Risk Management

LupineThe bodies of two women hikers were found on Mt. Tam recently. Although officials say there is no sign of foul play, my Facebook feed crackles with alarm. “Creepy!” the posts warn. “Women: Please don’t hike alone!!!”

I hike alone almost every day in our local watershed. It’s miles from Mt. Tam, but the forested flanks of that rugged peak dominate my view. How far away does danger lurk? It‘s hard not to succumb to fear’s contagion.

My hike starts downtown, at the cafe where I get my daily dose of caffeine and news from the local paper. There’s more coverage of the unfortunate hikers; a story about a stowaway who survived a flight to Hawaii in the jet’s wheel well; a report that 75 percent of homes in the area are vulnerable to land slides. Two women dead, one boy improbably alive, our house at the base of a steep hill. What are the chances?

I begin the long slog through residential streets as I always do, listening to podcasts of Fresh Air or This American Life. This American’s life is lucky indeed, with enough time and stamina to hike each day, drinking in lattes, the spring gardens of well-tended homes, the natural beauty of the landscape. The uphill seems less steep with Terry Gross and Ira Glass to keep me company. My public radio hosts also keep me safe, in the same illusory way our daughters felt safe, attached through the umbilical cords of their cellphones as they called us on their way across campus at night.

Where the pavement turns into fire road is a sign noting the presence of mountain lions in the watershed. I think of the episode of Six Feet Under that begins with an overweight man jogging in the hills above LA. He stops to catch his breath, panting and sweating. You think he’s going to drop dead of a heart attack. Instead, a mountain lion drops out of the trees above. I glance up at the treetops, quicken my pace.

Today I have extra time, so I decide to vary my route. If I continue straight ahead deeper into the wilderness instead of turning left, I’ll avoid the grizzled mountain bikers who whiz by me every day as I scramble to safety on the edge of the fire road. Besides, I want to defy Facebook’s panic.

The smooth foot-wide path beckons. I pause a moment, thinking of mountain lions and trailside killers. The likelier dangers are ticks and poison oak. I can handle those, so I stride on through the dense stands of oak and laurel.

Just as Fresh Air ends, the path opens out to a meadow purple with lupine, framed by the rugged ridge across the valley. Clumps of white and amethyst iris dot the nearby banks; monkey flower and Scotch Broom run riot down the slopes. The air is clear. So is my head.

Some may seek peace of mind by staying off the trails. But I’ll continue to find mine on my daily treks.

How do you find prudence and pleasure on the spectrum from denial to paranoia?


Friend Me


I never thought this day would come. But there it was on my timeline:

“Hi, Mommy. Let’s be facebook friends finally.”

The last time I had been privy to Ally’s social media life was when she was 12 and let me look at her MySpace page for a dollar. Reading about her Harry Potter crush was no different from hearing about it face to face for free. I wondered why I had wasted my money, and quickly lost all interest in cyber-sleuthing. My children were born and mostly raised before technology made childrearing a living hell, so this is not as negligent as it sounds.

Now Ally is about to turn 23–independent enough to no longer need to prove her independence.  And so she’s accepted my Friend Request, sent so long ago I’d forgotten I’d ever committed the faux-pas of asking in the first place.

“Mom,” both daughters had protested when I first got on Facebook and naively proposed that we become friends. “Are you out of your mind?” I think they may have phrased it more diplomatically, but I am skilled at discerning the subtext behind polite demurrals.

What is the subtext behind this sudden confirmation of my Friend Request? (And when will my daughter Emma follow her sister’s lead?) Ah, I get it . . . Ally, an aspiring writer, is trying to build platform. As an aspiring writer myself, I know that’s what I should be doing, too, inviting everyone in the world to be my friend and “Like” my page (which I have yet to create). Somehow, though, I can’t get past thinking of platforms as 70s shoes to be avoided, and the time in college someone stole my wallet on the platform at the Philadelphia train station. Perhaps I could have chased the thief down had I not been wearing those damn shoes.

Now I can communicate with my new friend about how to set up my writer’s page. After all, what are friends for? Not much, I’m afraid, at least not the eye-rolling daughterly kind. My preliminary request for help resulted in Ally’s telling me I could figure it out in five minutes if only I would google it.

At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about being Facebook friends. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was terrible policy for the military, but it turns out to be pretty serviceable as parenting advice for those with older teenagers or young adult children. So far I’ve been relieved to find that Ally’s Facebook life is about as racy as her MySpace page. Do corporations really pay people to troll through prospective employee’s pages looking for embarrassing and illegal revelations of youthful folly? If so, they are not paying them enough.

The real problem is that now I have to think about my posts and whether or not I want Ally to see them. Since all I post are political petitions and my writing, I’m not too worried. Except that Ally is the child who said, when I asked if she minded what I wrote, “I don’t care what you write about me as long as I get a cut of any money you make.”

What price, friendship?


Are you friends with your kids on social media? Pros and cons?