What it Means to be a Mother of a Traveler: Mother’s Day Edition

Me and my mom in South Africa (Christmas 2005)
Me and my mom in South Africa (Christmas 2005)

As I walked through the market this morning, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of all the kids who get to be with their moms on Mother’s Day. I’ve gotten used to celebrating most minor (and sometimes major) holidays without my family, but the twinge of homesickness tends to seep in on occasion.  It would be nice to make a surprise weekend visit home.  Alas, I live across the country from my parents and although it’s closer than the times I lived across the world from them, I can feel a bit disconnected not being able to have my entire family close by.  But, I’ve come to feel somewhat at home in that disconnectedness as I’ve chosen a path that has taken me far away from where I grew up.  Incidentally, this is all because of my mother.  No, she didn’t drive me away, she taught me spread my wings so to speak which started with travel undergirded by my mom’s support, love and encouragement.

My mom had the opportunity to travel to Chile for work, so we made a deal, if I took Spanish, she and my dad would take me with them.  Best deal made ever.  Despite the fact that my Spanish was terrible, I loved every single minute.  The air smelled different, everything seemed exotic and it immediately opened my eyes to what was beyond the Pacific Northwest.  Knowing it was imperative to expose us to people and places different from our comfort zone, my parents made this a priority from that point forward.

Once in college, I knew I’d apply for study abroad my junior year, but I hadn’t thought about going overseas anytime sooner.  Then, as a college freshman, my friend Anneke asked me if I wanted to travel with her to the Netherlands where her grandmother lived and then travel around Europe for a couple weeks.  Even though I had traveled before, my immediate response went to the barriers (the money, the time, being on our own backpacking).  I said no, it didn’t seem like a possibility.  After casually mentioning this to my parents in passing, they came to me—rather seriously—a few days later and said, “we want you to go, we will pay for half of your plane ticket.”  This was a big shock to me because we had always been so careful about money and here they were encouraging me and funding me on this independent backpacking trip to Europe.

My mom didn’t have the opportunities—or rather, she wasn’t encouraged to see the opportunities—of getting out of her comfort zone.  She was born and raised in Spokane, WA and continues to live there.  She and my dad have an amazing life and group of friends there, but my mom always told me she regretted not going to college in another city or studying abroad.  She wanted to go to Italy through the Gonzaga-in-Florence program, but her mom said “no” because of the risks.  Because of this, my mom made it essential to encourage her daughters to find adventure and take risks.  So, at 19, I went to Europe for 3 weeks, and it was amazing.  Although Anneke and I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary for the typical young tourist, it opened my eyes to the possibilities.  It removed the mental barriers to the possibility of travel and as long as it was a priority, I knew I could make it happen.

As one experience leads to the next, backpacking around Europe led to studying abroad in Ecuador and Chile.  Leaving for 4 months in Ecuador was the scariest thing I had done up to that point.  I don’t know if I would have done it without my parent’s (but especially my mom’s) encouragement and support.  She drove me to Seattle to catch my flight to Quito.  As she discovered when I was dropped off at college for the first time 2 years prior, I get cranky (and sometimes mean) when I am nervous.  Despite snapping at her for no apparent reason, she didn’t get angry, she knew I was scared of the unknown.  She sat with me in the waiting area (because you could still do that then), putting up with my crap and probably feeling just as nervous herself.  As I boarded, she gave me a big hug and told me how proud she was, and sent me on my way.  I can’t say I know how she was feeling, but I know she had to overcome a lot of fear to support me like she did.

I missed my family, but adjusting to life as an adventurer was easier than I thought. With my mom’s advice, I took advantage of every experience made available to me, so much so that at some points, I didn’t really think about how or whether my mom might worry.  I discovered my mom’s worries, however, when I had gone rafting somewhere in the Ecuadorian jungle.  I told my mom about it ahead of time, then failed to let her know I was safe at home until 3 days after I came back.  When I finally got in touch, she warned me to make sure I don’t worry her like that again.  Despite her worries, though, she didn’t jump the gun by taking actions to locate me, but waited (probably nervously) to get back to her.  Her ability to put my experience above her own fears gave me the space to learn and grow the way I needed.  I learned that I didn’t need constant contact with my parents to feel their love and support at all moments.

That love and support stayed with me through finishing college, through Peace Corps, and living on the opposite side of the country from them.  These experiences enabled me to be independent and worldly and I never would have become who I am today without my mom’s ability to give me the space to find my way outside of my comfort zone.

So on this mother’s day, I honor my mother’s amazing ability to put her kids above herself.  I honor my mom for teaching me that taking risks is the most important part of life.  I honor my mom because she has found adventure in our adventures.  I honor my mom for not just living vicariously through us, but becoming a traveler herself (the woman has hopped onto chicken buses in Ecuador, eaten locally butchered village goat in Malawi, and sat for 9 hours in a hot and crowded bus in Mali all for the sake of seeing her daughters in their temporary homes away from home).  It’s hard to live away from her (and hopefully someday I’ll live closer), but she makes the most of it visiting often and always cooking homemade meals during visits to DC or Baltimore.  So, no matter how many times I say it in her mother’s day or birthday cards, I can consistently say with confidence, I have become who I am today because of my mom.  I am a traveler and an adventurer because my mom taught me it was possible—all because my mom did the bravest thing a mother can do, she let go of her daughters and let them find their way on their own.

Mom and her girls on vacation in South Africa (Christmas 2005)
Mom and her girls on vacation in South Africa (Christmas 2005)
Walking with my mom to the market at my Peace Corps site
Walking with my mom to the market at my Peace Corps site
Mom holding James Banda (a PC friend's family's baby named after her dad)
Mom holding a friend’s baby in Malawi (Dec 2005)
Mom and another baby in Malawi - her namesake, Cathy (also my counterpart's daughter)
Mom and another baby in Malawi – her namesake, Cathy (also my counterpart’s daughter, Dec 2005)
Mom with my friend Helen who runs a women's organization in Malawi (Dec 2005)
Mom with my friend Helen who runs a women’s organization in Malawi (Dec 2005)


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