Best. Day. Yet.
I’m two weeks into the new job and there’s so much running through my weary head, I’m honestly having trouble choosing just one tidbit for this post.
It’s been a fulfilling and busy time couple of weeks. I’m grateful for my family and friends who are making this journey a lot less bumpy for me. A shout out to dear friends, Jill, Susan and Jenny for taking such fabulous care of my kids on short notice during my first days at work. And extra special thanks to my mom for coming to help us navigate my entire first week of work. I found this card to send to her as a thank you and she loved it!
Many of you already know that Mom’s Big Year has become bigger than I ever expected in more ways than I ever expected. But, I’d have to say that this week takes the cake. My Big Year just grew exponentially in some completely new directions.
Big announcement here!
Tomorrow I start a brand. new. job! I’ve been tapped to serve as a biologist for the North America Bird Banding Laboratory at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Wow! Not just one, but two jobs literally fell out of the sky into my lap this year. You can probably guess that they were not part of the Big Year plans. But both jobs were too good to pass up. So, Mom’s Big Year is still going strong (and I’m still committed to traveling as much as possible and seeing as many birds as possible before the clock strikes midnight on Dec 31…) with just a few new twists along the way. I’ll still be teaching at University of Maryland in the fall and will be working 3 days at the banding lab and two days at UMBC.
I’m super excited about starting at the lab tomorrow! I’ll be working with several of my mentors in the field of avian research and I know I’m going to learn a TON. I’m ready for that. I am thrilled, honored, and humbled to be working at a place with such a rich history in wildlife research. You can read more Patuxent’s history here. Read more Did you know that Rachel Carson used Patuxent’s research to develop almost all of the content of her revolutionary book, Silent Spring?
Wow. Just wow.
I’ve been an at-home mom since I left my career as a science teacher and biologist 16 years ago. So, as you can imagine, this is a huge change for my family and me. This week, as I prepare the household for my completely new schedule, I’ve TOTALLY been ‘nesting’. (How appropriate!) I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve taken to the store. I’ve been grocery shopping, back-to-school shopping, cleaning, cooking, freezing make-ahead meals and trying to spend as much time as possible with the hubby and kiddos. I’ve stocked up on so many staples, you’d think a blizzard was on its way to central Maryland!
I’m not sure anything can prepare you for a change like this.. But I wasn’t going to take any chances and bought plenty of chocolate to help me wade through any unanticipated stress. However, I’m not sure how long the chocolate will last around this house as the kids have found all my hiding places!!
But my family can certainly rest assured…
I’ve bought enough toilet paper to last us through March.
It had all the elements of a great family trip. There were college visits for my oldest, days at beach, golf outings, tennis matches, chats with locals, shrimp and grits, cooking in, eating out and plenty of ice cream runs. Last week we took a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. It wasn’t strictly a birding trip, but I, of course, had to squeeze in at least a few good-sized dollops of birding. (My chat with some local watermen while out in the field one morning is worth a post all its own, so stay tuned!)
Now, you may recall that I am trying to nip my issues with bridge/driving anxiety during my Big Year and I am using birding in my attempt to do so. Well, this entire week I had Charleston’s beautiful Ravenel bridge staring me in the face. I honestly didn’t give it much thought.. but I’ll admit my mind did occasionally wander to images of the day I would sit in the driver’s seat while making my way over that bridge.
One afternoon, while perusing the downtown Charleston shopping district, I ran across this book.
I am not lying to you when I say I picked it up and put it down 10 times. I was trying to decide whether I wanted to stop right there and read the whole thing in one sitting or put it down and never ever pick it up again.
I figured Mom’s Big Year is already more than half over and it was time to add a whole new dimension to this Big Year thing! Gull-billed tern, Sandwich tern and Least Bittern were all seen in the last couple weeks at the Pitt St. Causeway on the OTHER side of the Ravenel Bridge.. so the choice was clear…THIS was my ticket.. These target birds were my carrot to get me over that bridge.
Well, by golly, without giving it much thought, I just buckled down and DID it! I took the helm and sailed my way right over that bridge with my hubby in tow! And we missed our target birds, so I did it AGAIN the next morning at sunrise.. Out and back. ALL. BY. MY. SELF! I could hardly believe it. Now, it wasn’t without anxiety, but it was a feeling I hadn’t ever felt before. I was getting better, I just KNEW it. Eleven years I had been avoiding bridges like this one and I did it! Two days in a row! I didn’t care one little bit that I missed my target birds those days (ok, maybe I cared a teeny bit), but birds aside, I drove over that bridge!
