Being Brave (Baby Elephant)

Brave.

What a proud word that is! It tastes great.

I grew up with a delicious picture book that is sadly now out of print: Brave Baby Elephant.* The story with its wonderful illustrations quickly became iconic in my family. Baby Elephant’s big adventure celebrates whimsy and dressing up and food and love and supporting the reality of the world others live in. For Baby Elephant, this is a huge, huge day. His family bends over backwards to acknowledge how special it is, how special he is. He is AFFIRMED. And spoiled. And thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The quintessential feel-good book of my childhood, it shaped me.

To celebrate the Big Adventure, Mother Elephant makes a special Baby Elephant Dessert that, however, does not look at all like him.

Spoiler alert: Baby Elephant’s big adventure is getting ready for bed for the first time all by himself. It’s laughable, right? But it also represents a great truth: challenges that may appear tiny to others are actually huge to the person taking them on.

For some reason, late last spring at age 62 plus, it became critical for me to have my own All By Myself adventure. I decided to drive from where I live on the coast of Washington State to my family’s summer home in Chautauqua, NY. It’s over 2500 miles. I wanted to take my beloved 18-month dog to show off to people and to keep me company. I wanted to camp and be brave and show I was strong enough to do things on my own without my marvelous husband around to hold my hand.

I knew it was no big deal. I have female friends who take their campers for months at a time. They are fine on their own. I didn’t have a camper, but we own a couple tents. Decades ago we traveled with the kids to distant family during the summer and we camped on the way. How hard could it be?

In the Baby Elephant book preparing for the adventure is exulted into the joy it is!

I too had my lantern and my  sword (read, bear spray. In case.) Beforehand,  and with my husband along, we got out our old tents (one was broken). I set up camp and took it down under his eagle eye. I reminded myself how to work the stove (you bet I thought about food!). I planned my route, called friends, assessed how long my dog Honey and I could reasonably travel each day.  Planning and prepping filled me up. It’s basically all I thought about, dreamt about, and probably talked about for weeks. Family and friends gave me advice, cans of mace,  spare gas canisters for the stove (which I couldn’t find to buy anywhere).

I’m not alone in my love of preparing. Recently my great niece, similar to Baby Elephant, readied herself for an expedition:

“Today she got ready for a trip. She put on 2 birthday crowns and a unicorn headband. She carried two large bags and put Gerald into the wagon. She was humming softly to herself as she put on shoes (her father’s) in the front hall.”–note from my sister, her grandmother

Preparing can, alas, be a personality disorder. I have to be careful not to get so neurotic that the planning takes over my life. Because, no matter how much a person plans, the real adventure begins with the unexpected, those things you simply cannot prepare for. The unexpected is what I remember from my trip:

The maybe grizzly, maybe brown bear on the old lumber road just beyond my first mountain pass (about 3 hours into my trip) who luckily ran the other way when it saw me and Honey. I did not have my bear spray on me because the warnings on the label were enough to scare me off from carrying it.

The gale winds that came up at the Lewis and Clark campground on the banks of the Missouri River and almost blew my tent away.

I was very grateful for that tree when I was trying to break camp that next morning.

The heat wave that had me accepting a couch in an air conditioned cabin instead of setting up a stiflingly hot, buggy tent for myself that night in Minnesota.

How kind my friends were to include Honey and me in their comfortable getaway!

The delight in having my dog along, appreciating her joy in grass

 

 

 

 

and how she made me stop for walks along the way.

 

 

 

Discovering hidden treasures across our wide and wonderful country.

On the other side of a creek or river in Montana, an artistic car graveyard

My time of independence didn’t last long. Honestly? Just three nights and four days of solitary travel. But oh, it sank into me as an achievement! My own very Big Deal. I got infused with feeling capable and strong and brave. Like Baby Elephant.

“Well,” he said. “here I go, by myself. All alone.” And holding his lantern up and his sword out, Baby Elephant walked bravely down the long hall. He turned bravely into his bedroom and jumped bravely into his bed, pulling the covers well over his head.

“I have done it!” Baby Elephant said. “I have certainly done it. All alone and by myself.”

He’s not quite done. He has to let everyone know he’s okay. And, let’s face it, trumpet his success.

We all need to trumpet our successes sometimes, or at least I do. Hence this post!

Let’s hear about your bravery. It’s your turn to trumpet!

 

*Brave Baby Elephant by Sesyle Joslin, Illust. by Leonard Weisgard: Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1960.

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