Monday, 31 December 2018

Thank you, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a really low ebb emotionally. Depression and anxiety were hitting hard and I felt like a failure as a parent. I needed to make dinner, and instead I was sobbing uncontrollably.

On impulse, I reached out to a friend who was a single mother, who had gone through much bigger challenges than I was facing, and—most importantly—who had shared some of her struggles with depression on Facebook. I messaged her asking if she had any advice or things she’d like to have known…

She immediately wrote back: “First of all, I love you. You are wonderful, and strong, and amazing.” Followed by a long, reassuring chat with sympathy, sharing and advice. My tears dried up, and afterwards, I made dinner and things were fine. 

Oddly, this woman and I have never met, and we hadn’t really talked in years. We met about fifteen years ago on a text-based online roleplaying game and for ten years we’ve been Facebook friends, idly keeping track of each other’s lives without necessarily communicating.

But that was enough for me to get hold of her when I needed her. That was enough for me to know she was the person I needed. I know a lot of single mothers, and I’m sure many of them have found themselves crying at a time they need to make dinner… but they hadn’t shared that. This friend had… and because she had been that candid about her journey, I knew she would be the voice of experience I needed in that moment. 

Don’t knock internet friendships and don’t knock over-sharing. Sometimes these things are a lifesaver.

Don’t knock the more traditional form of friendships either. My closest friend geographically lives on my street. Twice this year, I’ve called on her because I was having a panic attack while the kids were at home. Both times, she’s dropped everything and come to get me through it, calming me down and doing some on the spot parenting. I can never repay her for that.

These are just two friends of the many who have helped me get through this year. I don’t know if they all appreciate just how grateful I am to them, so in the spirit of counting my blessings, I sent as many as I could remember a note of thanks, and I’d like to put the full list here. It’s been a year of gestures, big and small, that have meant the world to me. (In the interests of keeping this vaguely concise, I’ve mentioned only the gesture that made the biggest difference to me… A lot of the people on this list have helped in multiple ways.)

Thank you…
… to my brother and his wife for getting me out of the house and doing stuff when it first happened. The advice was to say ‘yes’ to everything, and they gave me no shortage of things to say ‘yes’ to.
… to my parents who have, at times, driven me crazy with their helicopter worrying, but who have given me very real practical help. I feel like I should be too old to be using them as a safety net, but apparently not yet!
… to the old family friend whose husband had left her in their retirement years, who shared with me her conflicted feelings and sympathized with mine.
… to the friends who came and watched Survivor with us every week for three months, keeping a tradition alive for my kids, despite the problems with their own marriage.
… to the mutual friend who understood that I needed to talk with sympathy for my husband, and who helped me deal with those complex emotions.
… to said mutual friend’s boyfriend who stepped up to the grill when I organized a barbeque with no real plan or preparation for how to cook everything.
… to my photographer / reprobate-Mom friend, for helping me celebrate the last wedding anniversary and the first Christmas alone.
… to the school friend who isn’t on social media but remembered to email me on my birthday to check how I was doing.
… to the University friends who drove me around and helped watch the kids on our annual UK trip.
… to every old UK friend who reached out with messages both of moral support and practical information on living in the UK.
… to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for coming together for my cousin’s wedding, demonstrating to me and the children that whatever happens, we’re still family.
… to my cousin for inviting my sister-in-law to her wedding, despite having met her only once before, at my wedding thirteen years ago.
… to the wonderful people in attendance at my Montessori workshops who made that such an uplifting experience which gave me so much hope for my future.
… to the guy who invited me to a Christmas party among a social circle I thought I had lost.
… to the guy I met on a dating app, for taking me on when I was so screwed up, for sharing a month of caring for and understanding each other, and for allowing me the most graceful break up in history when I realized I wasn’t ready.
… to the parents of my children’s friends, who invited us to parties, gave my children so many fun experiences and offered their sympathy and support at every turn.
… to my daughter’s teacher who shared her own experiences and showed so much patience with my unreliability.
… to the couple who played Santa Claus and dropped a Christmas gift on my doorstep just when I needed it.
… to the friends who confessed to me in private that they were also going through the end of their marriages, even if they didn’t want to talk about it publicly. It was good to know I wasn’t alone.
… to the crazy nerds at the parkour group for teaching this introvert that she’s more capable than she thinks she is, and for being obnoxious to my children in all the right ways.
… to the internet friends who let me hang out like a wet blanket in their AirBnB during a Boston meet up, when I wanted to do nothing in good company.
... to so many people who I'm probably and regrettably forgetting.
… to my children who have been loving and amazing, who  reminded me to have fun when I forgot, who have put up with one hell of a lot this year, and who have given me the motivation to reach out to people when I needed to. 

If it wasn’t for the children, I would have been too afraid to bother my friends on my account… yet bothering friends helped me regain perspective on how lucky I still am. There’s a line in one of my favourite books, the Millstone by Margaret Drabble: “If I asked more favours of people, I would find people more kind.”

This is the lesson I am taking away from 2018. Thank you, all.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A Little Piece of Miracle

Some Christmas miracles are about good friends and good timing...

A little after 9pm on Christmas Eve, I was putting the kids' presents under the tree and becoming increasingly conscious that there was nothing there for myself, barring the little tissue paper package that my daughter had brought home from school and which had promptly been buried by their gifts.

For the record, my family aren't terrible people. I had asked for giftcards this year so I can buy a new camera. I assured them that that was all I wanted, and there was no need to get anything else just so I had something to unwrap. I tend to get twitchy about gifts that exist for the sake of gifting and never actually get used, so I fully believed this at the time. On a material level, I didn't care.

My cat knows that all I need for Christmas is her

Yet one of the things that sometimes gets to me as a single mother is that I am nobody's priority. The children are my priority, but by the nature of that relationship, I'm not theirs. We say it's the thought that counts, and my Christmas tree was telling me that nobody was thinking about me.

It's daft, but I was fighting a lot of feelings on Christmas Eve, and this was just the final straw of desolation.

Then came a ring at the doorbell. I answered it to find a giant pink Disney Princess giftbag on my doorstep with a tag saying "Merry Christmas, Sarah."

Going downstairs, I found one of my friends about to pull out of my drive. The bag was from him and his girlfriend... she went through divorce with children some years back, and it was her idea to do this for me. He hadn't been sure if I'd be home, but when he saw me, he stopped his Christmas Eve errands and let me make him a cup of tea. (He got unlucky that this was the year we stopped doing cookies for Santa.)

