“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
– Elizabeth Stone
I have to credit my discovery of this quote to Samantha over on The Song Map. Her website is one of the many I have encountered while I have been running AdventurousParents.com. Mothers seem to enjoy making sense of their lives through words, sending them into the ether to occasionally intersect. For many of us, writing is a natural instinct, whether or not we do it professionally. I have been lucky that this website has been a bit of both – a personal journey and a professional project.
Since the beginning, AdventurousParents.com was positioned to examine the transition of outdoor adventurers to parenthood – the emphasis being on transition. But a transition implies there is an end point or a new phase – like reaching a summit – and so far in parenthood, I feel like I’m on a neverending climb. Just when I think I have reached the top, when I think perhaps I have made that ‘transition’, I realize I have so much farther to go.
I don’t mean that in a negative sense, as if all of parenthood is an uphill slog. Actually, it’s far from that. You’ll hear many parents say “each stage just gets better and better” and it is absolutely true. Each stage reveals more about the little person we have introduced to the world. As we venture higher up that mountain we unveil new aspects of our daughter’s personality, character, sense of humour, and wit.
But to continue with our climbing metaphor, as it is with any big climb, you simply can’t think beyond each micro-stage of the process, or you’ll never get up that mountain. If you knew setting off from the trailhead everything that you would endure, you’d probably have a mental sufferfest the rest of the way. The same applies to parenthood in many ways. If I went into labour knowing I had 28 hours to go, I probably couldn’t endure the pain. If I knew just how challenging certain moments or phases of parenthood would be, I’d be so overwhelmed I’d crumble into pieces. And to tie it back into that quote, if I knew how vulnerable my heart would be each and every day, I don’t think I’d have purposely become a mother in the first place.
Often the unknown is a gift.
By some of my own standards I have made the transition to parenthood. This summer I had my first glimpses of the “other side” when I set off on kid-free backcountry trips and felt like my old self again. I felt like I had reached a new phase when I escaped for a few days in a row and left my child in the care of her father or grandmother. I also reached a milestone when I launched a new media company here in Banff, and put my entrepreneurial shoes back on again.
But, by other standards, I’m not there yet, I don’t think I ever will be, and that’s alright. Just when I feel like I have a handle on things as a parent, I enter a new stage. Each day is filled with challenges that threaten to crack me at the seams, as well as the joys of discovery that are part and parcel of life with a toddler. It’s mostly awesome. As Maya grows older, I grow in my skills as a parent. I find creative ways of engaging with her, playing with her, and getting to know her. Now I get to ask questions and find out what her rather intricate answers are – usually the highlight of my day. While I continue to nurture and mother her, our relationship is morphing into one of friendship and the intimacy that comes with inside jokes and creating memories together. Pretty cool.
Perhaps the key to making the transition – if even just within ourselves – is to accept that life as a parent is an endless climb, but nonetheless an exciting and rewarding one. The transition to parenthood is one transition after another. Our job is to show up for each one and make the most of them because, if I’ve learned anything so far, each stage passes in the blink of an eye. Someday I’ll have an empty nest, and wonder where all those years have gone.
A good friend recently had a baby, and I’ve been reflecting on the various stages I have been through with Maya. Not wanting to inundate my friend with advice, but being very aware of the journey she has just embarked on, last week I sent her a quote that I posted here when Maya was just one week old:
“Like a gift, beautifully wrapped at the foot of your bed each morning, today asks that you open it and enjoy everything inside. Exhaust yourself with all it has to offer!”
― Steve Maraboli
Each transition our children bring to us is a gift. And amidst all the transitions, questions and uncertainties, we have a choice. We might feel like our hearts are walking around outside our bodies most of the time, exposed and unprotected, but we can choose to show up, take life one day at a time, and enjoy the gift.
It may not be there tomorrow.