Motherhood is a fantastic journey with your own body as their first vehicle, your mind barely registering this reality, and where the operation manual is curiously missing. Once you deliver your beautiful babies, your body remains dinged and dented and bent in ways that no auto body shop can buff out. You will tell yourself the Velveteen Rabbit story over and over as a balm to soothe your stretch marked ego and in the end, your heart will confirm this truth.
While there is a definitive “beginning” to becoming a mother, there is never quite an end date to the worry, anxiety, elation, and learning curve that comes along for the ride. My Journey of Motherhood has taken many turns. Stretching out the expanse of 23 years, I have hit many pot holes, careened closely to the cliff side of moonlight and madness, across the expanse of wild wilderness. My children were always with me, buckled in for the ride, through every misadventure, well intentioned dalliance, and dead end marriage; their uplifting faces gazing at me for reassurance in the rear-view mirror.
Mom Rule #1 : “Even when unsure; reassure.”
Mondays in my world are driving days. I get my daughter up for “late start Monday” which we always love because we know neither of us are morning people, and we know we will still be balancing the Ego waffle on the dashboard on the way to school anyway. I jostle for position between blue recycling bins brought out for pick up, dab a smudge of Nutella from my daughter’s cheek, and walk around to her side of the car. Backpack in hand; I carry the weight I don’t want to be on her back any longer than it has to. She always carries too much as it is. The seams are coming apart again. I put it on my mental check list of things to mend. Walking her to class is always the hardest and no matter how many times we do this routine, it never gets easier.
“Have a wonderful day today honey.” I try to find a quick smile, like digging around for loose change in my pocket.
“I will Mama.” She beams up towards me, mismatched socks, a million bracelets, and 3 watches that probably all stopped working.
“And I hope you enjoy your week with your Dad. Remember the Campfire Candy sale this week. The envelope is tucked inside…” I ramble on.
“I know Mom.” She says placating to my over worked anxiety, and hanging her backpack on the coat rack outside. Then she adds “I’m gonna miss you Mama.”
My heart heaves inside. I put on the professional; everything’s going to be all right façade.
“I’m going to miss you too darling, but I will see you in a week and of course you can always call me.”
Pulling away from the curb, un-tethered from the recycling bins, I merge back into my other reality, and head home to pack.
9:45 and the Monday morning landscaping crew pulls into our parking lot. Ranchera music spills out into the air, as lawn mowers and week whackers and men in flimsy disposable face masks are unloading; unhurried and working on auto-pilot. They set up lawn chairs for their lunch time break. We meet each other’s gaze as a matter of an acknowledged and well timed routine we are both familiar with.
The first load is the balance the white plastic laundry basket of dirty clothes with a water bottle jammed hastily into a corner. It cuts into my no longer concave abdomen, each roll in my belly fighting for dominance. Against this battle is the counter weight of my computer backpack pinning my shoulders back, as I clump along, to and fro in a middle-aged waddle, out to the trunk of my car. Littered within are remnants of my daughter’s school papers, a jump rope, wheels for a skate board and board , waiting to be assembled with high hopes, a two man camping tent, and a couple of sweaters.
Back in for my last load and a last minute mental check: orphan fish fed, plants watered, heat turned off, one light on, curtains drawn. Dishes have been loaded but not run in case of another flood or catastrophe which has happened twice before. Trash has been taken out to prevent the week old stench I’ve learned my lesson from. I hastily grab a cloth grocery bag; fill it with milk, cheese, wilted kale, spinach greens, a half bottle of chardonnay, goat cheese, and a butternut squash on the counter top. I grab my keys and turn the lock, turning my back on one reality, setting my sights for the other.
Turning on NPR from our local liberal station, I zone out on this familiar 2 and a half hour drive north, happy to cast my mind to the riveting stories of the Swan Song of a Star dying, or the Bioneers innovations by Biomimicry and how they have developed a better wind turbine by looking at the design of a Blue Whale’s fluted fin. Anything to delight me, to charm me, to cast a sleepy haze over this nomadic migration between worlds; this is what will get me through.
Past my last look at the gleaming blue of the Pacific in Shell Beach, climbing the Cuesta Grade and Cal Poly Orchards, my little Honda “Jubilee” and I sweep up 101, past Paso Robles, ribbons of vineyards in varying greens, gold’s and reds. The hill sides still cast a green velvety down from a couple of blessed rainfalls, although it is too little to hold onto for long. We will need more rain to sustain our rich soil and bread basket of agriculture, and maintain our Garden of Eden.
California Live Oaks trundle up the coastal hills in a slow moving migration pattern like wooden elephants traversing the Serengeti. I have been on my own nomadic journey for over 2 and a half years now, neither of us getting any closer to our destination.
Slightly past Soledad and Gonzalez, where I adjust my attitude and radio station again, I turn west in time towards the Salinas Valley, slowing down to pass through the one little street town of Spreckles, where Andy Boy Lettuce grows, Spinach and Strawberries pokes through the ground, and Steinbeck dreamt in a pilfered Red Wine haze.
“Almost there.” I say to myself, as if saying so, I can will this Nomadic journey to be over. Over for good? My children are far behind in the rearview mirror, my wife stationed in Monterey ahead of me. I began my journey to find Love, and I found her. What I did not foresee around the blind curve was the impact falling in love with someone in the military would have on my role as a Mom.
My mind reels towards a slow motion collision of past divorce and present joint custody, colliding with another nomadic journey in the military, watching my children thrown clear, glass and memories, shards of broken promises sprayed across four lives. The dashboard dreams of a whole family together have been fragmented for years to come.
No matter how we have tried, conspired, or planned, the course we mapped out to be one family living under one roof would not see that destination. Our Family moments are forever treasures, wrapped in a disposable happy meal drive thru existence. Our concept of normal is anything but, to even the heartiest of military families. It is the puzzle I will never solve, it is the 4:am rally cry of sleep deprived anxiety, it is the inconsolable feeling of failure.
Mom Rule #2: There is no single way to do “family”. Nomads and Mothers must be able to adapt to their environment and make sure the path is clear for others to follow.
I pull into the second driveway, stop the car, and breathe. “Home Again.” I unpack the laundry basket and find my second house key; heart weary, but knowing each and every moment counts.