When the kids came home the following morning, they opened their gifts, and I went through that bag which contained a stocking and other assorted silly gifts, all individually wrapped. I giggled a lot, felt loved and thoughts were counted all over the place.

Note to self for next December and all the ones thereafter: if I have a newly single parent in my life, make sure they have something under their tree that isn't for the kids.

For the record, the solutions I went with for my earlier Christmas dilemmas was to have the children spend Christmas Eve with their father. He took care of their stockings and they opened the rest of their presents with me, mid-morning. For dinner, we joined with my friend's family who were welcoming and merry in all the right ways. So on a practical level, Christmas was very easy for me this year, and on an emotional level, there was a lot of good along with the inevitable. Very grateful to everybody who helped out.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Completing my Course

Last week, I submitted my final piece of coursework, completing all the requirements for the Montessori Diploma I started in March 2017. I was supposed to complete in August when I did my workshops and took the exams, but owing to all the divorce stuff going on this year, I fell wildly behind schedule and they granted me an extension. Even then, I hoped to complete in October. But things kept on happening and interfering, and although I was still plugging away at it whenever I had time and focus (the latter being a major issue this autumn), I grew concerned that I was not going to complete it in time to actually apply for jobs.

So in November, I decided that enough was enough and I was going to make the coursework a priority. And then about two weeks later, I realised that me making it a priority didn't mean the rest of my life made it a priority...

So I went to extinction level. For three weeks, I treated the coursework as my newborn baby, and sat on the sofa with it to the exclusion of almost everything else. The laundry was done, but that was about it. The house went to rack and ruin. The children were largely left to fend for themselves: screentime restrictions were almost totally lifted, but they also had to make most of their own meals.

I feel like I have seen this story elsewhere online: the mother, for whatever reason, stops doing the cooking and cleaning, the home environment degrades... and the family suddenly realises just how much she does for them; reformed and loving, they step up to the plate and start taking the burden of household chores on themselves.

Yeah, not in my house. It is quite possibly a Christmas miracle that none of us died from dysentery.

(That was a joke. No need to call social services.)

The other result was that I stopped going out almost completely except for chauffeuring the kids and the weekly grocery shop. Once a week, I would go and socialise with a few friends—and that was all the adult interaction I would have for that week.

It worked. I finished my observations of my friend's toddler and wrote out the child study. I studied and self-tested for the last three topics of my curriculum planning module and wrote out a concept web and a subject web for a theme on snakes. And I submitted that last piece on my daughter's last day of school before Christmas.

However, three weeks of isolation amid clutter is depressing to say the least, so it wasn't as triumphant a moment as you might expect. I submitted, then cleaned the house in a daze. The kids were ecstatic to hear that I could actually do stuff with them again, but I only felt numb and weepy for a couple of days.

Fortunately, I have tremendously kind friends, and since last Friday, I've been to a Christmas party, celebrated my birthday—taken out to lunch by one pair of friends, taken out to dinner by another—caught up on some parkour training and have another party to attend tomorrow. I feel well and truly rehabilitated into society.

It's perhaps today that it's really sunk in. I'm done. (Assuming no corrections are needed.) I still have a lot of other crap to do, but I can write for leisure again and not feel guilty about it.

I don't know when I'll get my result... probably not until after Christmas. Based on the exams I took over the summer and the earlier coursework I've done, I should be on track for a distinction, if I can maintain that mark through these last two modules.

I want that distinction. I know it doesn't really matter... the key thing is passing and getting the diploma, and God knows, I was never really bothered in school about the difference between an A and a B. But this year's been hell, and completing the course was so much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be... Getting a distinction would be a personal victory on a couple of different levels: I was able to keep all the crap going on this year from interfering with this aspect of my future, and this is something I am really and genuinely good at.

Because I am. I'm incredibly smart about this stuff. I get what I'm doing with these young children and I love doing it. It's never going to earn me a lot of money—something which is unfortunately far more relevant now than when I started this course—but this is a career I will be successful in.

Anyway. That's step 1 of the move, finally complete, so I am... roughly six months behind schedule. Le sigh. The next few steps can at least be more concurrent as I try to find a job after not working for eight years, figure out where I'll be living and how much everything is going to cost... I've already started on this, but this weekend, I'll give myself a day off and take my long-suffering children to Dickens Town followed by Mary Poppins.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Ending the Magic

The scene: the school run. Me driving, the kids in the backseat.

My son asks me: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Now, I detest the Santa Claus tradition. I think it's an outdated custom from an era when children were scared into good behaviour. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that it makes me lie to my children... and I'm really annoyed by the fact that the lie actively sends the wrong message: Thanks to Santa, Christmas isn't about giving presents but about receiving them.

"But the magic of Christmas!" cry all my friends and family. And I grumble "Bah, humbug," give into peer pressure and carry on lying to my children and wondering when on earth they will finally twig that Santa can't possibly be real. (My brother told me when I was five, so I don't really remember believing.)

This year, my son is ten. So when he's asking me if I believe in Santa, I'm thinking he wants an honest answer. Not to mention, this year, I've been extra conscientious about being upfront with him. So...

Son: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Me: "No."

Son: "But how do you think the presents get under the—Do you put them under the tree?"

Me: "Do you really want to have this conversation?"

Daughter: "I bet you won't get any presents this year."


Me: "I probably won't."

Daughter: "... you only got, like, two, last year."

This appears to be a shining example of the difference in cognitive development between a seven year old and a ten year old. Or perhaps of believing what you want to believe. (For the record, I actually got plenty of presents last year.)

My son persisted in asking questions, so I finally told him we should have this conversation that evening. As soon as he got home, he asked again, and I said we'd wait until his sister had gone to bed.

"Uh oh," he said immediately. "That's not a good sign for my imagination."

"We don't have to have this conversation if you don't want to."

He did. So at bedtime, I asked him what he wanted to know.

"Do you put the presents under the tree?"


And that was that. Childhood over. Soul crushed.

He had a lot of questions, which I expected: where did we buy all those small presents for the stockings? Where do we hide the presents? (I didn't answer that one. His theory is the garage.) Did I wrap my own presents? How do we put them under the tree? And of course: "... Wait. You eat the cookies and milk, don't you??"

