Three weeks is a long time to be without your mama. And it’s not just three weeks, I know. Yes, it’s these three weeks in Peru, but it’s also another two weeks in India, and those long weekends of conferences and girls’ weekends. It’s those hours after school when I’m finishing up work and you’re in after care. It’s that once-a-week late-night of teaching and the occasional night out with Papa. And when we finally are home together, it’s all those hours you want me to play but I’m feeding us and picking up after us and signing permission slips and checking the calendar and giving you baths and trying to make clean clothes magically appear. It’s when I’m sleeping in my own bed, but you wish I were just sandwiched between the two of you, Anna’s arm wrapped around my neck and Rory snuggled into my arms.
It’s a long time to be without your mama.
I know you wish it weren’t this way. I know you wish that I took no trip without you, that I picked you up the second school got out, and that the rest of our time were spent playing games of your creation while the logistics of life were magically tended to. I know that’s what you want, and at least once a day, I wish it were that way, too. I think about how much easier it would be: no tears from you when I drop you off at school, no frantic accounting for just five minutes after work and before dinner to change the laundry, no guilt as I peacefully sip my coffee by myself. I know, babies: It’s a long time to be without your mama, and it’s a long time for Mama to be away from her heart.
Little ones, you are my heart. I hope you know that. There’s nothing I love better than a tight hug from your arms while you declare how much you love me, or while you excitedly tell me about your day or sing a silly song for me or teach me how to play the latest version of dinosaurs-and-princesses-score-the-winning-hockey-goal-on-the-brincoline. I love you more than I knew it was possible to love someone.
But, my sweet nuggets, while my heart is yours, I am more than my heart. We mamas, like all people, are complex. Multi-dimensional. Hearts and souls and brains, friends and lovers and citizens and thinkers and neighbors and, yes, family. There was an article published recently where a daughter “discovered” her mother through old photos, surprised by the woman she never got to know herself. I’m so glad she finally got to see the bad-ass that was her mother, but imagine if we all knew that about our mamas while they were mothering us? Little ones, I don’t want you to “discover” me when I’m gone. I want you to know me as the full, complex, contradictory, goofy woman that I am — of which being a mother is just one part.
I want you to know that I’m adventurous, that I will hop on a plane to head halfway around the world just because I’m dying to try pho from a streetside stall or because I need to see Machu Picchu or prove to myself that I really am fluent in French. I want you to know what it sounds like when I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying, a sound that usually comes when children aren’t around but Auntie Jenn is. I want you to know how much my brain craves hard work. The hard work of navigating in imperfect Spanglish. The hard work of writing and revising and erasing and re-writing something. The hard work of designing syllabi and constructing a theory. The hard work of teaching. I want you to know my creativity, even if it what it produces are not-quite-perfectly-sewn curtains or silly children’s art projects or a kitchen-stage performance of Hamilton. I want you to know my joy at getting lost in a story, whether it be a lifelong favorite Star Wars episode or a new novel, and that I want a story to make me weep like the characters are real and mourn when the story ends. I want you to know that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night or even look myself in the mirror if I didn’t know that I was spending my days and my life to make this a better world, chipping away at injustice in my own little corner of the world. I want you to know what recharges me: a long talk, a quiet coffee by myself, the sound of the ocean. I want you to know that papa and I can dance, and that we're not afraid to make fools of ourselves while doing so. I want you to know that I think I'm worth taking care of, whether that be with a yoga class or a dog walk or a sweaty session of embarrassing CrossFit. And I want you to know that there are people that have known me longer than you’ve been alive, and that those people are important to me. They make me whole. They make me seen.
When I was packing my suitcases for this trip, you kept asking, “But Mama, why are you going to Peru?” And in a flippant short-hand, I told you that I had to go for work. You pressed: But why did I have to? Why did I have to take my students to Peru? And I strung together an answer about programmatic needs for a study abroad and making myself valuable and teaching loads. You were satisfied, but that was not the real answer. The real answer as to why I am here in Peru is because I want to be here. I wanted to help design this program, I wanted to bring my students abroad, I wanted to see what happens when young teachers completely go outside themselves to ask and answer fundamental questions about schooling. And also I wanted to go back to Peru, speak Spanish, eat ceviche, sip pisco, feel the thick air of a Pacific winter. I told you that I had to be for work, but that wasn’t true. I’m here because I want to be here. Just like Papa and I tell you that we "have" to go to work, when in reality, we could probably get by without both of us working. But we like working. We like our jobs. They're important parts of who we are, and we don't want to give them up.
So my little nuggets, here’s the thing that you’re not going to like or maybe even believe: I know that this is a long time to be without your mama, but it’s good for you to be without your mama. Not in a take-your-yucky-medicine-and-eat-those-green-vegetables kind of way but in a way that’s going to make you a better person. Or at least that’s what I hope.
It’s so easy to see our parents—our moms, especially—as just an extension of ourselves, people put on this planet to serve us and keep us safe. But if you can see me in all my complicated humanity, then I think it’s ever more likely that you’ll be able to see other people in all of their complicated humanity, too. If you can see me as fully human, I hope you'll learn to see everyone as fully human. And when you know that tending to our household is just one of my many jobs, I hope you’ll appreciate it more — but even more importantly, I hope you’ll know that moms don’t have exclusive dibs on taking care of their families. When you see Papa competently taking care of you for weeks on end, making lunches and calling the doctor and doing laundry and talking to your teachers, you’ll see that there’s no reason at all why this family-managing business should be the sole purview of women. And when you turn to abuela for comfort when you’re feverish, or when you proudly share an accomplishment with one of your teachers, or when Auntie takes you on your first school camping trip, or when you help each other make it through each day, or when you wile away almost an entire weekend at a friend’s house without missing me once—well, I hope that’s how you’ll learn that it takes community to raise children and that we all have a right to rich lives outside our family obligations.
You see, little ones, I just don’t think it’s fair that we expect parents, and especially mamas, to give up themselves entirely when they have children. How can we be any good for our children when we’re no good for ourselves? So I know that these feel like a very long three weeks, and I know that you’re counting down the sleeps until we get to travel to Cuzco together (four! four sleeps!) and visit the Incan castle in the sky together. I miss you, too! Not a day goes by when I’m away from you that I don’t crave your hugs and your company.
But also know this: That I love getting to slowly walk through a new museum or along the beach. That I savor a long lunch by myself, uninterrupted courses of food you’d never agree to eat. That my soul is filled by working with my other ‘babies,’ my students. And that being away from you is as much a part of my parenting as being with you. It’s in the apartness that you get stronger, braver, and most important of all, more feminist.
I love you.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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