This time last week Claudia Bouvier and I sat down for our conversation around the sometimes good, sometimes hard, always unsure moments of motherhood, set to the tune of her global health work in Peru, her career as a big mountain free skier, and the painful loss of her father just weeks after the birth of her fist son.
It was towards the end of our conversation, after tears had been shed and the ‘I see you’ moment of what mom-to-mom conversations reveal had passed, that I admitted I’d been completely intimidated by her when we’d first met, in fact, (and here’s something I haven’t yet said out loud) I was sure that we likely wouldn't be friends because of it. But she admitted something to me too.
It’s June of 2017, and I’m unloading a box of flip-flops from a U-Haul outside our new apartment in Northern Utah. After 12 hours on the road, and 30 years in Southern California, the beach is no longer in sniffing distance.
I didn’t grow up in a traveling family. My parents both lived, and still live, within an hour of their childhood homes, although maybe that’s not quite as fair to say, given the cultural distance between East LA and Newport Beach. My grandfather was a product of the Depression, which has colored not only his childhood, but the entirety of his life. Just this week, at 93 years-old, he mistakenly had a harmonica delivered to our house instead of his, which my 3-year-old immediately blew into for at least a week (we had no idea who it was from), until he realized his mistake and called me wanting it back. My grandmother (on my dad's side) was a Mexican woman from the riverbanks of the Rio Grande who grew up on dirt floors and wiped her ass with a Sears catalogue in her family’s outhouse. She passed away, two years ago, after surviving solely on social security toward the end of her life, ironically, most of which she earned from working at Sears. So to say we didn’t travel, is simply to say, we didn’t fucking travel, Utah was scary, and here’s why.
As winter rolled in, my wife, a lifelong skier and snowboarder, was beginning to get that candy-store look in her eye. By December I was sobbing unconsolably down an intermediate run holding my skis in a “pizza” for 45 minutes, entirely sure this was how I would die. When we got to the base, we looked to the right and noticed the bunny hill. We laughed, but inside I thought, Welcome to Utah, you’re a disgrace.
Five years, a couple apartments, and a kid later we were at Claudia’s son’s second birthday party casually chatting with their friends and coworkers, many of whom I discovered were also, if not professional, incredible skiers. In every conversation, and for the entire drive home, the story I told myself was, you don’t belong here, why do you live in Park City, you’re not a good skier, you will never fit in.
Two months after that party, we moved to Northwest Arkansas for six months setting up our short-term rental property near lakes, trails, and the always-tropical, Walmart Headquarters. As we spent the summer tubing, mountain biking, and skipping stones down a cold creek, I exhaled.
After living in a town that hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, sending my daughter to school with other kids whose parents have medals hanging from their dresser mirrors (I assume, I mean where else do you put those things?) and skiing next to eight-year-olds who rip down corduroy faster than I can put a hole in my white 90’s stockings, I was relieved to find I was no longer the least athletic or outdoorsy person in town.
In my early 20’s I worked for company that ran bike tours through Yellowstone. We’d go out on week-long trips, switching campsites every two days. My job was what they called, “Camp Bitch.” Guests would gear-up and head out for a day-long ride led by two senior guides, then return to their new campsite entirely set-up, bags in tents, with dinner ready to be served. At least, that’s how it was meant to go.
The realty was, I spent the entire day in variable weather setting up and breaking down 10 tents, dragging bags for 20 guests to and from our trailer, sweating, freezing, dirty, stinky, and desperate for service from my Verizon flip phone which I held to the sky like a lighting rod between scattered storms, just so I could call my dad for the two minutes he could, “here me now,” and remind him how exhausted I was. Once that was over, I’d help the “Camp Chef” prep, cook, and strategically stack hot coals between Dutch Ovens while the two senior female guides rolled in with the group, chilled by the fire, and reminded me and the chef (who was really just another girl in her 20’s who could barely mix box-pancakes) to “eat in the trailer, away from the guests," limit conversation with campers, stay out of sight, and looked on in horror as we roasted chicken over an open flame, while guests turned the spiggot.
This went on for about three weeks, until my boss drove up from Salt Lake City, invited me into a private conversation, and let me know I was fired for getting the camp van stuck on one of those wooden posts they use to line campsites, costing the company roughly $2,000 in damages and let's face it, a very embarrassing explanation for the senior guides as to why a tow truck was beeping it's way through our campsite while guests' pedaled out for the days' ride. It was at this moment, and many more over the two-day-drive home, that I told myself another story, you’re a city-girl, go back to Orange County, you failed in the great outdoors.