What I didn't expect was how cross he was about the magic not being real. He actually felt we should have come clean when he was younger so it wouldn't be so sad to find out. He'd always liked the idea that there was still some magic in the world, because Santa came at Christmas.

"What about those Santa tracking apps?"

"It's all made up."


I did talk about my own thoughts about the spirit of Christmas being in the giving and the love, but by and large, he wasn't as interested in that as he was about the mechanics of this great deception. So we also discussed why we had kept the pretense up, and I advised him not to say anything to his friends or sister, explaining that if people still want to believe, we should let them believe. (Not always the greatest philosophy, admittedly.)

He agreed with me, but apparently he's going to ask his teacher how it feels to lie to her children. And he's going to campaign not to leave any cookies out this year.

His resolve not to tell his sister lasted all of five minutes. As he went to bed, he poked his head in her door (he likes to wish her goodnight) and told her that I'm the one who puts the presents under the tree. She apparently took it pretty well. I suppose we'll see what she says tomorrow!

Oh, and he checked with me about the tooth fairy as well. So we destroyed all the magic tonight. At least with that one, he was unreasonably entertained by my account of how I'm always petrified he's going to wake up while my hand is under his pillow.

Anyway, they'll be at their father's for Christmas. We'll open our presents when they get back, and—if I need to—I'll let them think I opened my stocking earlier. Then we'll go to dinner with a friend's family. Everything will be low-key, and I have minimal planning to do which is a huge relief. Next year, I can get back to being excited about everything Christmas. This year, it's not about the magic.

Bah, humbug to all and to all a good night!

Friday, 23 November 2018

Single Parent Christmas advice wanted!

Over the past week, I've found myself thinking about Christmas and getting weepy. I think of our Christmas traditions... I get weepy. I've attempted to be practical about it and discuss it with the children's father... I get weepy. I've tried to make a plan, which has been my fallback for the other days when his absence will be felt... and I get weepy.

Now, I have nothing against a good cry, but choking up every time I think about Christmas is about to get really inconvenient and tedious. (Not to mention it will cost me a small fortune in tissues.)  It's not like I'm the only person this has ever happened to—and that thought made me realise that I could just ask more experienced people how they handle the single parent Christmas, and/or what they recommend for that first Christmas (or other family-oriented holiday) after the break-up. Hence this blog post!

I'll accept general advice, but I have a couple of particular dilemmas:

What do I do about my stocking when there's nobody to fill it?
Option 1: Fill it myself, just for the sake of participating when we open stockings. - This sounds really hollow and depressing.
Option 2: Don't bother hanging up my own stocking and just do the kids'. - Down side is this may create questions about Santa Claus, but honestly, that's a pro in my Santa-hating book.

Current but vague plan would have the kids with their Dad for Christmas morning, so option 2 is the most probable one, but I'm curious as to how other single parents deal with this?

What do I do on Christmas Day?
Going by the afore-mentioned vague plan, the kids will open presents with their Dad and have dinner with me. Not quite sure when the crossover will be, but there are going to be some hours of Christmas Day when it's just me, and I have no idea what to do with myself. I won't have any family in town this year. Secondly, what do I do about dinner for just three people, two of whom dislike turkey, gravy and roast potatoes?

Option 1: Go to my friend's Mom's house - My friend's mom does not know I have been invited yet, but we are assuming she'll be cool.

Option 2: Invite other similarly at-a-loose-end people over to our place to increase the number of diners/company.

Option 3: Dump the children with their Dad for a few days, and visit friends who don't celebrate Christmas. - Honestly, right now, this is the most appealing. I'd be perfectly happy to enjoy the Christmas season but skip celebrating the actual day this year. Granted, I don't know if their Dad can take them for that long, but I have a number of Jewish friends. At least one of them could put me up for a few days, right?

In more general encouragement terms, what are people's solo traditions for Christmas? And/or what are the advantages of being by yourself on this day?

(For the record, being British, I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving, but I took the kids for an overnight trip to Mt Vernon just so we'd be doing something special, while everybody else was posting heartwarming things to social media. We had a great time.)

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Open letter to my husband's girlfriend

The time has come for us to talk directly to each other. All year, I’ve been avoiding you. I’ve been trying not to get involved. As I hope Rich has told you, I believe you should have no part of our divorce. The relationship he has with you is none of my business, and the divorce is none of yours.

However, you are not comfortable with being kept out of this.

I don’t entirely know your motives. I know you have taken things personally that I never meant personally. I know that I was the one to end our friendship, but I originally did so to avoid the grief of seeing the person I loved with somebody else. I know that despite this grief, I did not end my friendship with Rich. This was not so much a personal choice as a practical one… Owing to the children, I cannot sever ties with Rich.

The relationship between you and me has broken down further since that original moment of grief. We’re both angry with each other, and it seems we’re both wary of each other’s motives. Because we’re not talking, because we don’t see each other, we are able to assume the worst. I hope that by resuming some form of direct communication, we will demystify ourselves a little and understand the human emotions and fears affecting us.

I have a tendency to ramble—I’ve already done so, but I will try and break down my perspective on this into bullet points.
  • My role in Rich’s life is not “the ex-wife” but “the mother of his children,” and I’m going to have that role for the rest of our lives. One of our main objectives ever since this started has been to remain amicable, so that we can co-parent effectively. Even once the children are grown there are going to be events and gatherings when they will want us both to be there. We want to be able to do that for them.
  •  I understand that you’re not comfortable dating a man who is still married to somebody else. With all due respect, you made that choice back in February or March. You knew how recently we had separated (i.e. an immediate divorce was not an option), and you knowingly entered a situation with two emotionally volatile people who had yet to adjust to the massive change in their lives.
  • You are afraid of him going back to me. This is a natural fear. A lot of people do try to patch up the marriage within a few months of ending it. I have a couple of points that might help.
    o  He wants you, not me. I don’t think you’re convinced of this, but I am.
    o  I don’t want him back. I have learned this year that no matter our intentions, Rich and I can only hurt each other. We are enabling each other’s worst behaviors and our personal relationship is very damaging. Another reason to focus only on our role as parents.
  • I do have some sympathy for your situation. I ask that you have sympathy for mine.
  • I’m not just losing a husband, I’m losing a home. I have to make a new life for myself and for my children in the UK. The prospect of moving was overwhelming for me. I wasn’t ready to deal with the realities of divorce at the time you first asked Rich to file, and that took an emotional toll as well. While you may have intended to move proceedings along, it is more probable that you are slowing things down.
  • Nevertheless, I am leaving the States in June 2019. Before you were involved in all of this, Rich and I agreed that (if we couldn’t save the marriage) I would stay in the US for another year so that I could finish my teaching qualification and prepare for the move. We promised the children that they would have one more school year here. I know I can’t move on emotionally until I start life in the UK, so I am not interested in staying here beyond what I promised the children. If it wasn’t for them, I would be gone already.
  • It is my preference to stay married until June 2019. This is for the purposes of keeping my visa / permanent address and my health insurance. I know there are alternative options for either, but these will involve extra time, effort and money in what is already a difficult and expensive process. Staying married for another eight months is by far the simplest option.
  • You wish for the divorce to be finalized as quickly as possible. I can assure you that our marriage is a legal rather than emotional status at this point. It has no practical effect on your life, but it does on mine.
  • I am making progress with the end of the marriage even if you don’t see it. I have fallen far behind my intended completion date, but I am still working on my teaching qualification and still hope to finish it this year. I will start looking for jobs as soon as I complete it.
    I am arranging a three week trip to the UK in February / March 2019 to visit potential schools and get my UK driver’s licence.
    o   The children and I talk often of what will happen when we move, and we make plans for our new lives as a way of coping with our fears of the unknown.

