A few recollections + the ups and downs of leaving your treasure at home
Well, we’re back. Mostly. Our largest suitcase is still globetrotting, along with all our souvenirs, Dave’s suit, and my favorite new pair of jeans. (and the rest of my decidedly lackluster but nonetheless nice to have around wardrobe, she types in old gym clothes #downsideofminimalism) Last spotted leaving Newark for Cincinnati and then looping through Chicago, according to the nice Indian man I’ve spoken with 11 times at United. He assures me that my bag will arrive on the next flight each time we speak, and then asks me to be patient for one, two, and then five more days.
I expect we’ll be buying a new suit soon.
On a housekeeping note, the last piece I posted about our pilgrimage included my marveling over Padre Pio’s still beautiful face. Yes, I know he is only a “possible” incorrupt and yes, it was evident that his hands have decayed. The amazing thing about Padre Pio, however, isn’t whether or not his body is incorrupt, but how beautiful his life was and how powerful his intercession continues to be.
I will probably write at least a couple more posts related to our trip and detailing the amazing sites we visited, but my brain is still a little fogged from jet lag and a rooster baby who is dedicated to a 4 am wakeup for the moment, plus I need time to reflect on what exactly this trip was, to me. It wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t relaxing or easy or even particularly enjoyable at moments. But it was very beautiful, and I think the fruits of what we saw and experience and prayed through will continue to reveal themselves not in the alternate reality of travel, but here, in the daily grind of our actual lives.
I struggled a lot with anxiety the whole 11 days. The final 3 or 4 we spent in Rome were probably the best, because we were finally sleeping (Luke included) and because despite the chaos of the Eternal City, it was home for a little while, and that brought with it a consoling familiarity.
I thought often about my friends who travel for work or who serve in the military and face down deployments and long assignments, and my heart went out to them, along with all of my respect.
I could.not.do.this for a living, and I practically kissed our dirty laminate floors when we walked in the front door late Monday night. I don’t know if it’s my temperament, my disposition to anxiety, the young ages of our kids or what, but there is no amount of money or opportunity that could tempt me to do something like this again for a long, long time.
But it was beautiful. How to communicate the extravagant beauty we feasted on, and the moments of grace and encounter, but still admit how difficult it was?
I’m well aware many people, maybe even most people, will never be given an opportunity to travel the way we have, and I am profoundly grateful for having seen and touched and experienced other cultures and ways of life.
But oh, was it hard. I longed for my older children in a way that was physically painful. I cried most nights for missing them, and thought more than once about blowing thousands of nonexistent dollars booking an earlier return flight so that we could be reunited sooner.
I was kind of astonished by the intensity of gratitude I felt for my plain, ordinary life at home. And I think that realization right there was the entire point of the pilgrimage for me.
All this long, hot past summer of sicknesses and moving boxes and night wakings and hundreds of ordinary little hardships of family life and parenting had perhaps built up a bit of hardness in my heart, both towards the job of motherhood and, shamefully, against my kids themselves. I had been praying for more tenderness towards them recently in the weeks leading up to the trip, while simultaneously looking forward to a break, some downtime, some uninterrupted sleep. (Why I thought taking a 1 year old to a +7 hour time zone difference and sharing a hotel room after hours of bus rides and walking tours = “downtime” shall remain a mystery for the ages.)
What I got, instead, were hours of relative silence to reflect on the beauty of our family life. To think of each particular child’s personality and developmental stage, and to mull over each little person in my heart, missing them fiercely and appreciating from afar the little quirks and talents and idiosyncrasies that make up a unique human being. I’ve never been away from them for any substantial amount of time, and I was shocked how impossible separation from them really proved to be.
Because I’ve lost myself in motherhood.
Not in the lamentable, who-am-I-now-and-why-does-my-body-look-like-this way sense, but in the sense that I no longer exist as an autonomous person apart from these children. And I don’t know how to communicate that this isn’t a bad thing.
In becoming their mother, it’s like I upgraded to another level of reality. And while I am still very much “me,” I have new body parts. 4 little pieces of my heart walking around outside of my body, and to separate from 3 of them was tangible and left me feeling amputated.
If you’ve read me for even a little while here, you know I don’t parent from of a particularly “attached” style. I have no problem calling the sitter and escaping for a few hours of introverted silence or a night out with girlfriends, and Dave and I have left for a weekend away a few times. But oh, the surprise of leaving them for just a little too long and how much it hurt, and how grateful and happy and relieved I am to be home. And relieved at my relief, that it turns out I really was made to be a mom after all.
Not that I particularly doubted it, but there are hard days when I look around and wonder, “am I really cut out for this.”
Yes. The answer is a resounding yes.
I went to Italy expecting to find adventure and spiritual succor and enjoy priceless encounters with history and beauty – and a glass or 10 of really great wine. And the wine was good, but it turns out the real adventure and the more astonishing beauty was waiting for us back at home.
Oh Jenny, I felt the same way this July when my husband and I took our parish youth group to World Youth Day for 12 days. I thought it was going to be a great getaway to grow in my faith and see amazing historical sites, but really all I wanted to do was get home to my four kids. God has his way of turning these pilgrimages into true revelations. I’m right where I need to be, here at home!
I don’t think I could take a vacation away from them. Not because I’m some awesome parent, but I think my anxiety would be through the roof. I would also be afraid to go away with my husband in case we both died at the same time. And to think I used to be an even more anxious person before knowing Jesus :/ I would loooove to take the family to Rome one day, though. However, I don’t imagine we’ll be able to afford but perhaps our kids will take us when they’re older, lol.
Jenny, beautiful article, as usual. I am looking forward to the next in your series. I went away alone to go to my sister’s wedding in a foreign country and didn’t miss anyone for a minute!
Beautiful! I am glad you are back home safely!
Loved this. And I can’t remember the term but I heard Christopher West speak once on a concept that literally some cells of each baby in the womb remain in the mother after delivery (or passing). So they truly are a part of us and hence, part of Jesus remained in Mary. I first heard this while I was still single and not yet a mother and found it fascinating. I think God designed us that way to unite us in a special way with our children. I get frustrated and cranky and grumpy and worn out all the time with my kiddos. I’m rarely not with them. We can’t afford sitters even if we planned time away. But I do miss them dearly if we are apart.
Cami that would be microchimerism. I only read about it last winter and found it fascinating, too. Yet another reason for us to draw near to her as our mother, too.
Do you think the anxiety was more due to the great distance of this trip, or just the length of time? Think that would increase my worry, being a long distance away! It’s always good to be home- welcome back!
You wrote: “I no longer exist as an autonomous person apart from these children.”
The sad part about it is that when the final one leaves home, you will really feel that lack of autonomous existence in a very painful way. It will be the moment when you begin your first steps towards becoming “other” than mom. And yet, you will still be continually called upon to be mom. Just differently.
One thought I had when reading your reflections is that you probably would have experienced your “getaway” from the kids a little differently if it had actually been just you and your husband. I think the little one that accompanied you was the source of reminder that made it more painful to be apart from the rest of them. But for the little one, he got some great opportunity for “one-on-one” that he might never have had otherwise. Silver linings are always there to be found. : )