The Brooklyn BrainLady

teaching & learning, in a fancy dress

This summer I signed up for a six-day assisted trek in the Icelandic highlands as a way to “get away from life.” Isn’t that cute? Apparently Iceland was magical, so I decided that’s where life was going to pause. No problem! I hike. I have water shoes. Bring on the vistas!

FANTASY: “We start the day with another refreshing stream crossing as we make our way past the green volcano Stórasúla and into the black desert of Mælifellssandur.” ~Trek Iceland

Credit: Trek Iceland

REALITY:“You will take off your pants in 30mph winds and freezing rain to enter a waist-deep glacial river that your expert guide just fell in. You will attempt to redress quickly without any feeling in your extremities.”

This was not okay. People don’t take their clothes off in places that start with “ice.” People also check the weather before they go on vacation, which I may or may not have done until after I got home. My well-intentioned guide, Beregur, and supportive group members attempted to make light of the situation with, “Think of the great story you’ll have!”


Out Loud: SO true! Thanks for your positive attitude!

In Head: Story? Excuse me. I am telling no one of this. I CHOSE this. I PAID for this.


Putting one’s self in an objectively stupid situation does not make one a badass. How did this happen? It was anything but funny at the time. I trudged 34 miles in the freezing rain, focusing on how wrong I was. Shame and self-castigation swirled inside of me like the dementors in Harry Potter (which, by the way, is what volcanic ash looks like in 78mph winds).

In true teacher fashion, I started thinking about school. We can do this wherever we are, you see…parties, the grocery store, barren lava fields. Perhaps this dread was what my kids feel on the way to school each day? “Kids” being my students, adolescents with learning disabilities. How do they deal with something that is so hard for them on a daily basis? Well, this was what I watched myself do during my so-called vacation:

  1. Get really quiet and don’t let anyone know how hard this is for you.
  2. Do what the person next to you is doing. They seem good at this.
  3. Go first so people will think you’re “brave” when all you’re really trying to do is get it over with as quickly as possible.
  4. Distract them by talking a lot about the things you DO know how to do so everyone will think you’re really smart.
  5. Sing, swear, and talk to yourself. Tap things. Hum.
  6. Threaten to throw things at the person in charge. (Sorry, Beregur.)

Sound familiar, teacher friends?

Much like in the classroom, telling myself to knock it off wasn’t super effective. What was effective was reminding myself that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay that I didn’t get it. And it’s okay to hate it. I tentatively stepped out of my head and towards others. I asked how they were doing, and it turned out people had blisters and blistering resentment. We bonded over our wounds- real and imaginary- and slowly things got lighter. I was wrong, but the kind of wrong that frees a person: I realized I was not alone in this.

It did eventually end. I did make it home, with a newfound respect for vulnerability. (And pants. Pants are great.) My students didn’t sign up for this; they didn’t choose to have a learning disability. School is hard, and they have no choice but to show up… every day for 180 days for 13 years…and they do. THAT is the definition of a badass, no?

8 thoughts on “My Summer Vacation

  1. Julie says:

    Beautiful first post! Look forward to reading 🙂 mwaaa


    1. Thank you for reading, Jule!! Can’t wait to read more of your beautiful perspective as this journey unfolds. Mwa back at you!


  2. Estelle Junod says:

    Yay….you did it!! This is just great, Beth!!! I look forward to more:) XO


    1. Thank you! Here we go!!


  3. Erica says:

    Wonderful post, Brain Lady!! Loved reading it and look forward to more. By the way, did you enjoy Iceland??


    1. Iceland was beautiful! I do want to go back and explore more of it under less extreme circumstances. Ha! Thank you for reading!!


  4. Beth Maurer says:

    I do enjoy a well written blog 🙂 Thanks for providing us with a glimpse of your Icelandic adventure … I laughed, I cried, I pondered life.


    1. Thank you for thinking it’s well-written! I’m glad it inspired such a range of responses…clearly it did in me, as well. Ha!


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