    All of this furthers the divorce, even if no lawyers or mediators are being involved.
  • Making demands of me slows things down I am behind schedule for a move which requires a lot of planning. I am also managing a household, which has plenty of demands in itself. Divorce proceedings and financial arrangements are not only time consuming but they are another source of anxiety. All these things need doing, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed since I got back from the UK. Pressuring me is increasing my anxiety levels to the point of panic attacks, and that completely kills any productivity.
  • For things to go faster, I need practical assistance.
  • It is not in my interests to stall. If I am not ready to move over the summer, then this will have many negative ramifications on my life and the children’s. We need a job, school places and a place to live lined up before June. We need to have everything moved and unpacked in the new house before school starts in September. In order to do this, I will need to agree on financial arrangements with Rich in the next few months.

That is my perspective. You are welcome to explain yours.

My request is that you allow us to delay all legal proceedings until next year. Before we go any further, I wish to finish my course and start making job enquiries. It is my intent that Rich and I complete all mediation, i.e. we are agreed on the arrangements, before my trip to the UK in February.
If you have a problem with my plan or if you feel there is something I have failed to take into consideration, I would welcome hearing from you directly.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Technology Backfire

I've been in England for three and a half weeks, getting back on Tuesday night. I was welcomed home with the reminder that the apocalypse will come about not because of zombies or nuclear war, but because of a software crash.

The run up to the trip was pretty busy as our downstairs ceiling and upstairs carpet needed replacing due to water damage. This would be a messy process and most of our belongings would need to be packed up and removed, so the builders were scheduling it for when we were away.

England was fantastic, but Tuesday was long. We had a 5am UK start which became 3am in my case, as my brain had one of those hyper-aware-the-alarm-will-be-going-off-in-less-than-two-hours moments. By the time I landed on US soil, it took me three tries to get the right answer to immigration's question: "What city have you come from today?". My sister-in-law collected us from the airport and dropped us off on our drive at 11:30pm US time—i.e 4:30am UK time.

My husband had checked on the house earlier that day, so he had warned me that while the furniture was back, most of our stuff was still boxed up. Still, he had been able to make up the beds for us, so I was comfortable in the knowledge that for tonight all we had to do was fall into bed.

STAGE 1: The Lock.

Between the builders and the catsitter, I didn't have a front door key for myself, but this wasn't unusual. Before our separation, my husband had fitted the front door with a smart lock, so I had got into the habit of opening the door with my watch. In fact, I hadn't bothered to take any keys to the UK with me. As we lugged our cases up the front steps, I tapped the green unlock circle on my watch... and nothing happened.

As it can sometimes be slow to find the connection, I didn't panic for a good two minutes. And then my first thought was to get hold of my husband who could unlock the door remotely via an app—failing that, he's the father of my children, so I could justifiably ask him to drive over in the middle of the night. Except, of course, like most sensible people who have work next day, he was asleep and I couldn't raise him.

I really began to panic at this point because I didn't have many options. The kids were busy waving at our cat, Meg, who was peering through the glass door at us with great interest, but that didn't help my state of mind. A lockbox on the doorknob contained the key for the builders, but this was useless as I didn't know the code and the builder wasn't awake to ask. I knew my sister-in-law would still be awake, but I also knew she didn't have a key because she had given hers to my friend who had cat-sat for part of the time.

This train of thought finally reminded my addled brain that said friend lives on the same street as we do, so I sent a desperate: "Are you awake?" message while trying to figure out what our sleeping options were if she wasn't.

My friend was awake, but she was just heading to bed and almost ignored the message on the assumption it would be just an "Arrived back! Thanks for looking after the cats!" note. Luckily, modern dependence on social media prevailed, she read it, and we hastily arranged a key transfer.

So it was that the kids and I went running up our street at midnight, which is not something I'd ever consider advisable—our neighbourhood has Character, and every now and then there are Incidents. Luckily, it was not a night for our street to make a bid for the local news, and we got to my friend's house in safety, collected the key and returned. (Our cat was now sat in the window watching us with even greater interest and considerable confusion.)

Triumphantly, I turned the key in the lock and let us into the house at last. And, of course, the alarm immediately started beeping.

STAGE 2: The Alarm

Back in the late 90s, we used to have to punch in the alarm code manually every time we wanted to set it or turn it off. These days, we just push a button on a key fob. Actually, these days, we can use an app on our Smartphones, but I confess I've never signed into that app. It's easier to get out the keys than the phone.

Except when the keys have been packed into one of dozens of boxes standing around my living room.

Of course, I still can punch in the code manually... except I realised years ago that I couldn't remember the exact sequence of buttons required, and I never followed that up with our alarm provider because I always used my keys.

On Tuesday night, the keys weren't an option, and it quickly turned out that punching the code manually wasn't going to be an option either. I failed to switch the alarm off in time, and klaxons started blaring at us. I closed the front door, prayed none of the neighbours were being woken up and waited for the alarm provider to call us. I would tell them the password, they would switch off the alarm and we could go to bed.

