We are not as far as we hoped to be milage wise. There are a number of reasons for this. First, when we started we ran into bad weather. Weather has been a constant challenge for us. From high winds, to hail, torrential rains, freezing temps, snow, lightening, and flooded trails, I think we have experienced all but tornadoes. Our friend sent us a message that told us that the winds that he had experienced the other night were measured at speeds between 80 and 100 mile gusts, sustained winds near 40. That is crazy. We were thankfully not on the mountain, but that also means that we were not hiking.
Yesterday, we had a plan to hike an 11 mile section, and though we most definitely could have done it, we decided instead to take a break away from the hikers, and spend a quiet day at the library in Erwin. After spending several hours there, we made our way over to McDonalds for lunch… not so healthy, but it was inexpensive.
While we were there, we had a long talk about what we really hoped to gain from our experience on the trail. We discussed the difference between our goals to hike the entire trail vs. the goal to grow as a family, and personally. We talked about how the trail has changed us.
Here is where I become far more transparent than I have been in the past about how adopting Ava and Zoey has changed our lives, and how even now, we are working through the deep, raw feelings of loss.
Yesterday, while we were sitting at McDonalds, we asked Ava how she was feeling. She gave us a half cocked smile, and then said, “Fine.” We asked her what she has been enjoying about the trail, she would not answer. Then we asked her what she thinks about when she is hiking. She again, in a voice only slightly louder than a whisper, said, “Nothing.” It would be OK if she answered these questions in the manner that she did, if she was consistent in being shy and reserved. The problem, that has become all the more evident than when we were home, is that she will share with perfect strangers how she is feeling. She lets other hikers know that she is tired. She lets other hikers know when she is hurting. She talks to other hikers, but not with us. After nearly four years of being home, she treats Ryan and I more like we are the adults who are obligated to take care of her needs than she considers us her parents. I cannot imagine all that goes on inside of her. We are sensitive to the fact that her past was laced with trauma that we cannot understand.
Here is where this collides with the trail. Taylor really wants to finish the trail. We had originally given ourselves until the end of the season to reach Katahdin. The kids understand that if school doesn’t start until mid-October that they will have to approach their schooling with gazelle like intensity. This next year, Taylor will be a senior. He will be preparing to leave home. Though we have worked hard to launch him well and can clearly see that he is ready, the hole that will be left will be huge. He has become not only an amazing son, but also a great friend. He challenges both Ryan and I to become better parents and better people. The contrast between the hours of conversation (sometimes extremely difficult conversation) with Taylor, and the forced one word answers of Ava is so stark.
We long so badly to understand. We long so badly to know what hurts and to offer comfort. We long so badly to see her break free from her past as an orphan, and to be let into her circle of trust. As we talked with all of the kids, Ryan and I see so clearly how by trying so hard to meet her needs, we have neglected the needs of the other kids. No one is begrudging of this, but balance must be restored.
Ava really wants to go to the charter school she has been accepted to, and truly, I know the realities of trying to homeschool five kids, but we find ourselves at a crossroad.
If we choose to finish the trail, as we had originally set out to do, we satisfy the deep desire of Taylors heart. And as parents, we are faced with the reality that this might be the last opportunity to have this kind of experience with him. If we choose to finish the trail, Ava doesn’t get to go to the school she is looking forward to attending this fall.
If we choose not to finish the trail, we leave with the physical aspect of our goal, undone. Another finish line, uncrossed. Taylor has shared his heart about this, and though he is trying to be understanding, mature in his response… we can see in his eyes how much he wants to reach Katahdin, as a family of seven. If we choose not to finish the trail, Ava may be able to go to school, where she would benefit acadmically, but we run the risk of further polarization. We’ve been down this road before. It is a hard road emotionally, even if the burden of teaching is no longer on my shoulders.
We talked about this at length with Ava. For the first time, without anger, but with deep sorrow, I was able to convey my heart to her. I have pursued her, continued to pursue her… I will always be here, I love her, but that I am unwilling to give up time with Taylor, Kole, Riley or Zoey, in effort to try to prove something to her. I will always love her, but relationships are two ways. I affirmed to her that I see what a beautiful and strong young woman she is. We let her know all of the great things she does, and that we are so grateful for her. When the rare moments of connectedness occur, I savor those moments.
I know that some of you are going to have opinions about this. Please know that any judgements that you make about this situation are from an outsiders perspective. We know that Ava is amazing. We long to know her the way that she has allowed herself to be known by others… even some of you.
We have been on the trail one week short of two months. Ryan and I can count on our two hands the number of times that Ava has initiated communication with us. Much of the time, Ava keeps pace with Kole. I’m not convinced that she really likes to go that fast, but that she doesn’t really want to be near the two of us.
Our conversation has led us to make two hard and fast decisions. First, Ava will be hiking a good amount of time with me and Ryan. Please pray for us. Please pray that the time that we spend together, and that our time on the trail will be healing for her, and for us. Secondly, we have made the decision to stay the course of a north bound thru hike. We will do as much as we can, get as far north as we can, and assess the heart conditions of everyone mid-August.
We set out on this journey for the express reason to come together as a family. From separation because of the military, the two years that Ryan was in New York, adoption, cancer, and brokenness in each of us, we have much healing to do. Healing is beginning, but really we are just uncovering the issues that we need to work through. Since we now know more about what the issues really are, we are now able to start the process of working through them. No one has escaped all that we have been through unscathed, but we know that with time, with Gods grace, with intention and with hard work we can heal. We are committed to whatever is best for each member of our family, not just for the short term but especially for the long term.