Long before the quarantine, before Covid-19 became a household name, before Corona was anything but a Mexican beer, I spent a lot of time comparing my relatively mundane life to the more exciting life I used to lead.
We talk a lot these days about transformative experiences. In the performing arts and in the botanical garden worlds at least, management is always looking for the next transformative experience they can offer to their guests. In my work before motherhood I was looking to create those kind of experiences. What I was never looking to do was to become one myself.
When I decided to get married and move to Germany I wasn’t really looking to be transformed, I naively just wanted to add to my arsenal of stories and experiences.
After the babies came I decided that my story was supposed to be about travel and living abroad and doing it all with kids in tow. We traveled as much as we could and when we weren’t traveling, I was always going somewhere with them. If I felt at all transformed, I felt transformed into a tired person with a baby belly that never quite went away. Frankly, I secretly thought, I liked how flat my stomach used to be and I liked my energy level better before too. I missed my ballerina bod and I dearly missed feeling like an expert at something. If this was the motherhood transformation that everyone was talking about I was kind of disappointed.
Turned out there wasn’t a ton of satisfaction in documenting how many miles I’d traveled with my girls, because I was too tired to enjoy the places once we arrived. Diaper changes in questionable locales, taking quick selfies with them in exotic places, rushing through eating out to avoid the ticking time bomb–these things were more stressful than exciting.
There was certainly a bit of satisfaction in ticking the destination off the list, deep sighs of relief when the trip was over. Looking at the pictures later I was glad we’d gone. But the real feeling of experiencing another place felt out of reach even when I was actually in that place.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discouraging travel with kids, I just think my expectations were a little skewed.
I had always believed that we could cobble together a fantastic life through travel. That we could feel most alive hopping from place to place, experiencing other cultures. I was sure that the very climax of life–that deep satisfaction– came from being able to jump to another place every time I had the urge to go. To always be able to do something even better. Raining here? Just leave, I thought, You have the freedom and the focus to go find the perfect beach day, fly to the perfect sunset and basically be in the perfect place at the perfect time– all the time.
But in this scenario, in order to feel satisfied, I always had to go somewhere. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of staying. Was it possible to create a place that made me feel the way all those places I was running to did? Well, I’d never tried.
But I sat out late yesterday afternoon, cooling myself in the shade with an Aperol Spritz. Watching the girls fill the baby pool with the hose, I listened to their discussions about the cold water, heard their giggles of delight and smiled as they turned into streaks of color darting through the yard. I looked at the garden, the spring ephemerals fading, the summer grasses and blossoms starting to emerge. From my vantage point, it couldn’t have been a prettier sight. I felt transported without going anywhere at all. Moreover tiny elements of all the places I love were woven into the details all around me so that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
What was the secret? Gratitude? Joy? Maybe, but it was something else too. It was the satisfaction you get from making something yourself, from creating a place. Little by little, it comes together over time. An idea flickers to life. You follow it through and get to see it come to fruition. Each new bud, each emerging bulb, each flower that comes back after the winter. Hope grows as the garden does. Surprising you, filling you.
I recently found this photograph:
The Latin translates loosely to, As you sow, so shall you reap.
There’s plenty to be said for flying to far off places, opening our minds and our eyes, appreciating what the whole world has to offer, but there’s also something to be said for hearing the heartbeat of the earth right beneath your feet. Designing a dream in a little bit of dirt, planting some seeds and hanging around long enough to see them grow. A piece of you is mixed in that earth. You have something to do with the magic in that space.
Then today I saw this quote:
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.Senator Barack Obama February 2008
He was talking about the world, but I’m talking about your world. You are the person you’ve been waiting for. You are the person who can make your life satisfying. You are the person who can create something meaningful. No one else can give this to us. No one can do this for us.
Our lives become more satisfying when we stop comparing, when we invest in ourselves and take ownership of our space. The transformation is complete when we realize our power to take care of ourselves because then we understand how to take care of others.