One problem with that: the phone was in a box somewhere. The alarm provider didn't have the number for my new mobile; they did have my husband's number, but I knew he wasn't hearing his phone anyway. I was going to have to wait until the police showed up to investigate a breaking and entering.

And wait I did. After about fifteen minutes, the alarm suddenly stopped. I had no idea why... there was still no sign of the police. Perhaps the alarm company had managed to reach my husband after all? At any rate, I was in no mood to question the efficacy of this emergency response, so I turned all the lights out downstairs and hustled the kids into bed.

As I crossed the hall into my own bedroom, I saw lights outside and looked out of the window to see a young policeman with a torch (flashlight) coming up the stairs to the front door. In the next moment, I realised that if I opened the door to him, the alarm was going to go off again.

Hastily, I ran downstairs and pressed my face up against the glass panels of the door. I had neglected to turn on any lights, so I succeeded in scaring the crap out of this poor cop and should probably be thankful he wasn't holding a gun. Through the glass, I yelled that I couldn't open the door because the alarm would sound. He was unimpressed by my reasoning: "Yeah, I'm going to have to ask you to open the door."

I called a warning up to the kids that it was about to get loud again and complied. Thankfully, the alarm had now been changed to a more muted complaint, but that was the accompaniment to my truthful yet highly implausible explanation to the policeman. (My sister-in-law later observed that telling him we were squatters and promising to be gone the next day would probably have been easier.)

Thankfully, I am a petite, white woman (the British accent probably helps as well), and white privilege very much came through. He never even asked to see my ID... just said he would have to go and fill out some paperwork. Doing that took some time, so the alarm stopped and I had to trigger it again when he came back to drop off my copy of the report. And then I had to wait for it to stop again before I could get to sleep. But that was, finally, the last barrier between me and my bed.

I now have a key to the front door again and my key-fob for the alarm. It must be noted that I still haven't called my alarm provider about how to turn off the alarm manually, but that is on the to-do list. I'll get round to it. Sometime. Definitely.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Six Months

Today marks six months since I learned the end of my marriage was nigh.

Things are... better. With me, at least. And mostly with my life... a lot that needs improvement, but plenty of time to work on that, and the important thing is that I'm feeling like I can handle it. Somewhere along the road trip way, I got my confidence back and my sense of control. It's all perception, really, as nothing fundamental has changed, but I'm suddenly able to think through many potential scenarios that previously devastated me and come up with plans to tackle them should they arise.

And obviously, there are going to be a lot of ups and downs still. Let's be honest, I had a minor panic attack last week, and I'm still hypersensitive about getting things right in the whole co-parenting side of things, but the whole concept of divorce and moving back to the UK is no longer so overwhelming.

I wouldn't say that I've accepted it yet. Divorce is a tough pill to swallow. I am, however, finding myself able to take steps to normalise it.

I hadn't taken my wedding rings off... I had looked at them often, thinking they were an example of denial, but I've worn those rings for thirteen years, and I like them. They were part of me, a symbol of my family, not just my marriage. Besides, though I'm technically single, it's not like I am "available"—I can't offer anybody a healthy relationship right now.

Ultimately, I decided that if I wasn't ready to take them off, then I didn't need to. That was one part of this whole process I did have control over.

I vaguely thought I'd take them off once the divorce came through, but on Thursday I found myself thinking it was time. That feeling was with me all day, so in the evening I did it. They're on my dressing table for now. I often look at them or at my empty finger, but it's felt right. I'm still not interested in finding a new relationship, but I feel single—or confident in that identity—now in a way I didn't before.

The inscription inside my wedding band reads "No joy without you." (In a rather awful piece of foreshadowing, we didn't have time to engrave my husband's before the wedding and never got around to doing it afterwards.) I remain adamant that I regret nothing about getting married, but I will have to prove those words a lie.

The day after I took the rings off, I changed back to my maiden name on Facebook, so I can start to reclaim that identity. Baby steps. If I do enough of them, I might start actually believing this divorce is going to happen. (Don't ask me what I currently believe is going to happen. We're just going to stay in limbo forever! The kids won't grow up, and the cats will never die, and it'll be fine!)

My daughter spotted the rings on my dressing table the morning after I took them off, and immediately tried to put them on herself... I had to stop her. I didn't need to wear them any more, but I did need to keep them. She seemed very surprised I'd done it but not upset, which was a relief. She then forgot about it for a few days before telling her brother yesterday. He was shocked but, again, not obviously unhappy.

I asked them if I should take one of our pictures down: the one from our tenth anniversary which is on the wall underneath their school pictures. They said "No," so it's still up. It feels a little weird and inappropriate for me to display it, but this is the children's house too. To them, it's a picture of their parents. If not before, we can put it somewhere less public than the front room when we move house.

They're both being supportive in their own way. My daughter tried to match-make me the other day, literally telling a friend (in his twenties and engaged) that I could be his girlfriend. Apparently, while I wasn't around, she also asked a couple of my other friends to be nice to me—which I believe is a reflection of her father's exhortations to behave for Mummy. It's incredibly touching. She and I have butted heads a lot this year, thanks to my current irritability, and it's a good reminder of how much she actually cares for me.

My son is less demonstrative, but also more laid back about it all. I worry that he's bottling things up, but every now and then he'll say something that lets me know he's processing things. Now that I can keep things more matter of fact, I do try and talk about my emotions to the kids and discuss the various steps we're taking to work through this period of our lives. I always want to be as open as is appropriate with them, let that conversation be out there in the hopes that they will feel readier to bring up their own concerns—if nothing else, I don't want them to feel left in the dark about what is going on in their own lives.

The road trip probably did help us feel more bonded in our smaller family unit. The absence of Daddy was sorely felt, and we found ourselves taking turns to fill in for him in old family in-jokes. But otherwise, it was gratifying to prove to ourselves we could and would still live our lives. One of my fondest memories is us in the car, singing along to American Authors, What We Live For, as I drove:

This is what we live for, 
Baby, you're my open road,
You can take me anywhere the wind blows,
Drive into the great unknown,
We can throw our hands up out the window,
This is what we live for.

Starting next week, they'll get the other side of split-family-bonding when I go to England for two weeks of Montessori workshops and their father takes over as the resident adult. Hopefully, we can continue to build security for them.

