November 3, 2009

On Horses and Motherhood

Some years ago, as a young woman - I had developed quite a deep crush for a cowboy I had met during a summer retreat.  A young man who had lived his life, along with his four siblings, on a ranch in the hills of California raising horses and cattle.

One summer in particular, he held a large get-together and I was invited. I don't recall too many details about that warm summer day, so many moons ago - but one thing that has always stuck with me was my entry into the world of horses.

Mr. Cowboy invited me to join him on a ride.  Not on two separate horses, mind you.  On one horse.  (I'm all aflutter...or I was back then)  What could be better?  Me and Mr. Cowboy...trotting along, wind in our hair, my arms wrapped tightly around him...

Everything about horses was so mysterious.  So beautiful it seemed.  So majestic.  Didn't everyone at some point want to ride one?  Didn't everyone want to "tame the beast" and feel the wind racing past them?  And when I had seen others riding horses, it was as if the two went together - horse and rider.  A perfect pair. 

But I had never been on a horse before.  Not in the literal sense.  Carnival tent horse chained up to ten others walking in a circle - not accounted for.  A real horse - a ranch horse.  Beautiful and tall and well groomed with a shiny coat.

Mr. Cowboy walked him over to me - leading him by the bridle.  The closer he came to me the more I began to see just how massive and regal he was.  He snorted and I jumped.  "whoa" came the reply from Mr. Cowboy.  "Whoa, boy...she's alright..."

I approached with my hand and arm extended.  Only a short distance to cover, my hand gently moved down his side.  He flinched slightly, but relaxed and allowed me my moment for fawning.

Mr. Cowboy assured me that he was a gentle giant.

After Mr. Cowboy aligned himself with the saddle and stirrups, I waited below in my white jeans and peach sweater to be valiantly lifted to the front of Mr. Cowboy.  Instead, I was unceremoniously hauled up by my right arm and scooted into place behind not just Mr. Cowboy, but the saddle as well.

Yes, I was sitting on the horses...well, ass.

I heard the click of Mr. Cowboy's tongue and suddenly we were in motion.  Sadly for me, there was nothing to hold on to, save the death clutch I had on Mr. Cowboy's t-shirt.  Nothing for my feet to secure, nothing for my seat to sit on but a bouncing horses bottom.  Nothing to later help me substantiate my claim of what should have been the most romantic moment of my life...

Before I could really get myself comfortable in my already awkward position, I heard the click -click of Mr. Cowboy's tongue again.  Being too proud to make a protest, I felt rather than saw that we were now moving much more quickly.  Galloping is the word I would use. 

My eyes began to focus on dirt and grass and it was unfortunate that the realization that I was sliding off the side of the horse was the reason for my downward viewpoint.  Yes, it was grass I was seeing coming at me much to quickly.  I had slid quite quickly down the left side of the horse and heard myself cry out.  It wasn't loud enough.  Mr. Cowboy didn't hear, or didn't notice that I was careening off the side of the "majestic" beast.  I screamed.  Now he looked back and down and saw me dangling, holding on to a shred of his t-shirt for my dear sorry little life and clinching my legs so tightly to the side of the horse, you could have mistaken me for a pair of pliers.

Wait!  I wanted to shout.  Hold on!  This isn't how it's supposed to go!  We're supposed to be riding gracefully, my arms around you, pointing out lovely things we spy, my hair...oh you know the rest.

Well honey, this wasn't it.

He reached down and extended his hand to me, which I grabbed with all the strength I had left in my city girl biceps.  Which is nothing.  I felt my legs giving out.

It was as if the horse knew and he seemed to pick up speed.

Mr. Cowboy pulled in the reins and the horse started to slow just slightly.  Meanwhile, I reached and reached until I was no longer looking at gravel.  As the horse slowed to a stop, Mr. Cowboy lost his grip at the same time I lost mine and I fell quite hard to the ground in a puff of dust and dirt.

