Valley Voices

The Yosemite trip to see the sequoias meant leaving her comfort zone of summer — and she loved it

Jill Simonian, center, on a trip to the Monarch Grove of sequoias in Yosemite National Park with her daughters, dad, sister and nieces.
Jill Simonian, center, on a trip to the Monarch Grove of sequoias in Yosemite National Park with her daughters, dad, sister and nieces.

Raise your hand if your kids start school next week like mine. Back to homework, activities and encouraging our kids to expand outside their comfort zones. I am not ready for schedules, responsibilities, to-do’s or morning alarms. It’s felt like a long nine weeks at times (opting out of summer camps can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting) but this summer has felt much more deeply meaningful than all summers before it. Is it because my kids are past the manual labor (toddler) stage of motherhood? Because we finally built that pool? Because we’ve been watching our favorite family movies every night? I’m beginning to think this season topped all others because I forced myself to ditch my own comfort zones.

Every summer, my daughters and I visit Fresno for several days to chase whatever Central Valley fun might be happening during our stay. A few weeks ago, we traipsed to Bass Lake with my sister, her family and my dad (which we’ve done before). This time, for the first time, I requested something outside of our norm. “Can we go see the redwood trees near Yosemite?” I realize this suggestion is not adventurous by most people’s standards, but believe me when I say I may as well have suggested a trip to the moon. We are lake-and-beach people, we are not mountain-and-hiking people.

“How long is it going to take for us to get in there? Will it be too busy? How long will we be there? What will we do there? Do we need tickets ahead of time? Do we need to pack a lunch? Is it too hot? Can the kids handle it?” We all started questioning whether it was ‘the right day’ to make the venture. (My dad then started gunning for an advanced excursion deep into Yosemite Valley. Next time, Dad.)

“Let’s just drive there and see what we come up with. Two hours tops,” I said. Convincing my sister that handling a toddler without a stroller in the middle of the great sequoias was not exactly my comfort zone, but I was in the mood to try our luck. Then I got scared the whole thing would be a miserable flop, with no stroller and all.

We drove into the park without traffic or issue. We walked up the Mariposa Grove trail as far as we reasonably could, given our party (kids got tired). We took pictures and videos against magnificent, towering trees that had been so distant to us despite how close they’ve been our whole lives. My sister and I traded off carrying the 3-year-old when she needed it. It was the most gorgeous, refreshing, renewing, eye-opening, unexpectedly inspiring two hours any family could have in 90-degree heat.

“I feel refreshed, that was great. Different! Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone,” my sister said on the drive back. (Whew.)

Experts tell us to tackle activities or tasks outside our comfort zones to give us a boost, mentally and physically. I now believe them. The experience of those grand trees, something I’d never seen so close before despite growing up in the Valley, have stayed with me these last few weeks. The memory of them has oddly uplifted me as I prepare my daughters and myself for another new school year. Dare I say, those trees have made me a calmer, happier parent.

Raising young children is hard work and motherhood can get stagnant — that’s not a gripe, it’s just reality. Repetitive schedules, responsibilities, to-do’s and morning alarms ... over and over again. As our kids return to classrooms, let’s all give ourselves a healthy schooling as well: To not be afraid to deviate from our own comfort zones. To learn, see or do something outside what we usually do if we can, when we can. For ourselves, for our kids.

Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of She is a Los Angeles based TV/media contributor and author of book 'The FAB Mom's Guide' for first-time pregnancy.