And self-confidence for me. For years I've had issues with self-esteem and feeling that I wasn't pulling my weight in our marriage, but ironically, the end of the marriage banished rather than confirmed these. Their father is still our sole source of income and I'm still a stay-at-home Mum, but over the past six months, I've been responsible for managing the house and the kids (and my studying), and, well... we're all still standing. Nothing's burned down.

It's not all been graceful, but it's a little like when you have your first pet or baby at home for a week: you're so incredibly impressed with yourself for keeping this dependent creature alive. That's how I feel now. I did this. Advanced level adulting. Go me!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Waterfall Chasers: Cedar Run and home!

For our last day, I had planned to drive down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and do a couple of hikes: one with a rock scramble (Bearfence Mountain) and one with a natural waterslide (Cedar Run Falls). On our last morning, the kids and I consulted and agreed we'd rather go straight to the waterslide. We were close to home now and could do any of these another time, so there was less impetus to pack everything into today.

We had our routine down to the point that my seven-year-old daughter checked us out of the hotel. The hardest part was getting them to stop saying goodbye to the stray cat hanging around outside. (One of the receptionists tried to get us to adopt him; it was very tempting.)


A long drive later, we arrived at the lower parking lot for the Cedar Run trail. You can access it from Skyline Drive, on top of the mountains, but that would mean hiking down to the waterfall and then up at the end of the trip, when we were tired. I opted to go from Whiteoak Canyon Parking Lot at the bottom of the mountain. It should be noted that this car park was already virtually full when we got there late morning—very much at the create-your-own-space stage—and that there's still an entry fee into Shenandoah National Park before you get to the trail.

I had read about this place on the Getting Out of DC blog, and based on that entry I felt confident that my kids could handle the hike to the waterslides. Maybe if this had been five days earlier, they could have done. However, at the end of the trip, on a hot day, up a steep and rocky trail? Not happening. The trail wasn't beyond their capabilities, but it was arduous, it wasn't clear just how far we had to go, and there were tempting little swimming holes scattered all along the trail—though not necessarily easy to reach!

In retrospect, we should have stopped at the first swimming area, where the trail fords Cedar Run. The main waterslide was much further up, but there's a little bit of worn rock there that can be used as a slide and it would have given the kids a respite from hiking, a chance to try the water and decide if we wanted to continue. As the mountain water is cold, this is a really good opportunity to find out if you're going to enjoy this experience or not.

Our first, missed, chance to stop and slide.
Instead we continued—partly because we didn't see anybody else swimming there. The first place we did see swimmers, there was no obvious path down, but there were a group of people in a large swimming hole, jumping off the rocks. They called to us that we needed to carry on, cross over at the top and then scramble down. Initially, we misunderstood and thought the trail was going to cross at the top and this was an extension of the waterslides that were our goal.

Nope. We carried on walking and scrambling and climbing until we met some park rangers who told us that the waterslides were perhaps another half a mile up the trail.

At this, the kids were done. My son wanted to go home; my daughter wanted to go down to the river from this point. I agreed to the latter, but soon realised that rather than finding a suitable pool to swim in, the kids were determined to scramble over the rocks all the way back downstream to where we'd seen the swimmers.

OK, the trail was rocky, but it wasn't this bad!
In no way was this easier than following the trail down, but we did it. It was clear that the waterfall here was not suitable for sliding down, but the pool was deep enough for cliffjumping. We arrived at the same time as a group of students and they went straight to the rocky edges while the three of us went down to the stony beach. Getting our first taste of the cold, cold water, we shivered in the shallows, while the students got up the nerve to jump from the lowest point.

They took the plunge before we did, but eventually I steeled myself to swim out to where the waterfall splashed into the pool, keeping a careful eye out for jumpers. Under the ledge from where they had first jumped, there was actually a small cave just above the waterline. I swam to that, checked for snakes and hoisted myself up. I wasn't in the sun, but the air was warm enough that I didn't feel cold, and I could dangle my legs in the water while watching the students try out a higher jump on the other side. (One girl was the bravest of the group but even she took several minutes before leaping down. Afterwards, she swam to the shallows, looked back up at the boy now dithering on the edge and yelled: "Don't be a pussy! Your girlfriend did it!" That girl is my hero.)

My daughter was desperate to join me in the cave, but she was still only waist deep in the water and couldn't quite get up the courage to drop the rest of herself in and swim. My son wasn't progressing past mid-shin. In the end, I swam back to them and told my daughter I would swim with her. With that final bit of persuasion, she swam out to the cave where I helped her up. Unlike me however, she was still cold once she got out of the water and we didn't stay in the cave long before I took her back to the beach so she could get in the sun.

It was also cold enough that after the waterproof camera had a dip, it fogged up everytime it was exposed to the humid air.

I really wanted one of us to do the cliff-jumping if we weren't doing waterslides, so I climbed up to the low ledge. One look convinced me that this wasn't happening. I may have no problems throwing myself down 100 feet of rock and white water, but I can't bring myself to fall through ten feet of clear air—in our family, that's my son's forte.

So I coaxed my son to do it. He wasn't convinced that it would be any easier to get into the cold water from ten feet up, but the students started cheering him on. Reluctantly he climbed the rocks... and started choking up before he got anywhere near the edge. It wasn't the jump that bothered him, it was the swim through "freezing" water that would follow.

As soon as I saw him getting upset, I told him he didn't have to do it. Part of me regrets not jumping myself... it was something I might have got up the nerve to do eventually... but I didn't want to spend all my focus on psyching myself up instead of being there for the kids.

I had brought some food, so we had a patched together picnic and watched the students jump some more before we found our way back to the trail and the car. The downhill scramble definitely went more quickly, and this time my daughter stopped at the first swimming area to see if it was any warmer there. (It wasn't; she didn't try the slide.)

View of the swimming hole from its beach.
 One awkward change in the car later, and we started heading out towards Charlottesville to meet some friends who had driven up from home for a few days break in the Blue Ridge. But we stopped for lunch once we got back to the main road and I consulted with the kids again. The verdict was in: we could see our friends after we were all home; we just wanted to get back at this point.

We drove back, half-referring to the GPS and half-referring to the BBC's live updates on the World Cup semi-final. It was a long stressful two hours before Croatia knocked England out of the Cup. We were not impressed.

Football did not come home, but we did, after driving almost 2,100 miles. (Still less than the Appalachian Trail.)