With our Arkansas home furnished and listed, we returned to Utah in September of 2022, just weeks before the first snow, and I drug my insecurities behind my Subaru like a string of old cans beneath a smudged and worn “Just Married” sign, unsure whether my union to Park City would hold. Returning to live at the base of the largest ski resort in the country felt like a gross overestimation of my skills as a skier, and a complete assumption about the type of person who “should” have half-pipe friendships.
This year was our second year in attendance at Claudia’s son’s now 3rd birthday party. It was also just weeks after I launched my blog, and for the first time admitted publicly, my failures in motherhood. We were the first to arrive, and a huge part of me still expected the room to once again be filled with other parents who I deemed so much cooler than me, and maybe it was. But this year, that little voice in my head, the one that tells me stories about what a pile of dirt I am, couldn’t get a word in. Instead, I got a lot of words out. I met other great moms, I shared my site, we talked about the realities of motherhood, sang Happy Birthday, and as I was picking Hot Wheels up off the floor getting to ready to leave while Claudia held half a puzzle in her hands my daughter decided she no longer wanted to piece together, she asked me, “Hey, I have this thing for school I need to write, can you help me?”
I’m not sure why I think accomplished people don’t need help, or why I believe that because I’m an intermediate skier I’m also an intermediate person, like I’m some wet mop who needs wringing-out and anyone who’s ever stood on a podium has no time for a member of the audience, but this question really surprised me. It struck me as not only an ask, but an acknowledgement, that mountain aside, I had something to offer.
Claudia’s story now has close to 400 views and she’s raised more than $800 for her work in Peru. But moms’, as you know, are bug-eyed creatures from the deep who despite our huge field of vision, can't absorb the sun on the surface. Claudia texted me, “You make me sound so much cooler than I am!” I paused, knowing I'm not a fiction writer, and replied, “It just seems that way when all your accomplishments are jammed into one 5-minute article, because you’re the only one who knows how many years and hours you put into those headlines.”
I wondered in that moment; about the years and hours I’d put into writing. About that first little Unicorn journal in which I’d written my deepest and darkest 10-year-old thoughts (something like, I love American Girl Dolls and my dad lost my pet rabbit) and about whether my renewed confidence in a room full of successful skiers might have been, not because I'd finally conquered intermediate runs, but because I’d finally had the courage to traverse down my own version of a half-pipe. I’d started my blog, and in doing so, hit my first big jump.
Steven Pressfield, known best as the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, wrote another book titled The War of Art. In it he says, “Most of us have two lives, the life we live, and the unlived life within us. Casting yourself as the victim is the antithesis of doing your work. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.”
The story I was telling myself about life in Park City was, you must be successful in the way this town admires success, then, and only then, you will be successful in other ways too. But I was never going to be an Olympic Athlete or throw myself over the side of a 10,000’ peak on two long slippery bars of soap. And I was never going to build a friendship pretending I had nothing else to offer.
With the milk steamer frothing and the caffeine kicked-in the coffee shop was a buzz with white noise by the end of my interview with Claudia. I was half-way into my mental to do list, about to throw on my jacket and run home to laundry and a sick kid when she made a final admission that I glossed over.“It’s been kind of hard,” she said, “to make friends here, in Park City, I think.” I responded, half-heartedly, with something horribly inauthentic like, "What? Why?" As if this affliction hasn't haunted my entire being over the last three years of motherhood, and the three before that when I didn't have kids, which is why over the next week, this final conversation cracked through me like asphalt in a storm, it's roots and mud pushing up through my carefully laid assumptions about the lives of other moms, especially those with the skills I deemed essential to thriving in our snowy town, and about how they were all members of these large friend groups who just needed me to build their tents, stack hot coals, and then hide behind the trailer. I never imagined the people I’d selected and assumed as shoe-ins for the perfect Park City lives were encountering the same feelings of loneliness and desire for community that I was. So to Claudia, and readers, what I should have said, and what I am saying now is, “I agree. It's been incredibly hard to make friends, but I know that I just made one.”
This week I launched Bomb Moms with Claudia's story as our initial February Feature. Each month I will highlight another amazing mom who is willing to push the boundaries of laundry and bedtime to display an exemplary form of womanhood.
These are not just headlines or medal winners, although there will be those too, but moreover these are moms whose success lies deep in their storage-laden unicorn-journals of hard work. Their courage, and their willingness to say the things that catch us all off guard, that we can’t quite respond to immediately, that we gloss over, but that sit with us days after, uprooting our assumptions, untying the dented cans from our bumpers, and wiping the newlywed print from the windows of our Subarus. The ones who live out those unlived lives. These are the women who do the work, the ones who say, "I have something to offer."