Just like i was supposed to, I followed The Order. You know, the blueprint, the recipe for success, THE ORDER: pick a major, go to college, graduate, pick a job, stay there, get married, buy a house, have kids, stay at that job some more, take a yearly vacation and grind away your days until you retire.
Six years ago I believed in The Order of things. I was a young twenty-something who thrived on routine and stability and The Order made me feel safe. Change (even the good stuff) scared me and although I’d always done everything I wanted in life, it was carefully planned, researched, analyzed…then analyzed some more. And when in doubt, I just followed The Order.
Looking back now I realize why travel was always such an essential part of my life. As much as I thrived on consistency and stability, I think a deeper part of me was fulfilled by the thrill and freedom of the unknown that came from seeing the world outside of my routine. The paradox of adventure and safety provided the perfect amount of balance for my life. Since I was old enough to form memories, I’ve loved to travel. I’ve never remembered a time in my life when I wasn’t planning at least three trips simultaneously. Maps, travel journals, itineraries, budget, brochures, binders, you name it, and I had it. I was a living, breathing AAA kiosk always looking for my next adventure. Travel was always a part of me and it’s just what I did. Like the sky is blue and the ocean is deep, there was always wanderlust in my blood.
Six years ago I was following The Order and it was really working for me…until it wasn’t anymore.
Those who created The Order failed to tell me that inevitably, LIFE HAPPENS, and when it does, it happens hard. I ended up hating the job I went to college for so much so that I quit two months in without another job lined up first, I watched my family struggle through the recession, fought my own battle with infertility (and won), then right after faced the ugly monster of postpartum anxiety and depression. I lost family members, friends, jobs, money, sleep, sanity. And I didn’t see any of it coming. The Order pretty much gave me the middle finger.
Life changed me, just like it inevitably changes all of us. It has a way of weathering the sharp corners of youth into the smooth round edges of…not youth. I’m not sure anything else on this planet rounds you out more than becoming a parent. I entered a great, big wonderful world filled with love and joy and happiness and exhaustion and boogers and poop. I never, ever thought I would care so much about poop. I became a wife and a mom. Not just a mom but a MAMA, the rock you to sleep and kiss you awake, take my breath away and all the pieces of my heart, worry until I’m gray and love you until I die MAMA.
Someday I will share my postpartum journey but for now just know the beginning was ROUGH. But, if we ever went to sleep in the first place, right on cue my daughter and I would wake up early every morning, throw open the windows and listen to the morning birds together. We both LOVED the birds. They were one of the few things that brought us relief in those early, colicky days. I thought their songs were the most beautiful, melodious sounds I had ever heard…until I heard my daughter’s coos and giggles for the first time. The beauty of her voice reminded me of the morning birds. So, I started calling her Birdie and three years later, it still sticks. When she’s not screaming or sassing me out the front door, her sweet voice still reminds me of the beautiful morning birds.
Let me tell you about my Birdie. She’s three going on twenty, full of intensity and wisdom and emotion much deeper than her gorgeous brown eyes. Being her mama has been the most extraordinarily amazing experience of my life…but also the most challenging.
Messaging tells us that we give up everything when we become a mom, that it’s almost natural or instinctual to box yourself up and put it in the attic once your babies come into the world. Messaging also tells us that as women, we have to choose: dreams OR parenthood? US or THEM? We are told time and time again that we “can’t have it all.” So naturally, I assumed my ‘travel itch’ would fade as I entered this new phase of parenthood and when I ended up being wrong, I struggled for quite some time to figure out who I was now that I was a mama. Self-identity is a tricky thing in general but it really hits the fan when you become a mom. I kept hearing that life had ‘seasons’: easy seasons, hard seasons, tired seasons, busy seasons. And so, I settled in for this new season of unimaginable love and joy, but also one of gentle uncertainty and wondering how my other dreams fit into this season…or if they even did at all.
Motherhood has taught me so much about life. Change is the one thing I fought so hard to avoid but learned that ready or not, change will come, and that’s one of our only guarantee in life. My Birdie is living proof that sometimes the greatest experiences of our lives come from our greatest, scariest changes. That realization totally humbled and transformed me. Just when I was expecting motherhood to settle me down, it actually ended up re-awakened my dreams and gave me so much focus and clarity on who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. It stirred the adventurous parts of me that were sleeping cautiously as I tried to plan my way through life.
I also learned that life does not have seasons. Seasons exist in Mother Nature as she cycles from spring to summer to fall to winter to spring again until the end of time. The problem with applying this to our lives is that human existence is not cyclical. Life moves in a line with a beginning and an end, so wherever we are right now we have to know that it isn’t seasonal. That fresh, newborn Birdie that snuggled to sleep on my chest and smelled of the most heavenly baby smells? She won’t cycle back around again. That mama in her 30’s who is young and vibrant and full of dreams and potential? She won’t cycle back around again either. So it’s time to start livin’. I don’t have all the answers but mamas, whatever our dreams are, we’ve got to let our minds wander there. Not in the next ‘season’, but NOW. Our lives are simply too short and too precious to live them only when we’re retired empty nesters.
I won’t sugar coat it, a tremendous amount of sacrifice and compromise and CHANGE comes along with parenthood. But through the growth came a new liberation and self-awareness that I never had before, and the discovery of parts of me I didn’t even know I had. For some of us, motherhood is our biggest, most amazing, important part – but it is one part to our whole. Mommy guilt is such an awful emotion that it often silences the recognition of our other parts, but Birdie showed me it’s OKAY to not only have other parts, but that it’s okay to seek them out without feeling guilty or selfish. She taught me that I have enough love in my heart for her AND for my other parts, and that motherhood doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with my dreams of traveling the world. Birdie showed me how to dream and travel and be a mama all at the same time- her mama – a WANDERMAMA. Cake is even more delicious when you can have it and eat it, too.
So, this is the next step for me, this one of my other parts.
Without further adieu, welcome to WanderMama, an authentic, provocative website and blog where you can find inspiration and ideas for you and your family on the who, what, when, where, why and how of traveling and adventuring with your kids written by a mama who is in the trenches right along with you.
Over the weeks and years to come, my family and I will be traveling domestically and abroad as often as we can, working full time, paying for day care, and figuring out how to make it all work. We’ll be taking Birdie with us and documenting the good, the bad, and the ugly in hopes that it might awaken a little of that WanderMama you have in you, too. Sometimes we’ll be across the world, or the country, our own state, or across the street or in our own backyard. Wandering is about adventure and exploration, about breathing and letting go and getting messy and being present. You can carry that spirit with you every day without even leaving your front door.
Wherever you are and whatever it is you’re looking for, I hope you’ll find something here. And if you’re feeling a little bit lost, that’s okay too. Maybe you’ll find you’re not as lost as you think.
“Not all those who wander are lost.”