“Maha, I will take him down on the trail,” he said with a thick French accent. Just smiling enough for me to see the missing teeth, “you must go Maha, this is something you only do once in your life. Leave him, I will take him.”
I looked past Vincent, our guide, just in time to see Olivia repel off a rope straight down into the 100-foot waterfall. The roar of the rapids was almost deafening. If I closed my eyes, I almost couldn’t hear the cries of Achilles, hanging onto my leg.
We were well into our morning canyoning, deep in the depths of the French Alps. Vincent wasn’t just any guide we had hired -- he was Alpha’s best friend. When I had met my husband 16 years ago, he was living in Argentiere, a tiny town nestled in towering peaks, climbing mountains with Vincent for almost a year.
Pre-marriage Alpha brought me to Argentiere. To test my character, look for my weaknesses and find my strengths. Unbeknownst to me, over a long dinner Vincent quietly accessed my physique, taking note of my self-confidence. And then it was decided: A very aggressive week of peaks to climb before we headed back home to New York.
“Maha,” he always would remind me after, “Do you remember climbing Tacul, you crying the entire way up because you were so scared to come down?” His laugh was big and jolly, as he smoothed his crazy hair down. Tacul was a peak just behind Mount Blanc, the very mountain that claimed six lives while we were on vacation last week. Lean the wrong way on Tacul and there would have been a major problem. Crying felt like the obvious solution.
Besides his love of teasing, there was also a quiet acknowledgement when he brought up Tacul-- we had climbed together and shared something that few have ever done. Those days in the mountains were moments that would sustain me over the years to come. You see raising a large family had slowed our life way down. It was a victory to get to the mailbox in those early days. I’d often think about that week with Vincent and imagine myself squeezing the very most of life. We would send our Christmas cards to Argentiere, care of Vincent Ravenal, in hopes that he wouldn’t forget that we would come back when we could.
This summer, the kids were ready. Jackson our oldest, was capable of tackling some of the Alps bigger peaks. Olivia was strong and fit and Teddy was good enough. It was our last, Charlie, aka my Achilles, that was a problem. There is no place for a five year old in the mountains. But the nature of a big family is to push the lingering weak link forward so the others could go forward as well. I was impatient at first. Wanting to go on aggressive hikes and climbs. We tapered our expectations and managed to hike for hours everyday. When Achilles got tired, Alpha and I shared carrying him. He was keeping up, in his own way.
On our last day, Vincent took us canyoning – where you can explore hidden gorges, rappel, jump and slide down waterfalls. The kids had heard much about Alpha’s friend over the years and were out of their minds that he would guide them on an adventure. Achilles had been okay to deal with the frigid water even though his wetsuit was hanging off of him. As we held onto rock cliffs, clipped onto a line, Achilles held his arms out to Vincent ready and willing to trust him across. It was the next step, a 10-foot jump into a deep pool below a waterfall that put the kid over the edge. It was time to throw in the towel, question the plan, call it what it was: he was five for god sake.
I’ll stop too, I told myself. I had some fun jumping into the pools, sliding on the falls. Parenting is about compromise. For the last 12 years, I have tapered my expectations. I had learned to hang back.