We are each the hero of our own stories, and in this sense, we travel alone. Yet we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Our stories weave and intersect in beautiful and unexpected ways. This is the dance of living, and we each have our roles.
On a Friday afternoon I sat in the shade of a thatched umbrella in the bright sunshine beside the highway. My baby son rested in my lap, while my husband and daughter chatted about a new game app across the table. In front of me the waitress had placed a sparkling glass of water. It was shaped like an oversized tulip balancing on a too-thin stem. Traffic rumbled past. A light breeze flirted along my arms. My family was happy and occupied, and in this moment of calm I noticed the tiny scene reflected in the bulbous bottom of the water glass. I inhaled deeply. The scent of summer (cut grass, truck fumes, sun-creamed skin, frying onions) simmered in the air. Slowly I let go of the tension generated by grocery shopping, deadlines, business management, and weekend plans, and let myself see the little captured world. I made out the slide and swings and trees. I saw the minuscule cloud puffs floating across a teaspoon of sky. I stilled my thoughts and busyness and urge to control, and allowed myself to dip in to this parallel universe of butterflies and magic things. It whispered a secret into my heart, reminding me that if I was lucky enough to have understanding alight upon my palm, to treat it with lightness and care. To slow my breath and drink in its beauty. Because in the next moment, sure as day, it would take flight, and be lost in a kaleidoscope of color and noise.
The cool water runs over my naked body as sweet as a kiss. The river chatters like an old friend. The morning light washes the air clean, leaving no trace of yesterday. I sink down and inhale the silty summery smell of the water. I have a few minutes alone. Two. Four. Maybe eight. I don’t know when I will be needed again, when my name will be called. But I take the time to move slow. To look at the bush stretching up the hillside above. I drink in the play of sunlight over the acacia trees, see how it seeps into the terra-cotta of protruding cliffs. I find a spot by the reeds, in a quiet eddy, with a rock that curves round my hips. I reach for the soap tucked among the plants, dip it into the flow, then bring it close to my face and breathe in its scent of ylang-ylang, cardamom, and cloves. I slip it down my neck, around my breasts, under and over my arms. Now its exotic perfume whispers off my own skin. I am of the river, of the land beneath its waters, of ancient stories and time eternal. I am here, now.
‘Mama!’ Four minutes.
I rinse off quickly and stand up to see my four-year-old daughter picking her way through the thorn trees.
‘Here I am!’ I call. I wave to her dad watching from the top of the path with our six-week-old baby in his arms. When Emma reaches me she stops, momentarily surprised by my nakedness knee-deep in the river.
‘Do you want to come in too?’
‘Yes please.’ She lifts her arms for me to pull off her shirt, then pushes down her shorts and panties. I help her in, and she leads the way across the rocks scattered in the river’s breadth. She is an explorer, an adventurer, and I try to keep up. I show her how to splash water on the burning stones; she shows me what it is to be fearless and in love with the world. I was blessed by my moment alone with the river, and I am blessed by my journey across it with her…
It is white outside. Not the soft veil of mist, nor the rolling waves of fog. Just thick white clouds without relief of blue. It is as if the world has been packed away in cotton wool. From my bed all I can see is this vast nothing. It aches inside me, because I too have been packed away from life. My soul, my essence, my very self. A fresh new reality is settling into my bones, trickling through my veins, seeping from my flesh. My limbs are hollow and my heart stuffed with space. I have been washed away by my new role. Mama of two. Mother to a son. This reality smells soft and feels sweet, but it is also heavy and enveloping. The wide windows of my house wrap around my bed. Only three weeks post-surgery, post-birth, my child and I are nestled deep in our duvet cocoon spotted with sour milk. The large swaths of endless cloud reflect to me my blank-white soul.
The car bumped slowly down a track only just visible through the lengthening grass. My eyes stung. Just before we left home, carrying my daughter to the car had caused the ache in my pelvis to intensify. I was as slow-moving as this vehicle picking its way down the hillside. Everyday tasks were as heavy as my swollen belly, and tugged at my shoulders as much as my knees. Who would I be in just a few weeks? How would I manage with two small children? And where does patience and generosity and good cheer go when fatigue and aches bind your life like the thick mat of grey clouds brooding above me? This is what weighed on me the most: I wanted to mother and partner the best I could, to be present with kindness and joy. But in this place of vulnerability I also wanted desperately to coat myself in a brittle shell of crankiness, to wield grumpy as the armor that could hold all my pieces together.
