One Foot in Front of the Other




I’d been itchin’ to get out in nature. Every place we’ve lived over the last ten years, I have found it. Hiking trails. Streams. Trees. Oh the trees. I love them so much. I got teary looking at a video of the Redwoods recently. They call me. They do. I’ve never even been to California. Two days after the Botanical Gardens incident, I tried for some trees. We went to a state park we’d never been to before, just me and the kids and it was “Lake Erie beach,” not trails. Noonday sun. Not what I wanted. Still we decided to check it out. Riley’s OCD kicked in, she wasn’t in a bathing suit, everyone else was. It upset her. I thought she was right behind me, as we walk to toward the water. Turned around, she was gone. I hadn’t quite recovered from the previous scare, and I went ape shit when I found her, hiding in some bushes. 

I said, “We’re leaving.”

She fought it.

I dragged her in a headlock to the car and said things I wish I hadn’t. Seth was crying, following behind us. He really wanted to see that beach.

Beside the parking lot, I stopped and sat down on the grass. Put my head on my knees. Dejected. What am I going to do? How am I going to do this? I am so tired. My hormones are out of whack again. Hot flashes round the clock. I have been to four doctors. No sleep in weeks.

Riley sat on the grass too.

Slowly she inched her way toward me, so we were sitting side by side. Six inches apart. Both of us steaming, but she wanted to be near me. I wasn’t ready. Kept my face down. So tired.

Seth came up behind us and silently put a hand on each of our backs. I was still breathing hard. Still angry. He stood there, one little hand on my back, one little hand on Riley’s. I felt the diffusion happening. The love of this little boy calming me down. After several minutes, when he intuitively felt it was okay, he leaned in and hugged both of us, smooshing us together. Family hug.

“Mommy, I’m sorry I hid,” Riley said.

“You have no idea how scary it is for a parent when they feel like their child is missing.”

 “I’m sorry,” she squeaks. Then adds,

“You don’t know what it feels like for me, when everyone else is in a bathing suit, and I’m not.”

No I ‘effing don’t. I want to smack her. Put my head into a wall. I breathe. What would love do?

We went to the van, (where I had the bathing suits, had she given me a chance to check the place out and decide that’s what we would be doing).  

I let them play in the water, while I sat on the beach, feeling battered and bruised.































Yesterday, I found what I was looking for. We hiked for miles.



















I feel like a good mother when I get them out to places like this. Places that calm my own soul.





















I spent half my childhood in the woods.




In a short time they were covered head to toe in mud. My camera battery died so I don’t have pics of that.

I wish I could say Riley didn’t run away, but she did. On the way back she did. We let the kids run ahead on the trail, and told them to stop when they got to the road. Oh how glorious to let them have freedom, to run in the forest! They got out of our site. Seth stopped at the road. Riley didn’t. He ran back to tell us. She ran ahead, and took a wrong turn and could have gotten massively lost in the woods if two parents weren’t there to branch out. 

Riley has never been a runner. She never did this at two or three years old. She was always terrified. Always attached at my hip. Is she making up for some missed developmental milestone? I don’t know.

After we found her I just totally checked out. Let Todd deal with the whole thing. Held Seth’s hand and walked ahead.

“I get worried when Riley gets lost,” Seth said.

“It’s not always easy, is it Seth? But you are an awesome brother.”


He never fails to say “thanks.” 

From behind, Riley muttered something about not wanting to be treated like a baby. Not wanting to hold Todd’s hand. Todd said something about not being able to trust her.

One foot on the trail in front of the other, I continued to breathe.

Look at the trees.

Look at the trees.

We will find our balance.
















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17 Responses to One Foot in Front of the Other

  1. Jerri says:

    You ARE finding your balance, Michelle. Have you ever watched a tightrope walker? He sways radically to one side and then the other, finding the center point where he can stand and then move along his path.

    You sway. You swing. But you always come back to that center point and keep moving along your path. This is especially useful when your path takes you to the woods.

    Love. Love. Love.
    More Love.

  2. Heather says:

    So, so, so much love. And hugs- Hugs as big as the Redwoods that are calling you…hope you can feel their strength and make it your own.

  3. jill says:

    These last few posts….. I’ve lived this. We have lost Alex twice. I swear I will carry that panic locked in a box inside me forever, a huge scar ,a trigger.

    I think your on to something about milestones. They are working something out. I think our raw responses are vital to their learning.

    I wish I could offer some comfort. It’s so hard.

  4. kario says:

    Maybe it would help Riley to find some “safe” places to get lost. Maybe she can set up a place in the backyard or a default ‘hiding place’ to go to where the agreement is nobody will look for her until she’s ready to come out. If it’s solitude she’s looking for, it’s an important part of her learning her boundaries and maybe a way for her to stretch her wings without freaking everyone else out.

    I love that you found your trees. I hope you can get away there more.

  5. I have been that runner I’ve been where riley is and I can honestly say that we don’t do it to worry our parents we get lost in the moment in the feeling and we forget that hey road stop here or hey better way to deal with scared then fleeing. I don’t know if this helps or not. I am sorry that you feel so tired and raw

  6. pixiemama says:

    I’m sorry it’s been tough lately. Wish I could bring over some coffee and chat for a while.




  7. drama mama says:

    It seems that Riley was making a point when she said that you didn’t understand what it was like for her. Perhaps use that as an opportunity to ask her what is going on – why is she running? What can you do to
    satisfy this “itch” in a safe way.

    Perhaps putting the focus on the way *she* is feeling might give you some answers.

    Sending you all love.

  8. Carrie Link says:

    Love, love and more love.

    Thank you for the honesty of this piece. Peachy keen is over-rated.

  9. -e- says:

    Just want to add that I think it shows real wisdom that you chose to “check out” after the incident in the woods. You clearly needed a moment to process and calm yourself, and recognized that you were safe to claim that moment, since H.T. was there at your back.

    Good work team O’Neill!

  10. Courtney says:

    You ARE a good mother.

    Love the heart-shaped rock. Did you see Regan’s facebook post about them?

  11. Lolly says:

    I teared up as I read these last couple of posts. I can’t imagine what it is like to be you – to be Riley.

    You are a good mother!

    You and Todd are a good team!

    Seth is an incredible little brother – so much wiser than his years!

    What would the law of attraction say about this?


  12. Wanda says:


  13. Jenny R says:

    So sorry for these rough times lately. Glad you found the trails… nature is amazing in the way it calms and heals. Oh, and California… well you know how my feelings there. If you ever want to hike the John Muir trail one day, let’s go! love.

  14. graceonline says:

    May your roots go down as deep as the trees whenever your world shifts and threatens to break you.

  15. Deb says:

    What amazing stories you have to tell. I’m in awe of the openness, the pain, the love, the complicated truth of your words and your life.

    The pictures are beautiful. The heart-shaped rock a message and a gift. Love.

  16. amber says:

    I hear that you are ‘going through it’ right now. For whatever reason. So just know you have love coming at you, and thoughts of peace peace peace…


  17. One Mom says:

    Hugs, and love, and wonderful thoughts coming your way. Sorry it’s been so hard lately.

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