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Waterfall Chasers: Hitting the Appalachian Trail, Pine Grove and Harpers Ferry

When I was figuring out the itinerary for our trip, the Appalachian Trail was one of the first things I thought about as a way to structure it. It might not be typically known as a road trip, but the internet has everything, which is how we ended up at the Red Caboose Motel in the first place.

Most handily, I discovered that the halfway point of the Trail was in Pennsylvania and there was a museum nearby. This seemed perfect for sampling this bit of Americana, so we headed to Pine Grove Furnace State Park once we left our caboose behind.

The Appalachian Trail is over 2,100 miles long, stretching from Georgia to Maine. The Appalachian Trail Museum is built next to Pine Grove General Store which is usually taken as the halfway point (the actual halfway mark is apparently three miles south). It is traditional for hikers to celebrate by taking on a challenge of eating a half-gallon tub of ice cream. The children were very interested in this challenge, but I firmly told them that it was only for thru-hikers (hikers doing the entire trail in one trip) who had completed 1,000 miles.

Sure enough, as we arrived, a couple of hikers were already there, digging into their tubs at a picnic table. Over the next hour, while we ordered and ate lunch from the store, we watched more of the hiking party arrive, greeting and teasing each other. The sign out front said the record for the challenge was twelve minutes and fifty seconds. None of these hikers seemed interested in breaking it, eating their ice cream at a much more leisurely pace. We asked where they had come from—they had started in Georgia, two and a half months earlier, and they hoped to finish the trail in September.

Ice Cream Challenge Site

The museum was small, asked for donations only, and had a very nicely laid out children's section downstairs... though by its nature, it was providing information displays rather than hands on exhibits, and while my nine year old son read them curiously, my seven year old daughter soon got bored.

I also liked the upstairs section, which went more into the history of the trail. (I was particularly gratified to learn about Emma "Grandma" Gatewood, who took up hiking at the age of 67 by becoming the first woman to thru-hike the trail, and then proceeded to hike it two more times before her death at 85. Never too late, indeed!) The kids however found it more fun to play outside, on a lawn landscaped into a switchback ramp.

A quilted map showing the Appalachian Trail in the children's section of the Museum.

For the children, watching the hikers at the General Store (the trail is busy enough you should find some there most summer days) was a better illustration of the trail than any museum exhibit. From them, they got a feel for the camaraderie of the Trail and learned the distinctive features of the thru-hiker: massive backpack, hiking poles, shorts, beards for the men, easy-going smiles and muddy, clompy, hiking boots. We would be on the trail for the next two days, and we saw a lot of people who, like us, were sampling a few miles of it as tourists, but my daughter confidently pointed out every actual hiker we saw.

As has been noted before, my children aren't hikers and are wary enough of their mother's ambulatory ambitions that my daughter will freak out at the mere mention of the word 'mile'. So while I was determined to hike some of the Trail, I had chosen my sites carefully: I invited the kids to come and do some "rock climbing."

For this, I needed to navigate to Whisky Springs, which would have been easier if I had a phone signal so Google could do it for me. However, remembering my success at Ohiopyle State Park, I nevertheless figured out a course from the cached maps, and we set off. At the point where we found ourselves plunging into the woods on a single lane gravel track, I began to suspect this was not the route Google would have recommended. (Spoiler alert: it wasn't.) My kids, however, were delighted with the journey: "We love it when you freak out!" I choose to believe that this is because they want me to challenge myself and grow in self-confidence. It's probably not filial sadism... right?

I spent a good five minutes dreading an oncoming car which thankfully never came, before we finally came out onto Whisky Springs Rd, found the pullout I needed to park the car and the bridge marking where the Appalachian Trail crossed the road. Inspired by the hikers, the kids found themselves hiking sticks and bounced eagerly up the trail for a good five minutes before they began asking how long until we got to the rocks. The above link suggested it was a quarter mile. Admittedly, it's always tough to judge distances when walking with the kids as their pace is so inconsistent, but it certainly felt longer.

The Trail crosses Whisky Springs Rd.

We passed a few small boulders. One crop of them was sizeable enough that the kids decided we should eat the fruit picnic we'd brought and play hide and seek, but it didn't seem remarkable enough for me to believe that this was the place I'd read about online. I let the kids rest while I climbed higher up the trail and finally I found the spot: it was certainly obvious enough once I did!

I was worried the kids wouldn't care enough to go any further uphill, but they were eager to see it, and not at all disappointed for their pains. My daughter wanted to play the Lion King, my son wanted to do more hide and seek and I just wanted to see how far I could climb. There was some squabbling over exactly what game we were playing as we explored, but overall we had fun—despite me thoughtlessly telling my daughter that she was standing on a spider's foot (it had long legs) causing her to jump off her rock with no thought for where she might land. Luckily, she did not fall to her doom, and the spider scurried off quickly enough that we assume no damage was done.




Afterwards, we headed on down the road to a phone signal and then a petrol station. I encouraged the kids to clean the bugs off the windscreen as I filled up the car. This distraction was sufficient for me to completely forget to put the cap back on my tank, and it was still dangling on the side of the car as I drove out of the station. Thankfully, somebody else noticed and tapped on my window before I turned onto the road.

The lesson here is that to make it as an independent adult, I will need to rely on the kindness of others. (I'd feel inadequate if I wasn't pretty sure this applies to most people.)

Over the rest of the afternoon, we left Pennsylvania behind us and even Maryland, before spending about two minutes in Virginia to cross into West Virginia and Harpers Ferry.

Harpers Ferry is on the point of land where the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac (which marks most of Maryland's southern border.) The Trail passes directly through the town, and it's traditional to take a picture at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Center there (though it's not on the trail itself and we only figured out where it was when it was too late to visit it.) Harpers Ferry is also a surprisingly historic little town, as George Washington established the US armory there, which made it a strategically important location in the Civil War.

However, Harpers Ferry is mostly closed on a Monday, as was the case when we arrived, and we were hard put just to find a restaurant open to serve us dinner. Still, I was very taken by the town, which is built on the steep hillside leading down to the rivers, and as such was reminiscent of every Cornish town of my youth.

A waterfall that diverges down somebody's front steps is the most Cornish thing I've seen outside of Cornwall.

