work. Kit Deslauriers is a Voke TAB and North Face athlete, world-renowned mountaineer and skier, wife, mama of two, and the first person to climb and ski the highest mountain on each continent. Recently, she added author to this list and published Higher Love: Skiing the Seven Summits, a book recounting her remarkable success in climbing and skiing the seven summits. Her account of skiing Mount Everest reveals the physical and emotional strength of a woman capable of doing anything. This accomplishment was followed almost immediately by motherhood. While she has taken on less lofty mountain objectives over the past seven years of raising her daughters, she remains at the forefront of female mountaineers.
When Kit was a young woman, she raised a wolf named Alta, and the two became their own pack, traveling high in the mountains together. Her passion for being in wild, quiet places led her to a career in those mountains which she has maintained through motherhood. She unapologetically carves out days for herself up high because honoring that part of her is not only her job but also allows her to be a better mom. In her book, Higher Love, she writes, “In the wild silence, it became clear to me that in addition to loving my daughters beyond all measure, the greatest gift I could give them was to continue to be true to myself and do what I was born to do. Like a wolf.”
I became curious about how Kit negotiates the transition between cooking hot cereal for the family in the morning and skiing the Grand Teton solo in the afternoon. While I feel accomplished if I squeeze a run into my day, Kit requires a more rigorous training schedule. In order to have time to train and run a household, she has learned to ask for help. She wants her daughters to watch her weave an ambitious career in the outdoors with her beloved role of mama. Being very organized with her time and reaching out for assistance are ways that help her maintain balance and joy on both ends of the spectrum.
After taking a hiatus from big peaks for the last seven years of raising her girls, she recently felt the call to go back for a longer adventure. She is currently on an expedition to climb and ski Mount Makalu, an 8000 meter peak in Nepal. Before she left we talked about how being true to yourself looks different as our lives move forward. Motherhood has both deepened her love of nature and added complexity around how to pursue longer adventures that bring her away from her family. She wrote, “It's not always about charging in the mountains. Or always about staying very close to home because of having kids. It can and does change and that's where I find the challenge and the reward."
And it will continue to change. As her children grow older, Kit feels fortunate to be able to take them with her into the remote wild that inspires her so much. Although there is no way to predict how kids will act when faced with several bush plane rides, defending camp against a curious brown bear or having to sleep in a tent under the midnight sun, she and her husband decided to take the family to the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve this past summer. Kit wrote, “I found that being honest about the wilderness and truthful about what inspires me to be there allowed the kids to see it for what it is, an intact ecosystem where man remains a visitor. After the incident where I got the bear spray out in defense of the approaching brown bear, our youngest said, ‘Mama, there's no need to hurt him, he's just a young bear finding his way in life.’ It may look like a fire was lit in her right then, and although it was, that same fire was fanned even larger in me.”
This dance inspires me to discover and redefine what brings joy into my life. Folding a mountain of laundry leads me to the beautiful expanse of a canvas in my studio. The dance is the Everest of motherhood. It is the braided river where we share our gifts with our children and they, in return, find their own voices and unique passions. By walking our highest paths, we can show our children how to be strong and complete women, dancing our dance as they discover theirs.