Don’t forget the 17-year-old Hispanic girl who came to the coast having given birth to a daughter less than one month prior. She had come to the coast with her school class to participate in an outdoor education program for a week during which she would help mentor and teach hoards of obnoxious wild 6th-graders. Her parents encouraged her to participate and essentially forced her to follow through with the commitment when she showed resistance. Leave her newborn behind?! Impossible. Unfathomable! She loved her child with all her being. Her mother looked after the little child enough as it was while she was at school and work, but Madre and Padre were unyielding. “Go and teach, and learn.” The experience would stand out on college or job applications. She reluctantly boarded the bus on a rainy Sunday morning and was driven 80 miles east, to the beach, away from her baby.
Don’t forget Konor either. The boy with the crooked smile and dreamy eyes and proneness to break out into jubilant cheering at random times. He came to the coast a few days later in a wheelchair with cables and wires clenching like barnacles to the bare skin of his chest beneath a yellow cotton t-shirt. The first instructor at the camp asked if he was excited to be there, outside beneath the clear blue sky and surrounded by the towering cedar trees. The instructor then stupidly stuck out their hand in a fist, anticipating a fist bump. Konor seemed frozen with his head turned rigidly to the right and his back straight up along his mobile-sitting-station. His mother stood behind him donning a sheepish grin gripping the handlebars of the wheelchair and after a moment Konor turned and looked at the instructor glowing the glow of one thousand suns. “Yes!” he screeched and gently punched his tiny balled fist into the instructor’s.
But still yet don’t forget how as the week went on the 17-year-old mother would sneak from her cabin each night and stroll through the shadowy campus, drowning in the roar of the Pacific Ocean hundreds of yards away through a grove of the cedars and pine and across a stretch of moist sand. She slipped silently to the bathhouse sliding her tennis shoes across the linoleum floor and into the handicapped bathroom stall where with the lights still off and the concrete room humming she pumped and bottled her breast milk, after which she secretly tucked it away at the bottom of her travel backpack and made her way back through campus to her cabin and crawled back into her sleeping bag to sleep soundlessly and dream of her child all those miles east also snoozing in peace.
It shouldn’t be challenging to remember Konor’s mother relentlessly pushing Konor’s AWD mobile-sitting-unit through the soft mud of the wetlands, slowly sliding deeper and deeper into the shore like a brownie fresh from the oven. She was a woman of average height and build. The wheelchair plus Konor probably was larger than she was. Her hair was dark brown, valiantly fighting off any sign of grey. Her skin was also a brown hue much darker than Konor’s suggesting some ethnic background though her voice gave no indication of foreign roots. At the water’s edge she took off her shoes, rolled up the legs of her jeans, and stood barefoot looking out onto the lake wiggling her toes in the mud. Again she grabbed the wheel chair’s handlebars and others offered to help and she said that she would be alright but the instructor helped her anyway, grabbing the footrests where Konor’s legs dangled like a dead octopus’s tentacles and she hoisted the contraption onto it’s massive back tires and lowered her shoulder pushing hard as the instructor pulled the useless foot rests walking backwards into the water. In the lake Konor’s mother rolled up her shirt sleeves and dug into the water and mud, pulling up snail shells and bringing them close to Konor who would shout in ecstasy at the marvelous discovery. Then she and the instructor pulled Konor back to shore and back through the mud and the trail through the cedars while Konor yelped with the forest’s birds the whole way.
The 17-year-old hispanic girl saw Konor and his mother come into the dining hall that night. The three of them ended up at the same table for dinner, along with seven other sixth-graders. The young mother would never have much of a chance to speak with either Konor or his mom. Konor’s mother helped him eat and he smiled and chattered with all the other people at the table. “I’m a starvin’ marvin!” He declared. Once he accidentally knocked the spoon from his mother’s hand, full of mashed potatoes that splattered onto the floor. His mother cleaned the mess and in the meantime someone else brought her a new spoon. Konor did not speak so much after the spoon incident. The 17-year-old girl did not speak with Konor at dinner, but she watched him and his mother closely. At one point Konor’s mother glanced warmly at her and smiled. She smiled back sheepishly and then look at her plate rolling the peas across the ceramic surface with the prongs of her fork. When she looked back up, Konor’s mother was standing with her hands once again on the wheelchair’s handlebars. She backed Konor away from the table and he waved joyfully at the other 6th graders he had just met. “Don’t forget that boy,” the young mother thought to herself and then she considered Konor’s mother’s evident strength and spirit and compassion and love and then she considered her own mother and she reminded herself not to ever forget those two mothers either and all that they had done and would do in the future for the young ones they had given to the Earth.
Written by Ethan Woodhouse, an insightful, creative, and inspiring wilderness professional and friend.