My husband leans over from the passenger side, seatbelt pulling taut as he cranes his neck to get a better look at the speedometer. With a disbelieving shake of his head, he admits defeat; I’ve beaten him with lead foot to pedal, topping out at 122 MPH on this foggy stretch of German autobahn. We pull over at the next inn to toast my victory over a stein of pilsner (for him) and a glass of water (for me). At six months pregnant, I’d come to terms with missing out on German beer – in Germany, during Oktoberfest – but I certainly wasn’t going to let pregnancy stop me from seizing the chance to cross BOTH “driving on autobahn” and “beating husband at own game” off the bucket list. Soon I’d have a baby and my days of wild rides would be over forever.
Before my daughter, Scarlet, arrived, I’d spend my twenties saving up my pennies and vacation days, then hitting the airport with nothing more than $400 cash and a guidebook, touching down at points from Bratislava to Venezuela and a dozen stops in between, looking to find a new piece of myself hidden in some undiscovered cranny of the planet. Now, as a pregnant thirty-something parked on a barstool with a glass of water on what seemed like my last adventure, all I could see was my bright and unpredictable youth as a dying star, destined to vanish into the boring black hole of parenthood – a slow ride down a highway to nowhere.
Three short months later, I gave birth to an actual baby, and instantly she was consuming my time, my thoughts, and my heart. Her arrival revealed the naïvet’ of my fears and injected me with that particular sense of wonder and awe that new mothers, of any culture, can understand. Still, between late night feedings, while reading status updates from old traveling companions currently crisscrossing India by train, I’d feel pangs of envy. My current idea of a vacation was a trip to the drugstore. Had my thrill-seeking spirit been replaced by a boring “mom” version of my former self?
As it turned out, acknowledging these feelings was my ticket to the next phase of motherhood. While Scarlet grew from helpless baby to commanding toddler, I observed my role as a mother unfolding along with her personality. More than an intimate caretaker, I began to see myself as a teacher and a wide-eyed partner in her discovery of the world. Magical moments started to appear in the closest of places. My daughter had insisted on scattering cantaloupe seeds throughout the yard, but they never sprouted. After asking the gardener to help pull the vines of our ever-expanding tomato plant off the ground, we discovered, right there under the stakes, a baby cantaloupe, as fuzzy as a newborn’s head. I screamed so loudly my trembling child jumped into my arms as my husband ran outside naked in alarm. Spotting that melon was, quite honestly, the most exhilarating moment of my life.
And that’s when it hit me hard: One day as a mother presents an astonishing multitude of possible paths – points of diversion more wild than any plane ticket, rail pass, or map could ever offer. The choices and their consequences are more exciting because they are simply more important. And they are more important because THEY ARE NOT ABOUT YOU. My life as a mother is anticipation, mystery, and imminent change. And most exciting of all is my certainty that whatever tonight holds, I will wake up tomorrow morning and not be the center of my own attention. My kid taught me to be enchanted and fulfilled by the unpredictability of our life at home. The travels of my youth were just the beginning of a journey of self-discovery that landed me in the wildest of destinations: parenthood. Now the real adventure begins.