First I had to imagine myself where I wanted to be in life. Seems simple, but when you have identified with a job for 20 years it is hard to imagine being anything else. There is a detox period, similar I imagine to “unschooling” older children. I had to unlearn all of the constraints that society taught me and I put on myself. It felt like I had to navigate myself out of a straight jacket. I had to learn to dream and trust in myself.
It took a lot of self reflection and deciding what is important to me. What do I want to teach my son in this new day and age? How can I be a better mother, wife and human being? How can I find my “Dharma” or path? I cannot express to you enough the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. I once thought the skills learned in the ER of multitasking and anticipation were valuable, but I had taken them to the extreme. I forgot how to sit down and enjoy a simple meal or conversation without wandering off to the next tasks. I ignored my own needs and lived life like it was a list of tasks to be completed. Slowly, through mindfulness and mediation I learned to slow down and get to know myself. Slowly, the answers and sense of ease began to wash over my exhausted mind. Slowly, the tiny voice, that had been whispering in the background for attention, began to speak confidently and resolutely.
With reflection, I rediscovered some principals that guided me in raising my first son almost 25 years ago. Love and respect. If your actions are guided by love and respect for yourself and others, you are probably making the right decision. I decided when #1 was first born that when in doubt, I would let these principals guide me. I have made many mistakes along the way but #1 is an amazing young man that anyone would be proud of and we have a wonderful relationship, so I suspect my love and respect for him was palpable enough for him to pardon my faults. This was my starting path to returning home to myself.
I mulled this jumble of ideas over and over in my mind for a while, but it was when I started to put my values down into words and sentences that things started to happen inside of me and around me. Initially I dared only to share the written words with myself. I had to find clarity and confidence before I could bare my soul even to my husband. Slowly, my husband began to see my point of view and I feel like my change in perspective began to open a door for him to see outside of his world. He began to see new possibilities and we began to dream together about taking time off to travel. This first step took about one whole year!
I searched and searched online for information on how to travel the world for a year or more with a child until finally I found an explosion of families that travel the world in a myriad of different ways. I found Brandon Pearce and the Family Adventure Summit and slowly the names and faces began to become familiar. Our plans have changed numerous times and even now is in flux. First we considered traveling for a year south through Mexico, Central America and into South America. But there were so many other places that called us and with my new found freedom I did not want to be limited. The question changed from “is it possible?” to “how can we make this happen?” From this perspective you really begin to evaluate your priorities. Suddenly all of the non-essentials fall by the wayside because they are obstacles to your goals and the mind begins to hone in on what is important to you. The reality for my family is that there is very little in the way of material things that we need to be happy. Many of the things we collected was because of boredom or a need to fill the void created by our inability to travel and spend quality time together.
The purge of belongings was actually much easier than I thought because I had already changed my perspective and mindset from scarcity to abundance. I put things up for sale at reasonable prices and people purchased or I gave away many things in a matter of months. It felt good to make others happy and to see my things find a new home. I still have a way to go, but all of the major furniture is gone and about half of the clothes and toys. I feel lighter already and I am amazed at how once you are willing to let go new opportunities arise. Instead of fear guiding my choices, I trust that I can create my own future with the choices that I make now to live in the present.
Being a mother is a full time job that I take seriously. I love my boys and I am proud of the individuals that they are. I feel my job is to support them and protect their individuality from the conformity that society prescribes. Honestly, I did not always believe that last statement. You can ask my first son who often heard me say “suck it up, this is the game we must play to succeed in this society”. This is what I was raised to believe, like I would imagine many of my generation.
Life and my crazy husband gave me a second chance when my second son was born almost 18 years after the first. I had the luxury of reflecting upon what I enjoyed about being a mother, what I thought went well and and what I would change. I was blessed with bright sons who are curious and interested in learning about the world. Honestly, I believe all children have these traits, it is just not always so obvious as with these two chatty boys who wear their hearts on their sleeves. I could not limit my younger son’s growth as I had the first, and I had to acknowledge to my older son that I recognized my mistake and apologize. My older son all but patted me on the head and said “it’s OK mom you tried your best” and re-affirmed my suspicions that the traditional education system in the US is broken despite him thriving within it.
Now I wholeheartedly protect my sons’ rights to individuality and their right to an education and a life that does not require them to conform to societal norms. That led me to find a project based learning school – The Hudson Lab School, that supports the individual children’s needs and learning styles. The children are encouraged to take risks, explore, make mistakes and ask questions. It has been a wonderful experience for my son and helped me to re-educate myself on how learning can be meaningful, engaging and natural. This has been a wonderful transition to the homeschooling/worldschooling that we will undertake while we are on the road this summer. Thankfully the angst over finding the perfect curriculum and teaching has subsided, because I now understand that learning happens naturally if you support an individuals curiosities and take the opportunities to learn wherever you are and in everything you do. I am actually excited to learn together and from each other as we travel, because as I look back the most important lessons I learned from my family and life, not in school.
El Salvador wasn’t our first international travel, but something changed for us there. We had been to Paris, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Maui, Tokyo, Osaka and Mexico City before visiting my mother-in-laws home country. My husband had been to El Salvador several times over his life, but he never identified with the country as the homeland of his ancestry. He and his mother called Osaka home since they had lived there in his father’s family home until she left with my husband and his siblings when my husband was thirteen.