In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Horatio exclaims, ‘O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!’
And Hamlet replies, ‘And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’
[Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, Line 185]
I’ve settled slowly into the realization that this season of my life is about mothering. Not in part, not on the side, but almost entirely. Love for my daughter broke me into pieces; love for my son has put me back together again.
About two years ago I was a regular reader of an unschooling mom who became a minimalist. She went from living in a three-bedroomed double-garaged suburban house with a yard to a two-bedroomed walk-up apartment. She, along with her husband and two kids, radically downsized the volume of their possessions (as in 2 sets of cutlery and crockery each, 2 towels, 4 shirts…), and in the process uncovered the life of their dreams. Originally inspired by Konmari, a decluttering method which suggests keeping only that which brings you joy, they went further, and asked, ‘What can we manage?’ I was intrigued and inspired. I immediately began a decluttering process, which quickly snowballed into our own drastic move. My husband gave up one of his jobs (which had included a four-bedroomed house and yard with staff), and we moved into a one-roomed hut perched on a hillside.
Last week Monday morning found me swinging in a hammock, the pale golden orb of the sun just peeking through the naked branches beyond my feet. My husband pulled up in the bakkie packed with tools, and I climbed in. We were heading to my mother-in-law’s to help with a day of building on her new house. My three-year-old had spent the night with her, and although I felt her absence keenly, it had filled me up with love and patience. I had inspected the spaces I often fill with worry and ‘urgent’ tasks, and swept them clean. With my one love in the seat beside me, I drove towards the other, through fields olive and tan, the evergreen trees shivering softly in the morning light. We picked up staff on the way, and all unloaded at the little house tucked beneath a swath of indigenous forest. I settled on a fallen log and felt the day unfolding crease by crease.
In the hours that followed, collecting treasures such as berries and leaves and flowers with my daughter, building impromptu playgrounds out of planks and bricks, laughing with my husband as we shopped for a group lunch, I sensed something new tingling beneath my skin. For several months I had been gently seeking a rhythm I had lost. I knew, up in my mind, that the life embracing me was beautiful, sacred, and joyful, but it had been some years since I felt that truth beating in my heart, flooding my limbs and leaking through my ribs. Three-year-olds experience bursts of enthusiasm and joy every few minutes. For many adults, these pure moments are spaced out by months. As we ripen into adulthood we often forget how to immerse ourselves in the flow of the universe; we cloud the truth that there is anything more important than taking delight in our passing moments. But in a tent of pine needles, with the water under the rowboat sparking and shimmering like a quickly moving fish, what had been silent in my veins had turned into a pulse. I once again not only knew joy, but felt it too, and as a dear and familiar companion.
I stood at the sink, my hands in hot soapy water while my three-year-old and my husband sat on the couch watching TV. Our daughter wanted something to eat, but didn’t like anything we had in the house. The sound of her whining climbed fingers up my spine. My shoulders moved up towards my ears as I moved around the house collecting dirty bowls, spoons and cups. My three-year-old wasn’t only disappointed that we had no sweets for her to eat, she was angry. She wouldn’t let either of us pick her up to comfort her. I struggled to feel sympathy or compassion while that terrible whining noise continued. I knew she was actually bumping up against the reality that she doesn’t make the decisions, that her life is in our control. She couldn’t choose to climb in the car, drive to the store, and change her options. She was finding her own edges, and processing a world full of limits. I pulled on my boots and grabbed the bowl of food scraps. The cold outside reached beneath my shirt as I walked to the compost box. The frost crackled on the veld grass of our little homestead. At the edge of the fence, our dog waited for tidbits, her scavenging instincts still strong from her days spent roaming wild in the township. I tipped out the bowl, and breathed deep of the winter air. The mountains were crisp below me, with only a light layering of snow. As I crunched back to our one-roomed house, I stopped to look at the icicles covering the edges of the leaves. They clung to the still-green surfaces like rows of tiny perfect diamonds.
Hello and welcome:) I am a South African mama who believes in unschooling, mindfulness. and living on purpose. I love traveling, reading, yoga, leading our family business, and eating delicious food in beautiful places. And tea. I love tea. Pour yourself a cup and settle in for a read.