This picture doesn't do it justice
The water was warm, and it felt good (and a little bit strange) to be in my swimsuit after so long demurely covered up in deference to the local culture. Langkawi is a destination for tourists from other parts of Asia, and women in swimsuits are not an unusual sight. We were roughly halfway through our trip, and had really settled into the traveling life. I no longer dreamed about work- if I had a stressful dream, it was about missing a bus or something like that. We were splashing around a bit before dinner, relaxing after spending the bulk of the day traveling to Langkawi from Penang- a spot we both liked, but that seemed to require more effort than our other stops in Malaysia did.
While we floated around, a butterfly flitted past. There was a strong breeze, so it was struggling a bit, and hung in our view for what seemed like minutes. I remember thinking that this was a perfect moment. And it was.
I always think of that moment when I see a butterfly, which is actually fairly frequently during spring and early summer, when the flowers are in bloom. Seeing a butterfly always feels like a special thing, but never as special as that moment in Langkawi.
One of the benefits of taking a long trip like we did is the chance to really take a step back and appreciate how many wonderful things there are in our world. I came back from that trip determined to continue seeing those things. That determination was the original inspiration for the zenbits series of posts. Over time, it has become more and more difficult to keep seeing the wonder, which may be why that series of posts has gotten less and less frequent. (The fact that almost all of the pictures we take these days have at least one of the girls in them might have something to do with it, too.)
Of course, the ability to see the wonder in the world with fresh eyes is meant to be one of the great gifts of having children, too. This has been true for us. Traveling with Pumpkin showed me the wonder in sea lions and fish tummies, for instance.
My children bring wonder into my life in more mundane ways, as well. Their laughter and the lengths Pumpkin will go to to get a laugh from Petunia. The way Petunia rocks out to the tunes played by Pumpkin's toy car- and the look of pure joy on her face while she does it. Pumpkin running up to me after day care telling me that she made "A miracle flag" that day, and only figuring out when I see the artwork that she means an American flag. The feel of a baby sleeping in my arms, and the "kiss and a hug" delivered by Pumpkin. All of these things are truly wonderful.
But I would be lying if I said something hadn't been lost, too. That Langkawi butterfly was more wonderful than the ones I saw today partly because of the circumstances in which it was seen. It was a time in my life when I had almost no obligations. I was, in a sense, as free as that butterfly. It is much easier to see the wonder in the world when the world is not asking much of you.
And once you have children, the world does seem to ask more of you, in ways both obvious and subtle. There are more financial obligations and the responsibility for keeping precious little lives safe. But there is also the time spent reading about the correct way to praise your child and the brain cells committed to potty training strategies. That carefree feeling I had in Langkawi is a distant memory these days. This is probably why a night away is so much more refreshing that just a dinner out. Not only do I get to sleep through the night, I get to visit that pre-kid lifestyle, and have the second drink without first checking with my husband to see if he's going to be the adult in charge for the night.
I'm just a tourist there, now. Even when I know my kids are safe at home under the excellent care of my parents, I think about them, and the details at once mundane and profound that go into raising a child. From where I stand now, it doesn't seem that I'll truly live in that unobligated state again until my kids are out of the house, and maybe not even then.
I love my life as it is, but those four months traveling around without any obligations remain one of my favorite times in my life. It is like I told Pumpkin today, when she was disappointed that she didn't have time to go on a walk with me and play with water in our backyard. There are more fun things to do than there is time. Sometimes, you have to make a choice. The great thing is that either choice will be a good one, as long as you really commit to it. Once you're living the choice you made, it is pointless- and even harmful- to wish for the other option.