Tonight it’s stormy, a great storm, with booming thunder and bursts of lightening under a swirling, darkening sky. I lay in bed for a while, listening, with my youngest one tucked under my arm, waiting for his breathing to slow, for his murmurs to fade and anxiousness to give way fully to sleep.
As I slip out of bed, a photograph on the nightstand catches my eye. It is Istanbul, at sunset. Around sunset, Istanbul’s sounds smooth out. Sunsets typically written into grassy knolls and idyllic folding fields can flush out smoke-filled city skies in stark, serene moments. From a rooftop terrace, sipping Turkish coffee at a snail’s pace, I saw the city had slowed, and I captured it on an old point-and-shoot camera, the scene crisscrossed by telephone wires and straggling seagulls.
My landscape muses have been many. I have swum with lion fish in the Red Sea, floated in the Dead Sea, driven the Sinai to Jerusalem, and humbly walked the Stations of the Cross. I have sailed the Seine after dark on a riverboat and marveled at the mystery of Stonehenge. I have laughed at Judy Dench on a London stage and skied on endlessly pristine Austrian peaks. I have ridden through miles of sunflowers in southern Ukraine and stood beneath towering sequoias at Big Sur.
I have metroed under Moscow, sledded down slopes in Switzerland, and safaried at midnight alongside hunting lionesses near the Zimbabwe border. I have felt the spray of Niagara Falls and stood on the deck of a ship crossing the Baltic Sea, entered the secret door leading to Anne Frank’s hideaway, and shuddered at the unearthly quiet of Auschwitz. I have traversed Europe by train, bus, plane and car. I have lived in four countries and traveled to or through nearly 30.
Baby, Meet World
I have seen the world as few have, in an enormity of experience, across two decades. Traveling as a child and a young adult, but having no children of my own, I traipsed the world in an un-tethered, wayward way.
Then, at 25 years old, I had my first child.
Time takes on a different sort of structure when responsibility expands beyond yourself in such an enormous way. With the birth of my first child the world became smaller. The logistics changed as days re-focused on small, necessary needs. But as the breadth of my world contracted, the beauty of it increased beyond anything I could have imagined.
Crinkling fists, curling toes. Wisps of hair and soft breaths. The immeasurable beauty of life, raw and unadulterated, ceaselessly needing, endlessly lovely.
Schedules are structured in a different way now. Sleepy afternoons and sleeping less. Spurts of unbridled energy and seeking out spaces where little legs can run. Marking time in milestones and measurements against a bedroom wall. I have never felt more blessed, more enamored, more loved.
Tempering tempers and constant, ongoing sacrifice. Peaks and falls. Most wouldn’t describe mothering as luxurious, but there is such a luxury in it. Holding a sleepy child close, becoming the abstract answer to all, constellations and starbursts and shining hope.
The World’s Wonders Have Nothing on Children
I have had the luxury of learning history firsthand at the feet of the ancient world’s most astounding exhibits, but nothing has fed my soul so eternally as this mothering life. The world is a jarringly beautiful place. But nowhere have I experienced the soaring sensations that motherhood has gifted me. Motherhood, parenthood, is a constant and daily practice in sacrifice. Few occupations remove self-indulgence so deliberately and resolutely and forcefully.
I have learned languages and navigated communication as a foreigner, but no interpretation has been more thrilling than those first words from my child, exhibiting the awesome ability to decode unlike anyone else in the world, and the needs, gestures, and sounds of a human attempting to grow into her world more fully.
The written word is ultimately powerful, but guiding little hands in writing first letters is beyond empowering. My ability to communicate so fluently to the world is nothing but a shadow to my daughter’s brilliance, my son’s glow. What an enlightening unraveling it has been, guiding that earliest voice and teaching a child to read the language with which she navigates the world.
After years of travel, my focus has shifted. I view more towering, twisted playground structures than grandiose cathedrals. But where those cathedrals have their own history, the playground pillagers share mine. Hearing their shrieks of glee and calling out my name, my most sacred title, derails any plan. They effectively turn down the constant hum of responsibilities in the back of my head and bring me a peace and prosperity of new accomplishments, beginnings and soaring freedoms.
The Freedom of Motherhood
The freedom to run without reason or destination. The freedom to sing French songs with half made-up words; to teach my own language in its simplest form, to learn a new language and to love and live in a way that has restrained and retrained so many personal defects, since little hands do not allow you to defer a hug and little minds are so brilliantly distracting in their formation.
Nothing brings more brilliance to the world than knowing a child. I have been gifted that grace, and wouldn’t give it up for anything. Where I once plotted out new discoveries, I am now the recipient of multiple, wonderfully created worlds. I am a still a great learner, only the landscape has changed.
Through my children’s eyes, I have re-learned the grandeur of the ordinary world. Their awe and uninhibited delight and inventiveness has taught me to find the extraordinary in all ordinary. Just a few years ago, my days were defined by such a different rhythm: Distinct, measured, and marked. I am certainly a servant to my children, but how free I have become.
I read recently about the changes a woman’s brain undergoes when she brings children into the world. Researchers find that rush of altering brain chemistry and hormones causes more than an initial falling-in-love sensation; recent study has led them to believe the change may be somewhat permanent.
My experience of the great world has been good. But my son and daughter are better. They are constant, changeable, glorious forces. It is a lovely, lovely dance they lead.