There’s something about becoming a climber that convinces you that you can take on anything. At Crux Crush, we have heard multiple stories of climbing empowering women to overcome everything from addiction to arachnophobia to a fear of heights. I believe this is specifically unique to climbing. When you look up at the tall, steep, seemingly featureless route that you just climbed relying solely on your own body strength, the idea of being able to tackle anything seems completely plausible. It was this (mis?)conception that led me to believe that I could have a kid, continue working, and climb harder than I ever had before.
When other moms tried to warn me how tough motherhood was, I shrugged it off. I was able to balance my marriage, friendships, work, a dog, climbing, training, Crux Crush, a social life, and climbing outside every weekend – how much more work could a kid be? When my husband stressed about how having a kid at this point in life might interfere with climbing hard, I had him install a hangboard in our kitchen so I could train while watching our son. When our friends asked what we’d do with our son while at the crag, I responded, “what better environment to raise a kid in?!” The week that I gave birth, I was still climbing. In my head, I repeated my mantra: I am a climber, I scale mountains, I can be a mom and still maintain my identity as a climber; a climber and develop my new identity as a mom. And then my son arrived.
I wanted to write about my experience as a “climber mom” soon after my son was born, but it took me nearly a year to find time to write this. I quickly learned that when my son is awake, there is no playing quietly and independently while I work. Work is now reserved for after my son goes to bed, along with cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking meals, writing and editing for Crux Crush, responding to work and personal emails, and of course training. Having a child has challenged me at my core (and I’m not just talking about my abs post pregnancy). It has redefined my identity, marriage, priorities, and climbing.
Most days, after putting my son, Chase, to bed, all I want to do is put myself to bed. But my husband and training partner, is unrelenting and unwilling to let me give up on my goals of climbing hard. Within three months of giving birth, I was on a climbing training plan. In the words of my husband, “you don’t have time not to train.” My core was completely shot from being pregnant, but my finger strength (thanks to 9 months of “weight training”) was incredible. Yet, going from climbing 5.9 top rope like I was at the end of my pregnancy to sending my 5.12a/b project at Rumney seemed nearly impossible. I needed to be more focused than ever on climbing and at the same time was more focused than anything on caring for my son. Every minute mattered more than it ever had.
That same urgency applied to all areas of my life from my work to my marriage. Not only did I reexamine how I was maximizing my time, but I also reexamined what I was spending my time doing. There was a new person in my life who, while incredibly demanding, was also exceptionally rewarding to spend time with. My first time climbing ropes post pregnancy, I was three-quarters of the way up a lead climb and all I could think about was Chase. Topping out boulders, something I already struggled with, intensified my fears of “what if I fall?” I became distinctly aware of my actions and potential consequences while climbing.
Everyone says how quickly kids grow up. It’s trite but true. My son’s first year, while incredibly intense, has flown by. I didn’t want to give up climbing and being outside climbing every weekend, but I also didn’t want to spend time without my son. Working full-time, my weekends became even more precious. I still believe that raising our son at the crag is an incredible place for him to grow up, but it has also brought unforeseen obstacles. During Chase’s first 5 months, he was relatively easy to bring along. I threw him in a sling, hiked him to the crag, set up a sweet little nap area for him away from any potential falling rock, tucked him under a blanket and he’d sleep or babble the day away. Clinging to the “Climbing Woman – can do anything” mentality, I even nursed my son at the crag. (There were lots of awkward “don’t mind me, my boob, and my baby” moments.) And then he became mobile and his perception of play area broadened to include the entire crag, requiring non-stop attention.
I recall one early summer evening, walking down from Rumney with my husband and Chase. Our friends whom we were climbing with had already left, as packing up with a kid takes twice as long. We passed by the crag that was the site of one of my projects. The usually bustling, busy crag was completely empty. The sun was just setting, the temps and rock were perfect. And we couldn’t climb. No longer could my husband and I climb with just the two of us.
We became entirely dependent on the good souls of our friends, as Chase required someone to watch him at all times, and climbing obviously requires a climber and belayer. Honestly, it is our incredible community of friends and my husband, my training partner, who has made climbing with a kid possible.
As a climber who is a mom, or a mom who is a climber, I still believe that climbing empowers me to be able to conquer anything. But I now understand that this sense of empowerment is not because of the routes that I send or how many pull-ups I can do. I can tackle any challenge as a climber, because climbing connects you with a community and training partners who will support you, push you, and motivate you through any obstacles to become the person and climber that you want to be.
We are one year into this new journey, figuring it out, one day at a time, and learning something new each and every day. There is still so much unknown that I can choose to either fear or leave to the stars to decide – like what if our son doesn’t like climbing?! Am I writing this to scare you off from having kids? Absolutely not. I do not regret having my son in the least, despite how it has challenged me to my core. But then again, as a climber, I like a good challenge, and as a climber, you’d still believe you could conquer anything, anyway.
Climb on! ~Cate
Thanks to Deuter Kid Comfort 3 Kid Carrier that makes it possible to comfortably hike my son (+ gear) to the crag!