Summer is full of traveling. On the days we aren’t currently adventuring, memories of traveling seem to figure prominently. Oh how those memories rush up. They bubble up and they ebb in my brain, only to intensify in my soul. Of those memories, so many are water activities in the summer, and just how that water flows and equates with life is a marvel. Along with thoughts about the significance of water, I wanted to make sense and significance of the memories that have been flowing recently, including those concerning motherhood. This week has been particularly emotional. August 19th is the one year anniversary of my strong, beloved grandmother’s death. Two years ago I was in Europe, pregnant. Ten years ago on August 11th we were married, and then on our honeymoon. Eight years ago after we bought our house, two loving stray kittens made me their mother. Six years ago I was in Europe. (Ahh, as I type those numbers I am thinking of my daughter, who can now count and say them, hehe.) The years in between those included traveling throughout the United States and Canada. I’ve been to all of the contiguous 48 states, and 6 provinces of our northern neighbor. This year we went to Cape Cod with my in-laws, staying in a cottage they had stayed in when my husband was a baby. We stayed at one Massachusetts hotel 10 years to the day after we had stayed there on the first night of our honeymoon to New Hampshire and Maine. The small signs and connections I notice have all been hitting me more this week. There are certainly so many travel memories from other points in the summer, or times further back — beach trips as a child — but this week has reminded me of the miraculous mix of emotions we get when we think about our journeys. When I see family, friends, acquaintances, or anyone else post pictures or discuss their travels, my ears and eyes perk up and I love to see what they are up to. It brings back memories of when I was there, or where I would like to go, or just what I love about traveling. There is the massive excitement for them and what they are seeing, the awe at the marvelous location itself, the twinge of envy, the desire to escape and leave the woes of life behind. I currently have a lot I want to run away from. Some days, I want to run from most things and people, other than my daughter. Perhaps some music, some mindless scrolling, or a meaningful outing could be welcomed. I know that traveling does not solve problems. Time to relax, time to bond with loved ones, the creation of memories are all extremely important. Yet nothing erases our struggles. We hope for clarity and new perspectives and a renewed sense of energy and agency.
My 18 month old daughter loves adventure. Considering her age, she really enjoys being out and traveling and museums and seeing interesting sights. I got her started early and I do some pretty wild, unique things with her. I learned before I got pregnant, when I felt a little stuck in my life, that experiencing a little more of life on the regular made me feel better, more alive. As a mother, I feel I can find more teachable moments and focus more on her when I feel free and alive and open to adventure. My goal is to always put her needs at the top, while being flexible with her, while also trying to fulfill my own needs as an individual so that I am happier and a better person to be a better mommy. I love to think some of the things we did while she was in utero added to her spirit. My travels, our journey two years ago, were to welcome new life. A brief summary, but maybe another entry someday will focus on this: I had some summer plans made for 2015 in an effort to just live it up since I wasn’t pregnant yet. Then I got pregnant. So we actually altered plans a bit but truthfully kinda made them even crazier. I drove across the USA solo, seeing friends along the way, and doing a day in Canada. I drove to Colorado, met up with my husband who was already there visiting his parents, and we went on a hiking and meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains. I flew back, went to my obgyn appointment, and flew to Europe. My first stop was Sweden, where I participated in an international swimming competition (IGLA) with a dear friend. Try swimming a 400IM while pregnant. I did it and no one can ever take that feat away from me. My doubts were shattered and it brought me to tears, and it was one of the coolest accomplishments of my life. I spent a week traveling in Italy alone (well, with baby!) visiting family, sightseeing, and visiting the town where my grandparents grew up. I spent Ferragosto, a major Italian holiday, following la Madonna in a procession, walking in the footsteps of my ancestors through the rough, hilly streets in our small southern Italian mountain village. I had done it 4 years prior to that with my Nonna. To feel those footsteps with my child inside me was indescribable; it is a memory that I think could singlehandedly make my heart beat for the rest of my life. We visited the cemetery there — many relatives and my great-grandparents. I cried, screamed, bawled my eyes out telling them my news, asking for their help with my grandparents; I scared the man who worked at the cemetery. I put it all into her, my whole heart, everywhere I went. After Italy I met my husband, and we visited France (Normandy Beach to honor my grandfather — we did that one year to the day before my grandmother died), Belgium, the Netherlands, and Norway (to honor his family). I went to 9 countries on that month long trip. Thank goodness I didn’t have bad morning sickness, though there were things about pregnancy that made it challenging. I ended my first trimester just before coming back to go to my next appointment (and return to work, ha!). The sense of freedom, life, exploration, and doing things with a purpose and with appreciation — that is what I tried to breathe and feel and let flow to my child. I think she got it.