After eleven years, the whole experience was less climactic in the actual moment than I expected. I dropped the family off at the beach in the afternoon, so I could chase a Wilson’s Plover that had been seen recently a few minutes away. Then suddenly, the magnitude of what I had just accomplished finally hit me. As my youngest closed the car door behind him and ran out to the beach, I started to cry. Mom’s Big Year had yet, once again, gotten bigger… and this time it wasn’t about the birds.
Now, Saturday was travel day back to Maryland and with my newly found ora of confidence I decided to take the wheel and give Rt. 95 a whirl as we made our way home.
How did that go, you ask..?
In complete contrast to my masterful driving the day before, I felt like I was on a roller coaster spinning out of control and dizziness and panic started to show their nasty countenances. My legs and arms started getting numb, and my lips tingly.. After 30 minutes of attempting to power through my driving anxieties like my counselor had taught me, I decided that for everyone’s safety, it was time to pull over.
The tears this time weren’t the happy tears I had cried the day before. They were tears of frustration and feelings of failure as I hung my head and pounded the steering wheel. I thought my issues were over and that I had entered a completely new era. The reality was there plain and simple… I had not.
Fortunately, my kids and husband quickly reminded me of how far I had come in just a few days and clamored with words of support and comfort from the back seat.
Two steps forward, one step back… These seas are going to be tougher to navigate than I could ever have imagined.
I recall when I first started the Big Year, my very wise and dear friend, Marcia reminded me that I can’t eat the elephant all in one bite.
She was 100% right.
I was back birding on my home turf today and while I love love love traveling, it really felt great to be back! I still have a few relatively easy birds to tick in Maryland and today I added #364 to the list, Least Tern. The trip this morning would not have been possible without local birding friend, Anthony, to do the drive up north of Baltimore with me. Anthony’s quite impressive and has gone from beginning to advanced birder in the blink of an eye. He has the kindest of hearts and is one AMAZING photographer too! Check out his Flickr site here: Anthony VanSchoor’s Flickr page
With only one target today, the birding this morning was pretty laid back. And that combined with Anthony’s easy-going, confident and super-supportive attitude allowed me the space to revisit some of the parts of Mom’s Big Year that I had been pushing aside for quite a while now. Those of you who have been following from the beginning know that I’m ALLLL about the birds, but you also know that Mom’s Big Year is about more than simply the birds. It’s also a year focused on personal growth and reflection….some of which, frankly, scares me more than I care to admit.
After losing three dear family members in a tragic accident, I’m working through post-traumatic stress that’s manifested itself in the form of bridge/tunnel/highway driving anxiety. (More details on my blog homepage: Why a Mom’s Big Year? )That reality for me gets in the way of my birding and in the way of my everyday life at times. And it’s so very frustrating for someone who enjoys skiing black diamonds, rock climbing and repelling, scuba diving down to 100 feet, swimming with hungry sharks, cuddling with snakes, and is even willing to let tarantula walk on my face. All of the above… NO problem! I’ve tried a variety of methods to address my anxiety through therapy and desensitization and have stared that monster straight in the face. I’m currently using the mindfulness, peace and clarity that I find in birding as a tool to help me make progress.. but I honestly still have a long way to go. Today’s low-key birding gave me a chance to consider how far I’ve come and also the amount of healing I have ahead of me.
I am indebted and extremely grateful to Anthony as well as to birder friends, Joe, Jeff, Howard, Kurt, Kevin H, Karen, Chuck, Kevin L., Gabriel, Adrian, Erin, Chris, Bill and so many others who have so kindly driven me places to go birding that I currently can’t drive to quite yet. A special note of thanks to Uncle David who drove me across the entire state of Texas! I look forward to the day when I can return the favor to all of my wonderful and supportive friends and family!
“All in time.” said Anthony, who is clearly wise beyond his years. As we drove over the Key Bridge near Baltimore this morning, he said with conviction, “You’re going to be driving this bridge all. day. long. with no problem. I know it.”
I’ve heard those same exact words from different folks a whole bunch of times.
But for some reason today, I actually believed it.