Driving into Jackson Hole was a surreal experience. A steep slope almost vertically sailing down the Tetons Scenic Highway into the Hole as the first settlers called this valley is like dropping into another world. Surrounded by vast mountains and then a series of tiny communities, stumbling into the posh post-modern western architecture, decked out with fancy fonts advertising architects and green builders and bagel shops and sushi felt like culture shock.
Past the posh Teton Village, housing resorts like Four Seasons and a world class ski slope, we entered the center of Jackson, the heart of the valley.
The false front buildings are populated by art galleries and western wear shops, restaurants and bakeries with lumberjack sized portions, outdoor gear shops, and tourist trap home décor stores. The central square has four elk antler arches constructed from the annual antler collection the Boy Scouts do in the nearby refuge—elk shed their antlers each year. Tourists sit on benches staring around town as if trying to find an excuse to linger. Locals entertain with theatrical shoot-outs advertising a new play, musicians, and the occasional drunken snowboarder welcoming those from far and away.
We checked into the Wort Hotel, a historic luxury property, best known as being haunted in the underground tunnels connected it to the Cowboy Bar around the corner. The kids ran straight for the bath tub. Joyfully splashing each other as they cleaned the week of dirt from their bums. I found the hand lotion and applied generous amounts to my parched skin as Eddie flipped on cable and watched a game. It felt great to be back in civilization, with a roof over our heads and a sink that we don’t have to pump to fill up just to rinse Nikko’s snot off our fingers.
After getting cleaned up, we went to the Snake River Brewing Company for dinner. The first thing I noticed at this massive brewery and restaurant was how beautiful and fit everyone seemed to be. When entering Wyoming, I thought there would be no diversity. Wyoming is one of the most Republican states in the country—it is Dick Cheney’s home. I thought diversity here would be the color of your hair and the type of Christian you are—life must be tough for that red-headed protestant. But here in Jackson, while I only saw one black person, and a handful of Latinos, at least there were people speaking different languages, with accents.
Nikko was stir crazy from being in the car for so long, so I took him outside. A dude was sitting alone at a picnic table, drinking pints of beer. Nikko waddled up to talk to him and tell him about our campervan experience (next thing he’d be doing is inviting him to his birthday party). The guy, with four empty pints in front of him, told me not to let anyone strap a backpack on my kid’s back. He said his son died in The War. That he was heartbroken. The child was his favorite and he would never get him back. Then he proceeded to tell me to have more children. That’s when I bid him good evening.
But I was haunted by his eyes, his wrinkled tanned skin, the beers before him. How easily those we love can be taken away. And as a parent we can only protect our children so much and then we have to trust them out in the world. We have to give them the skills to survive. The skills to thrive and make choices that keep them safe and sane and successful (insomuch as they want success). Much of the night in this comfortable bed, I spent considering the skills I am offering my boys to keep them from harm. What lesson does it send Kai that when things got rough at his Topanga school that I pulled him out? What message do we give our children about the nature of family and home if we took them away from their grandparents after only four short months? What traits can we expect of them after a year of not having roots?
When I think of the type of humans I want my boys to be, the list is endless. Kind, giving, loving, respectful, brave, able to stand up for themselves, able to be humble, to know what they want and to be ok when they don’t, able to be vulnerable, ready to have adventure but not to a fault, kind to women, respectful of women, love animals, use their words unless they need to fight in a stronger way, use their brains, know how to think but not to get stuck in overthinking. I want my boys to crave travel and experiences and not just conform because they have to. But I also want them to be safe and careful. I don’t want them to be money driven, nor too closed minded to hear the other side. I hope they can be worldly and educated. I want them to know how they learn and to foster a love of learning in them that never ends. I want them to have a zest for life, but not to a fault. It’s not about being president or CEO. It’s about living their best life. Exactly what I want for myself.