We stayed briefly in the capital city of San Salvador visiting my husband’s family. They welcomed me and my then 12 year old son with genuine warmth and kindness. The family urged us not to travel via local bus to Libertad to visit my husband’s childhood friend near Libertad, but my husband had traveled throughout Southeast Asia a few years prior and loved the experience. Riding a “chicken bus” was a first for my son and I and we loved it. We enjoyed the sites along the way as well as the opportunities to interact with the locals along the 3 hour bus ride. The children stared and smiled shyly when we met their eyes, locals entered the bus to sell food and drinks along the way and live chickens riding alongside us provided plenty of new experiences for each of the senses.
Our destination, El Zonte, was a simple yet beautiful little compound of cinderblock huts along a black sand and stone beach surrounded by a tall barb wired wall. We stayed in their biggest room which was 1 flight up a circular staircase with glass louvered windows, glass sliding glass doors and thatched roof affording us an unobstructed view of the ocean and the surfers who flocked to its world class waves. The room had 6 single institutional type beds with mismatched sheets and pillows and its own army of ants that invariably found their way into our food if left unattended. There was nothing like taking an ambient temperature shower in our alfresco shower closet on the landing outside our room after the long bus ride while listening to the children and people a few yards away on the beach below. For a country side that was notoriously unsafe, there were no locks on the doors and no way to secure our belongings and yet I felt completely at ease while I was showering and vulnerable in a completely unfamiliar place.
Our days were simple, we woke to watch the surfers during morning coffee, followed by a walk on the beach. The black sand was soft and inviting once we crossed a shallow river that the families used to wash their clothes. Swimming was much easier on this side of the beach where the water was shallow and calm. Some days we observed the crabs, fish and birds, others we talked to the locals who were fishing or collecting oysters off the shore. Sometimes we would spend the afternoon juicing oranges and limes by hand to have fresh margaritas and juice. Meals were often the local catch of the day or some locally baked or grown food. The evenings were magical because from the hammocks outside our room we could see the stars and moon lighting up the sky and reflecting on the waves. But it is the unique sound of the ocean at El Zonte that continues to haunt us years later. Like a symphony the waves crescendo as they crash onto the rocks on the beach followed by the gentle music of the rocks as they tumbled back into the ocean following the undertow. In the silence of the night, the ocean which seemed so loud would always guide us to the most peaceful sleep like a lullaby.
In El Salvador we discovered what is important to us and learned how to appreciate slow travel. Happiness is not measured by the size of your bank account or house, the status your job affords you, the grades you get in school, the number of friends that you have, or the number of places that you have visited, but by the quality of time that you spend with those you love (including yourself). the personal growth that you achieve by stepping outside of your comfort zone and the contributions that you make to this world. I am thankful to El Salvador for teaching us this valuable lesson and changing the way we travel. Our travel the past few years have certainly been more mindful of these realizations and will continue to evolve as we do.
I have been struggling with this question for years now. At 49 years of age you would think that I would know. While I mostly loved my job as a Physician Assistant for almost 20 years working in the ER this question increasingly haunted me. There was this uncanny feeling that there must be more to life. I should have been satisfied with my professional life. I made a good salary, was well respected among my peers and coworkers. My patients appreciated me and the time and compassion that I tried to give each of them. I cared for people in their moments of vulnerability and made a difference in many people’s lives and yet I felt unfulfilled. Sure the hours were long and often stressful, but that wasn’t the problem.
At first I felt guilty. Why wasn’t I grateful for all that I have? Many people hate their jobs and work many more hours than I, for much less money. It has taken me a long time to separate my mind and my soul from the identity that was so ingrained in me. Mother, Physician Assistant, wife. Now I realize that I got so caught up in the daily routines and expectations that I set for myself that I lost sight of who I am and what I really want in life. I was so busy trying to be the best I could in my field and as a mother of two wonderful boys, that I lost me. I forgot my dreams of travel, photography, natural adventures and philanthropy. I gave away all of me in pursuit of a career that I thought was noble, that fed my ego and fulfilled what society tells us is important: safety and security.
Somehow during my pregnancy in 2012 I stumbled across yoga. It was something for me to stay active and it was easy despite my growing belly, but it was so much more. Yoga was “me time”. My practice gave me permission to take just a little time out for myself for the first time in years. It is amazing how just slowing down allows the mind to process and see. My reflection slowly lifted the veil that had shrouded reality. At first the insight was nice as if everything was more significant and had meaning. Sometimes however, when you can see more clearly you might not like what you see. I saw that working in the ER was less about caring for people in their time of need and more about making money and producing desirable statistics. I had been deluding myself and feeding my own ego. I began to see my situation for what it really was without the rose colored glasses and felt betrayed by my own ignorance. And then I examined myself. Was it noble to sacrifice my personal needs and those of my family for the glory of being “better” and “leading by example” when nobody really cares? Was I just deluding myself? I suppose some of my patients cared, but the institution of medicine did not. As this new reality settled in I understood why this unsettled feeling was ever present.
Although I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up, I know what I do NOT want and going back is not an option. I am at a place in my life where I don’t necessarily need to know what the destination is, as long as I continue to look with open eyes and follow my heart. In Yoga this is called following your Dharma or life’s purpose. I am confident that the path will become apparent as it unfolds and this confidence is both liberating and empowering.