Fast forward one year. My Nonna has been in and out of hospitals for dementia with psychosis, and now for a recurring infection. Again, the infection has come back after a lengthy hospital stay. She won’t eat to build up her strength. She told me she didn’t want to die. She loves more than anything seeing her great-granddaughter. She tears up when she sees her — those manuccie — little hands, bring her heart joy. Hers was the first heart a part of me ever knew. My maternal grandmother, my first home. Our maternal grandmothers are very special, as half of each of us have lived within her as she carried our mothers and our mothers’ eggs. As a new mother, I knew this. I was afraid to leave her. My little family and I went away for a few short days when she seemed to be doing better. The night we returned, she had just been brought back to the hospital. I saw her in the morning; the staff would not let me bring in the baby. Friends from out of state were visiting for the day. Late in the evening, I got the message we needed to rush back. I had paresthesia; my lower legs had been going numb and tingling every time the phone rang for weeks, afraid of the news a doctor on the other end might tell me. My grandmother did not die that day. My whole family stayed all night. She was strong, she was tough, and she did not want to leave us. She held on for 6 days. For 6 days we spent most of our hours – day and night – in a hospital hospice room and waiting room. I slept in a chair covered in plastic next to my dying grandmother with my nearly 6 month old baby strapped to my chest. Some nurses let us, some nurses were more rude about it. Some nights my Mom and I went to the lobby, played and sang with the baby, watched some of the Olympics, and dozed off there. Some mornings we would go home to sleep for a few hours while another family member stayed close. We had to wear rubber gloves to even hold my grandmother’s hand because of her infection. This was the journey to say goodbye to life, a year after I had been on the journey to welcome a new one. My grandmother immigrated to this country with my grandfather when she was 3 months pregnant with my mother. I, being my crazy self, calculated that I left Europe at nearly the same point in my pregnancy that she did in hers (I actually calculated to the day but I don’t have the number right here at the moment, hehe). Obviously very different circumstances, vacation versus immigration, but the idea, the similarity, enriched so much for me. And now my grandmother was dying, one year later. When my daughter wasn’t allowed in to see her at first, I became so upset. They needed to say goodbye. My grandfather had been able to say goodbye to us. I needed to say goodbye to her. That happened. Though she was unaware for most of that time, the night of the 14th when she was moved into hospice, she was aware. And she saw the baby. That is a reaction I will never, ever forget. Her joy, her excitement, her praise and gratitude. We asked if that was what she was waiting for, and she said yes. That was the last time she spoke to us. To see my daughter. Five days later she passed away, after we told her we would be okay, after we reassured her her father and mother and my grandfather and her sisters were there, while I held her hand, while my daughter was held in the doorway. To watch breathing slow, for a week, slower and slower, more and more shallow, day by day, for that long. We were so tense. So much happened for us. I cannot imagine how much happened for her, between those breaths. I am comparing them to the breathing I hear right now from the child sleeping on my chest; the slowness those breaths share, but how deep, satisfied, calm, and hopeful are those of my beautiful baby. And how I am thankful for being able to hear and experience them all. Those journeys, one year apart, at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
The day she went in for her final hospital stay was the 9 year anniversary of the start of our honeymoon, one of the journeys that my husband and I started on to set the stage for our travels. While there have always been difficulties, we do travel well together. Our marriage and its unique timeline, for better or for worse, led to our daughter The day my Nonna went into the hospital was the 1 year anniversary of my day in Florence, one of my very favorite cities, a place I had spent time with my grandparents. A memory my Nonna never forgot was when we left my sweater (really a flannel shirt) at the market when paying for an item, and I led her back through half the city to go back and get it. It was my first time there, I probably didn’t have a map (no electronic devices FOR SURE in 2000), I was 17, but I just KNEW how to get back. Florence, the 3 times I have been there, has always been that way for me. I felt my way around it like I knew it. It always felt very familiar to me. Doing that this past time while pregnant was another miraculous feeling: I found my way into the Arno River, in the water, connecting with the new flow of life through my changing body, watching the fluorescent sun setting from Ponte Vecchio, knowing my life was changing but unaware of how that bright sunset was foretelling so much of the change to come — the spectacular, the calm, the finality, the shift, the cyclical. While there, I took a baby bump selfie (though not really a bump yet at that time) with a work of art by an artist who helped inspire my daughter’s name. Everything in those days just..connected. The changes, the highs and lows of life, they connect. And that is my take away message from all these stories about traveling and motherhood.
My goal in being out — traveling locally or far away – is connecting. My daughter’s joy in it encourages me and reminds me that it brings me more joy as well. I want my inward journey and my outward journey to run concurrently. They need to be parallel and head in the same direction, and they need to intersect as often as possible, with the goal being constant points of connection. Constant infusion of meaning into every mundane thing I do or breath we take. These are all the journeys of life, these are the feelings I want to pass down.
The feeling I wanted to leave with my grandmother, and my grandfather before her, was the idea that everything would be all right. That they were loved, that they had done wonderful things, that the deep sense of family they had throughout their lives — first with their parents, then with their children, then with their grandchildren, was treasured so deeply in our hearts. In dying, in growing a new life, in living our own lives, we travel, we connect, we find at least a single thread of inspiration, an idea that binds, to hold to as we journey through it all. I want to leave those who die with me, those who are born through me, and those who share and live my days, with that enriching, belonging, connected feeling that your life is worthy, satisfying, and possessing a deep sense of community and perfected love to reassure and soothe the panic and pain and fear of a dying heart, and enliven and enrich and bring hope to the heart of someone still learning about the world. And then there is me, in the middle. I am a mommy now. I am an adult, I do all these things. I connect to this life so that my peace will allow me to accept death, to be calm through struggles, to give my best to a small someone who is making new connections herself each and every day. I wish I could say I was good at it, but it is a constant struggle. So we will continue to travel, across the world, across the state, or just down the block, so that we can experience the freeing feeling a journey gives and touch the Lady Liberty in our hearts. We continue that journey so that we can learn more about ourselves, our world, and the cycle of our lives. We do not get away from our problems, but perhaps we sew the lessons and appreciation in our hearts that can help us build the courage to not run away from, but deal with those problems. Find a way into that water. Let your body and your soul be hungry and allow them to find their meals through your travels. The hot sun in the summer sky, the water flowing over our feet, they are the signs from this bustling and busy time of year: in any direction we look, the flow of warmth can journey forward and continue.