Amy Choate-Nielsen
Amy Choate-Nielsen and her family take a moment to enjoy the view in Zion National Park during 2018.

When I was a little girl, maybe about 4 years old, my parents took me to Williamsburg, Virginia. It was raining, and they had paid a lot of money for me and the rest of my family to go inside and see some sort of museum, but I wasn’t interested. Instead, I stayed outside in the rain, jumping in puddles, doing my own thing.

I heard this story over and over as I was growing up. My parents used it as Exhibit A of how I was an impetuous, free-spirited child who marched to the beat of her own drum.

I’m submitting that evidence again now as I continue to fall short of the better examples around me. It’s becoming a tradition of mine. The tradition is this: I write my Christmas letter in the newspaper, because it saves postage. I write it late, because December routinely pins me against the ropes in a most aggressive way, and I don’t actually breathe until sometime in January. Per my tradition, I promise to send a real card next year.

This year, 2018 in our house was something to behold. Some of us grew older. Some of us stayed exactly the same. And some of us wished that every single day was our birthday.

I am happy to say that 2018 was the first year in five years that I did not break or severely sprain my ankle. Coincidentally, it is also the first year in five years that I did not train for some kind of running event. I’ve thought about the correlation between those two facts, and I’m not sure I like the implications. I’m not a wonderful runner — by most standards I’m pretty darn slow — but I like doing it, and I especially like free T-shirts, so I hope my training days aren’t over forever. Then again, I also like to be able to walk, and when I sprain my ankle I can’t even do that, so, it’s something to consider.

In 2018 we took our time in the outdoors. We went to Zion National Park a few times, visited Snow Canyon State Park, camped in Canyonlands National Park, explored the Uintas, the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and Teton National Park in Wyoming. We kayaked, we hiked, we saw scorpions and snakes and wild desert rabbits, and each time, my children felt a thrill and delight that shone from their eyes like moonbeams. When the warm weather began, my kids balked at the idea of walking a few miles in the woods. By the time summer ended, they celebrated the fact that they completed an 11-mile hike in the Tetons like a badge of honor. It became a frame of reference for them, a standard with which to compare all hikes thereafter.

“How long is this hike, mom?” they said as we began one of our journeys.

“About four miles,” I replied.

“Oh, we can do that no problem,” they said. “Remember that long hike we did? We can do this.”

In 2018, we learned about life. We learned about adaptations and growth. One night in Canyonlands, a park ranger told us how the creatures of the desert live in such harsh conditions. In the desert, every drop of water, every calorie, every inch of shade, means survival. We were feeling vulnerable ourselves, hot and sweaty, with dwindling water and melting ice. My kids were tired and dirty. And they listened with reverence as the ranger advised them not to chase the lizards on their path, because that could use the lizard’s last calorie — something it might have needed to get food.

That delicate balance of life, and the fight for survival in 2018, was balanced by the inevitable opposite.

In 2018, with the death of my dear friend, I learned that life is precious. It is short. And it should be celebrated.

I learned that my children are growing and changing, leaving every day behind. They’re getting taller and wiser and stronger. And I am suspended in time. Somehow, they age, but I do not.

Or so I think.

Life can be a blur, a thing that passes you by, or a thing that pins you to the ropes. Living can be a matter of survival, or a thing of beauty. We can see the world around us with delight or disgust.

1 comment on this story

In 2018, we earned every mile with the promise of candy and cookies. We shushed our kids in the campground because they argued too loudly during quiet time. We saw pouting and pushing and tears. That’s life. But seeing the top of the mountain through the eyes of my 5-year-old, letting my 10-year-old lead the way in the kayak and watching my 8-year-old protect the lizards and the snakes brought me the joy that I’m taking into 2019.

May the new year bring us love and laughter, and plenty of moonbeams along the way.