• Whitney Olson

Scavenger Hunt: Finding Myself

On Easter Sunday, I watched my family scramble madly in search of elusive clues that would take them to their bag of ammunition – a bag full of water balloons. As a scavenger hunt, it was complete with subterfuge, interference by large dog, and water hazards. The oldest competitors, at ages 77 and 74, slowly worked through the clues while laughing at the younger crowd. The youngest at age two, rode on his aunt’s hip as she ran up and down stairs and through the backyard to claim overall victory.

The history of the Easter Sunday scavenger hunt dates back to the 1990s when I would devise hunts that included songs, crafts, academics, and tricky rhymes. When discussing this year’s Easter plans, my oldest children said they wanted to bring back the scavenger hunt. My youngest had no idea what they were talking about. As with many family memories, these hunts were “before Stacey”, our youngest by 7 years.

It was on. The hunt, designed by Stacey with help from her mom, was to end in a water balloon fight, a new twist from the youngest sister. As I laughed at the cul-de-sac battle between four generations, I recognized the glee of competition in my children’s faces. I delighted in the squeals of cold when a balloon hit its target, and I applauded bold comebacks. I saw younger versions of me.

I wanted to be out there. Carefree, plastered with wet clothing, and part of the action, my spirit belonged in the battle. Instead, I stood on the hillside and watched. I was dry. I was clean. I was wearing makeup. It was one of those moments where you find yourself utterly alone in the crowd.

Later that night, after dinner, dessert, and goodbyes, I reflected on the day. Really, my thoughts covered decades as I realized that in trying to meet the needs and expectations of my spouse, children, and society, I had lost myself. I mentally flipped through memories and it was if an eraser had slowly rubbed out my spirit and, finally, my presence. In more recent memories, I saw myself as more of a placeholder than a participant.

Feeling lost is something I’ve struggled with for over a year. Initially, I thought this was a reaction to our youngest child’s last year before college. Perhaps my struggle was mid-life crisis, nothing more than a cliché, I wondered, but I wasn’t distraught over an empty nest or tired of my family.

Last summer, I looked around and concluded a great crime of unfairness had been perpetuated. I was the victim! I deserved compensation. It was my turn to be put at the front of the line. Later, I realized that nobody was going to stop what they were doing to take notice that I was indignant. My family was too busy pursuing the things they loved. I wasn’t even sure that they’d know what to do with me if I was to join in. I was on the outside, literally a fan on the sidelines of their most fun moments. I think I was just plain jealous.

On Easter, I realized that I ended up on that hillside watching the fun because I had let the encumbrances of marriage and motherhood drive my life. On Sunday, it was more important to stay dry than to smash my son-in-law with a water balloon. Last Christmas, it was more important to tend the prime rib than to play trains with my grandson. You get the picture.

I realized that the reason I couldn’t see a future for myself was that I no longer recognized who I was. Years and decades of trying to conform left a person who wasn't satisfied with her life, not because she didn't appreciate what she had or her family, but because the facade of her life had left a shroud over her soul.

For thirty years, I’ve slowly replaced who I am with what I do. The final straw was watching my 77 year old father throw water balloons while I stood dry on that hillside. Hell no! My not-quite-dead spirit screamed. I deserved to be in the fray. I wanted to be reckless and fun. I wanted to push aside the blockade in front of me and demand my due. And there appeared the ah-ha moment.

I realized the only person stopping me was myself.

It was like plunging into ice-cold water: a shocking realization of panicked paralysis followed by the grasp of reality that relief from my pain depends entirely upon my next step.

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