Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Butterfly, Flapping its Wings

I saw three butterflies while out for my after lunch "naptime on wheels" walk with the girls today. Seeing them reminded me of one of the perfect moments from our big trip. We were swimming in the water in front of our motel on Pulau Langkawi, our final stop in Malaysia.

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.


  1. Anonymous11:14 PM

    This is just a lovely post, summing up so much of the only real loss I feel has occurred with my becoming a parent. But, unlike many of the places I've visited, I can remember pre-parenthood wistfully without ever really wanting to go back.

  2. Can I just say ditto to this entire post? Except my "butterfly" moment would be something from my time in Europe, and not with a butterfly. But everything else, especially the whole sentiment. Yes. Yes. Yes.

  3. Wow, what a lovely post. Beautiful words. I'm on the other side of the fence, but I can see that we both made sacrifices...

    Its great to hear words from someone who is honest enough to acknowledge that they have lost something in becoming a parent, even though you have gained so much.

  4. That last paragraph is just perfect. I had one of those moments this past weekend - I was the parent in charge of watching the gang of little girls playing down by the lake. I really really wanted to be up at the cottage talking with the friends I hadn't seen in years, and instead I was stuck in this reclining chair, under a tree, by the lake, watching three little girls having an absolute blast playing with buckets of water and paintbrushes...why on earth was I wishing to be anywhere else? So I took a deep breath, and started actually enjoying myself :)

  5. Great post. I agree totally. We shouldn't wish away today, and the best time for any hope of traveling extensively is before kids.

  6. Anonymous9:36 PM

    @Cloud - that was a lovely post. And I'm kind of glad it featured Malaysia. I lived there for 9 years ( age 5 to 14) - for me it's a place that is so mixed up with the nostalgia of childhood I have a feeling of missing the place mixed up with missing the time. But mostly I miss the food!

    @hush - I really don't think that travelling is best before OR after kids - just different. For me, so many of our pre-kid trips over the last 4 years were emotionally tainted. Our response every time I had a miscarriage or we had to take a break from trying to get pregnant was to book a child unfriendly holiday (skiing in Japan, hiking in NZ, trekking in Nepal, visiting Angkor Wat - although we had to change our plans on that trip as I got pregnant and was not going to take the chance on the Cambodian health system at 12 weeks preg!) I kept telling my husband that it was perfectly possible to travel with kids - my parents took the 4 of us kids everywhere from Europe to Lebanon to Thailand. He didn't seem convinced - but then he was asked to be groomsman for one of his best friends. In Samoa - 11 weeks after our baby was due. So we sucked up our new parent courage and went. And it was magic. I had my moment of wonder floating in the ocean, thinking how good life was at that instant, knowing my husband and baby were back in the room napping and I was lounging in a warm tropical lagoon! (I have to admit, I like the way kids force you to slow down while travelling - I need something to counter act the go go go tendencies of my lovely husband!)

  7. beautiful!

    I think the key was your idea of "wonder."

    It seems the moment wonder leaves our lives whether it is pre- or post- kids it's like we have died or are wasting our lives. I met plenty of adults without kids who never felt "the joy of being" so kids cannot be blamed for robbing us of the time to enjoy life...

    And whatever we need to do to remind ourselves to be amazed (going to Asia!! so cool!) or watching a cloud go by or listening to a child tell a story, whatever it takes, we/our lives become richer (even if we are sleep-deprived and buried under a pile of soiled clothes !!! ha!!).

  8. @zenmoo- Ha! My Hubby has the same go, go go tendencies when on vacation. I wonder if that is a Kiwi thing? It is hard to believe that it is, since their traditional vacation involves renting a beat up beach house and hanging out on the beach.

    But then, there is that whole "up a mountain, down a beer" mentality.

    And maybe they feel like they should really SEE everything whenever they leave their country, since they are so far from everywhere else.

  9. Love your attitude. I read the NY Times article about Why Parents Hate Parenting, and one of the reasons they give is that people are having kids later in life, so they know what they are sacrificing. I have always believed it's better (for me) to wait to have kids so that I have time to focus on me and what I want out of life. I didn't want to resent a child for missed opportunities. Thus, I was rather surprised to read this theory that I might feel like I'm missing out on more opportunities the longer I wait. But I think it boils down to attitude: if you can't focus on the advantages of your situation, you're never going to be happy.

    Anyway, I love hearing that you are happy.

  10. Thanks, @Autumn. Don't worry, I think you'll do fine with parenting when you decide to take it on.

    I didn't read the NY Times article because their parenting stuff always annoys me. But I think parents seem to hate parenting sometimes because a lot of it is hard work, but a lot of our cultural cues tell us that we should love every minute. That's just bunk. No one is going to love getting up in the middle of the night to care for a baby, or cleaning up when your kid gets sick, for example.


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