Peace be with you

My 15 month old son screams in my ear as I wrestle the Apple TV remote away from him. I’m literally having to pry it out of his chubby little hands and his grip is surprisingly strong, but that tiny silver gadget has been lost in his toy bin for days now and there is no way I’m letting it out of my sight again because nap time is an hour away and today mama is going to need her Netflix. I set it on our mantle, far out of his reach, and he throws himself onto the ground with the kind of dramatics that only toddlers muster. I brace myself for the tantrum and a battle of wills, when my stomach lurches and I have to run to the bathroom to lose my breakfast. I’m 11 weeks pregnant with our second child and in the throws of 1st trimester sickness, at the same time raising a tenacious, strong-willed one year old who just discovered how loud and piercing his voice can actually get. 

 

I sit on the bathroom floor and feel the cool tile on my legs. The tantrum rages on outside the door and I glance at the clock. It’s 10:15 AM. We still have the majority of our day ahead of us and the very thought makes the tears well up. I close my eyes. Three deep breaths. 

 

How did I get here? I wonder. 

This was never the plan. 

 

It’s not that I didn’t think I would have kids one day. I suppose I always assumed that I would. But sometime out there In the distant, noncommittal future, because even stronger than a desire for family, my younger self desired independence and adventure. As I steal a few more moments of solitude there on the bathroom floor, my mind wanders back to my early twenties. 

 

I didn’t discover my particularly inexhaustible case of wanderlust until I was fresh out of college. Three days post-graduation, I found myself on a plane touching down in Vietnam. It had been a nineteen hour flight, and I had never been so far from home. Those who have been there can attest: traveling to Asia for your first international trip is kind of like plunging straight into the deep end without wading in the shallow end first. Saigon is chaos. The city assaulted my senses with noise and unfamiliar smells and bright neon lights. The air was heavy with humidity and pollution. My shirt clung to my back with sweat and my already unruly hair grew larger and frizzer by the minute. It was day one of my three month stay, and I cried myself to sleep that night. But by the grace of God, I stayed.

 

And something happened to me while I was there. The fear of the unfamiliar no longer scared me, but exhilarated me. The things that once overwhelmed my senses started to recharge them. The people, the food, the culture, the landscape; I had fallen deeply in love. I was at home out there in the world and I had never felt so alive.

 

Eventually real life caught up with me, as it does. I settled into a job back in the states and a few years later married my college boyfriend. Thankfully my husband shares a similar sense of wanderlust, so we made travel a priority. In our first five years of marriage we traveled throughout Europe, to Mexico, to South Africa and Swaziland several times. I went back to school and earned my Masters Degree in Intercultural Studies, fueling the passion for culture that was first sparked in Vietnam. We came close to moving to India for two years, but ultimately we took a leap of faith and moved from California to Colorado for a job. Here we bought a house, a smart move financially but a choice that would make my 21 year old self cringe. 

 

And then we gave birth to our son. The culture shock that I have experienced in my travels is nothing compared to the shock I experienced entering into full-time motherhood. My son is vibrant and full of life. He is strong-willed and silly and the absolute best thing I have ever done. Being his mom has filled every part of my heart, and truly, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade it for spontaneous swims in the world wonder that is Ha Long Bay, or late night bottles of red wine shared in the cafes of Paris. I wouldn’t trade it for feasts of sangria and paella on the beaches of Barcelona, or safaris through the

Kingdom of Swaziland.

 

But if I’m being honest, on days like this one, sitting here on the bathroom floor, I feel completely stuck. And feeling stuck has always been my greatest fear. And the truth of that matter is, not only do I feel stuck, but I am. The reality is, I’m not using my very expensive masters degree. I’m not traveling the world. I’m not working in developing nations or engaging in critical thinking or dreaming up solutions for eradicating poverty. I’m here at home, landlocked in Denver, with a toddler and a baby on the way. In my worst moments, I feel like a “bad feminist” for staying at home. It’s a Wednesday morning, I’m still in my PJs, and I am already counting down the hours until bedtime, cursing the fact that I can’t have that well-deserved glass of red wine at the end of the day. 

 

Because I still long for independence and adventure. I long for the type of experience that just isn’t a reality for me in this season of life. At times I have fought feelings of resentment, and I’ve had to really do some serious soul work to realize that this, right here at home with my babies, is a whole other type of adventure. The world is brand new in my son’s eyes. He looks at everything, even the things that I might consider mundane, with the same wide-eyed wonder that I first had stepping off the plane in Saigon. And in these new experiences, I am his guide. I find that the prayer I pray over him most often these days is that he cultivate a sense of curiosity about the world around him. That he may share in his parent’s sense of adventure, one that has laid dormant for what feels like too long. Maybe one day it will be time to travel again. And maybe we’ll pack our bags as a family next time. But in this season, I’ll settle for what is easily my greatest adventure to date: learning daily what it means to be a mother and raising wild, wonderful, kind children. 

 

It’s now silent on the other side of the door and my stomach has begun to settle, so it feels safe to come out. My son is laying there on his back at the threshold waiting for me, staring at the ceiling, his eyes still wet. He sees me and I fear that his is about to start screaming again when he dissolves into laughter, clapping his hands and reaching up for me to grab him with a twinkle in his eye. 

 

I scoop him up and breathe in all of this toddler goodness. The remote saga is long behind us and now all that this little boy wants is to be held and loved by his mama. He wants love, and he wants animal cookies. Or “cooks” as he calls them, pointing to the kitchen. As we make our way into the next room I realize this: even through it’s challenges and insecurities, even in the moments where I feel like my potential is being wasted, right now the call to stay is stronger than the call to go. And this is truly the first time in my life I can say that.  

The Call to Stay

Erin McNeely