I stood up and Mr. Cowboy had an annoying smirk on his face.  He dismounted and helped me up, but I could feel the bruises starting to swell on my legs and backside.  Stupid horses.

Who wants to ride a horse anyway?  Who it's big and perfect and "regal" and whatever...that was just about as fun as getting my hand slammed in the car door.  Romantic as a cold blanket.

Needless to say, my white jeans were now brown and worn down where I had held my thighs in such a tight grip.  My peach sweater was covered in sweat and dust.  My hair was a disaster and I was trying hard not to cry so that Mr. Cowboy wouldn't think me a baby.

More than anything, my pride was hurt.  How could I be such a miserable failure at something that seems so beautiful and natural?  How could I embarrass myself so spectacularly in front of the one person I was trying so hard to impress?

So my story with Mr. Cowboy ended and we both went on to marry wonderful people.  But my awe of horses was altered permanently.  Albeit, I had a bad ride.  Granted.  But I had so much more respect for the rider and the horse.  It wasn't effortless, as it appeared.  It was hard work and it took skills and patience and good timing.  It took practice and a love of riding...

And so here I sit, many years later - sort of giggling, sort of cringing over the memory of that summer day with Mr. Cowboy.

And here I ponder how much becoming a mother has mirrored that solo horse ride.  Yes, it's true - I've NEVER attempted to ride another horse.  Opportunity has yet to present itself.  But I am taken aback by the simple parallels that run between the two.  Horses and Motherhood.

So many times in my early married life, I looked on other women and their children and thought to myself "how perfect".  Wondering what it would be like and having romanticized visions floating in my head of how my own motherhood scenario would play out.

And infertility versus adoption aside, I can skip right to the parenting portion when I say that from the moment I approached my son, from that first time I tried to lift myself into the role of being someones Mother...I faltered.  My foot slipped and I was yanked up by my arm and into position.

I was still grasping for a good grip when the motion of parenting took over and I was forced to hold on with everything I had.  Just when I think I have my bearings, the ride speeds up and I find myself sliding off the side - nothing to do but hold on for my dear sorry little life and reaching out for whatever I can hold on to.

Sometimes I yelp and no one hears or seems to notice.  And sometimes I cry and scream "HELP ME!  I can't do this!!"  Suddenly I find warm hands reaching down to pull me back up into position, those of Anton, or friends and family. 

The ride is daunting sometimes.  Sometimes beautiful.  Sometimes majestic.  Sometimes painful.  But always worth it.  Always a wonderful adventure I would never have known had I only sat on the side and admired the other riders.

I now have so much more respect for the rider and the horse - the mother parenting the child.  It isn't as effortless as it appears.  It's such hard work and it takes skills and patience and good timing.  It takes practice and a love of riding...a love for your children that exceeds every emotion you've ever felt or ever will feel.

Soon I believe I'll find myself riding bareback, and reining in two little ones.  Could you pull me up if I start to lose my hold?

I knew you would...


Valerie said...

Fantastic visionary writing.

You know what they say, when you fall off a horse you HAVE to get back on.

I'll pull you up and I know without even asking you will do the same for me.

You forgot to mention the part about all the mucking of the diaper stalls.

Love V

Love Letters To China said...

What a wonderful story... every word of it is so true. Thank you for sharing.

S.Wise said...

There you go again with your beautiful writing! This was so touching and beautiful. I wish I lived near by to pull you up, but I'm here none the less!

Anonymous said...

I am loving the peach shirt and white jeans...I think I had the same outfit. ha! Mr. Cowboy doesn't sound too sensitive and patient..he put you on the arse?! OMG!.. I love your writing and the connection is fantastic.

The Gang's Momma! said...

You are such a gifted writer. A great metaphor for this wild ride we call parenting. And yes, I'll pull you up if you pull me up. Or rein me in. Whichever the case may be :)

Anonymous said...

this is fantastic. you should have this printed in a parenting magazine! are you looking for an "at home" job? you have a gift with words and making us all seem normal. thanx for the sanity! mrs.k.