The kids were not nearly as enthused by the steep streets as I was, and were reluctant to do any exploring after dinner, although I did coax them to walk along a disused railtrack near the station on my quest to find the footbridge that took the Trail across the Potomac into Maryland. This ended when my daughter tripped over, getting a nasty cut on her hand. I then compounded the accident by pushing my son lightly, at which point he took a dive worthy of any World Cup player and skinned his knee. We gave up, and drove back to the hotel.

It'll end in tears...
I had picked the hotel, a Quality Inn, on the basis that it was right next to the stretch of Trail leading into town. This apparently wasn't reason enough for there to be an official footpath from Hotel to Trail, but the following morning I led the kids along the far side of a crash barrier next to the road for several yards to find it. We found a painted rock and then what looked to be an entire, if disassembled, skeleton of some luckless roadkill (I believe a deer, but I'm no expert) and finally the Trail itself, my son delightedly pointing out the white blazes that proved it was the Appalachian Trail.



It was going to be a scorchingly hot day, so we had started early—we even saw a live deer as we went—but the trail was steep and uneven, and we were hot long before we got into town. However, I had motivated my son by telling him about Jefferson's Rock: the third president had passed through town in 1783, and climbed upon a boulder to view the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. He declared it was "one of the most stupendous scenes in nature" and "a view worth crossing the Atlantic for," so people took due note of that rock—to the point that it had to be given sandstone supports in the mid-nineteenth century.

I traveled the wide, wide world, and came back to this...

It was predictable, but to our disappointment, you're not allowed to stand on the rock today. We consoled ourselves by standing on the rocks nearby, confident that Jefferson must have scrambled around these as well. The view was very nice, though I wouldn't go to Jefferson's hyperbole. Perhaps there were fewer trees obstructing his view... or perhaps he'd never seen Niagara Falls.

From there, we continued downhill into town, descending the Appalachian Trail Staircase (which was ridiculously uneven, so brought me more Cornish nostalgia). Again, I would have liked to explore. The town is on the Lewis and Clark trail by virtue of Lewis getting supplies here before the expedition started. It's most famous for the abolitionist John Brown's failed attempt to seize the armory in order to arm slaves for an uprising throughout the south. There was another African American museum here, so we had a chance to learn what we had missed in Philadelphia, if we were willing to stay in town until it opened.

One historical event; two memorials with two very different (though not mutually-exclusive) takes on it.
Except it was already so hot. It was 9:30am, nothing would open until 10am and just hiking the mile and a half in had taken a lot out of us. I promised the kids they could have ice cream, so we set out to find some. Luckily, my son remembered seeing a coffee shop the night before and reasoned that that should be open this early. He was right and it sold ice cream. Once we'd purchased it, I decided to just start back as we ate.. on the return trip, a lot of the uphill part would be in full sun and it was only going to get worse as the day grew hotter.

Besides, we had a tubing trip booked for 11am. This was perhaps the one thing that would have been better on a Saturday. I had put us down for the Antietam Creek Tubing, long before we left for our trip. At the time, I had been advised that three people were not enough to confirm the booking, but the girl on the phone was confident that other people would sign up and said they would be in touch. I never heard anything, and when I checked the evening before, I was told that nobody else had joined in, so it couldn't take place.

I switched to the Shenandoah River tubing which was cheaper, but a shorter and less exciting trip. I then screwed up by remembering our time as 11:30am instead of 11am, though it proved to be a quiet enough day not to matter. We set off with one or two couples and a summer camp group. No guide... just instructions on where to get out. (It was hard to miss anyway.)

While something of an anticlimax to my planning, this mellow hour and a half worked out very well for this late in our trip and for this hot a day. Depending on where you hit the currents, the tubes went downriver at wildly different paces, and we lost track of my son all together. My daughter and I spent a lot of time discussing crocodiles, crabs and the fearsome Shenandoah piranha, before she got bored and left me hanging onto her tube while she went for a swim in her lifejacket.

At the end of the tubing, we found my son waiting at the shore for us, tossing rocks into the river. We splashed around a bit longer before heading out to buy lunch.

After lunch, it must be confessed, that we went back to our hotel room and indulged in a/c and electronic education. All the historical intrigues of Harper's Ferry went unexplored because we were too tired and too hot. It's a shame because there's a lot to unpick, and on a different kind of trip, this would have made a great companion excursion to a Philadelphia tour.

Come the cooler temperatures of the evening, we dragged ourselves back out to dinner and afterwards I informed the children that I, at least, wanted to follow the Appalachian Trail to Maryland. (Rather wonderfully, only four miles of the Appalachian Trail are in West Virginia.) They agreed to this on the grounds that they could wait for me on the WV side of the bridge.

The far side of the bridge: the track continues after the footpath heads down.

It's actually a railway bridge with a footpath alongside (and a chain link fence dividing the two because people can't be trusted). It allows for a nice view of the two rivers and the columns of old bridges that once spanned them.

And numerous options for padlocks declaring your love.

At the far end was a spiral staircase that practically begged me to go down it and take pictures. I walked along the trail for a few yards—it coincides here with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail, a now dry throwback to the rivalry between boats and trains—and found my way to a beach where hikers were cooling off in the river. From here, I could photograph back the way I had come (and see the diminutive figures of my children, patiently sat on a wall).

This was once one of seventy-four locks along the canal.
 That done, I returned to the bridge, but as soon as I started along it, I saw my daughter running towards me. We caught up to each other, I hugged her and, in agitated fits and starts, she told me that they couldn't see me and they freaked out. I consoled her pretty quickly by telling her she could get down to the water on the Maryland side at which point she rushed off to see and I faced up to my son's nine-year-old wrath as he crossed the bridge at a more sedate pace.

Apparently, they had not realised I planned to leave the bridge and spend a few minutes on the other shore. Wondering what was taking me so long, my son had got up to look down the bridge and discovered I was gone. He told his sister and in great concern, she decided to run across and see if she could spot me. If she couldn't, my son had planned to call the police.

As embarrassed as I was by the misunderstanding, there was something very touching in the responsibility the children had taken when worried about me. I apologised to my son, but I also thanked him and told him he'd been very sensible about the not-quite-crisis. By this point, we had caught up with my daughter, as she scrambled down the rocks to the water under the bridge, so my son's reward was to endure our insatiable desire for paddling. (We later looked into it on the West Virginia side of the Potomac, but this is both very muddy and a lot more exposed to nasty currents; not recommended!)

Having "hiked" the Appalachian Trail in three different states, we were ready to leave it. We only had one more day, and we were all looking forward to going home.