I Booked a Flight and Wrote a Will
Around this time six years ago, I was stuffing my black backpack full of the essentials (you remember the one). Rarely going more than forty-five days at a time before heading back to Haiti for my job, I kept the items in my pack ready: passport, bandannas, foreign currency, malaria pills, tiny shampoo bottles, deet bracelets. My roommates, both college besties of mine, were veterans in the field of running through the list of things I may have forgotten (underwear, always underwear), and setting their alarms for ungodly hours to deliver me to the airport.
I was in Southern Haiti before, during, and after the earthquake. For a good chunk of my twenties I felt very little reservation about making another people’s country my second home. I had normalized its chaos and lived for it.
It’s been five years since I last stepped foot on foreign soil (if you don’t count the few hours we crossed over into Mexico when I was pregnant). And outside of a couple short days in Texas and our lovely Provo trip, I’ve done very little travel since becoming a mom two Junes ago. Even these excursions, with their built in security (we’re driving, not flying . . . at least one of us is staying home, just in case . . . ) came with a hefty amount of anxiety. This was truest for our most recent trip.
In April, I planned a trip through my job (as a community arts program director) to take an artists’ trip to Chicago. Bridger is almost two and completely in love with being at his grandparents. He sleeps well and is happily tucked into their car seats—no tears, no tantrums—when retrieved. “Byebye, mama,” he hollers our way, “I seezshoo latuh!” It felt like good timing.
On top of this, I had the travel bug. I missed flying and airport waiting and ginger ale in tiny cups. I missed perspective and travel stories and a little bit of freedom. It felt like good timing. It felt like good timing.
Two days before we left (Easter) I found myself calling to apologize to my mom for snapping at her at the family egg hunt. I confessed that I had been on edge for about a week. This would be the first time Luke and I would both be flying away from B, and I could not resolve the nausea-inducing fear that he may have to be raised by somebody else. I was fully confident that he would be loved and well cared for, I emphasized, but I was crumbling at the thought of not getting to be the one to do it.
Luke and I would be boarding the same flight. We had scheduled tours of community arts programs in parts of town that our Uber drivers worried about. We were using Uber (despite my terrible, unrealistic fear of my murder being turned into a Lifetime movie because I willingly crawled into a stranger’s car, like a steak crawling into a lion’s den). What were we thinking . . .
That night, I had a panic attack. I cried for an hour. I wrote a will. I went in and rocked B even though he 100% didn’t need me to.
“In the case that something were to happen to both of us, everything aside from memorabilia should be sold, debt paid off, and money put toward Bridger and his raising . . . Our art and books should go to our friends and family except for our journals and sketchbooks which will go to Bridger . . . We do want him raised with our values—love, acceptance, open-mindedness, social justice, reconciliation, simplicity, gentleness, nonviolence, discipline without shame, hospitality, equality, self and others’ worth, faith in God and the goodness in this world. We cannot stomach the thought of whatever else this letter should hold other than we are so grateful for having lived such rich and full lives. And Bridger, you are our greatest adventure. No one has ever loved anyone like we will always love you. Daily and deeply, Mama and Daddy.”
I showed it to Luke. We both got really angry and said a variety of curse words in a variety of ways (because we get mad when we get scared). And we went to bed.
The trip went smoothly, no hiccups or threats. We met unique people and saw powerful art and witnessed the magic of a Firecakes icecream donut sandwich and the teal color of Lake Michigan. We laughed to delirium, as you do on trips, and had our own jokes to hashtag later. Then, we landed and drove straight through from Lovefield to my parents’ house the night we got back just to put our hands on his face. It took him a whole 24hours to stop calling me “Nonnie,” which my mom thought was hilarious.
We had fun. We made memories. We saw things and people that were important and special. Bridger got a tan. He fed fish and lived in a sprinkler. He learned new words and loved on animals and got braver.
Travel was positive. But it was different than it once was. The stakes felt higher. Life more fragile. Home more . . . like home.
Reflecting on it now, three significant things came out of our time away:
-There’s nothing like being rattled by a little risk to put everything else into perspective. All of my ritualistic guilt that ebbs and flows in my normal life as a mother or my stress about the clutter that is our house was completely eradicated for a whole two weeks following (and it lingers even now). I would look at Bridger and our pile of laundry as I left for my full-time job and go, “But my plane didn’t crash and I’ll see you at 4:30!” I don’t know if this is healthy, but it is true.
-I saw a new side of the coin that, prior to giving birth, I called “dumb parts of becoming a parent: not traveling as much.” What I once assumed was a lame limitation is now in reality just the fact that I have fallen in love with a new version of my life that I am not ready to lose. I loved my life when I was flying internationally 5 times a year. And now I love my life as I sit in our teal chairs and throw sticks in the fire pit and listen for planes and sip whiskey and rest. I thought that what didn’t need to change was my pace, but I guess what didn’t need to change was the fact that I’m living the days that I can’t get enough of. It’s kind of nice to know that those shift over time. I guess they will again, one day.
-And lastly, I feel excited about traveling with Bridger in our future. Introducing him to Creole food and watching him learn new words and new teas and new dirt. That sounds like it could be the best of all worlds, eventually.
I guess it’s a season, and that’s sad, and that’s exciting. Mostly, it’s rich if we let it be.
To all the former adventurers re-imaging your goings and comings, and those of you anxious about having to be too far from your living, breathing, toddling hearts: you’re in good company.
I’m hoping for us today that, in whatever season or situation we woke up this morning, we’re choosing and making and protecting the lives that we’re in love with. Even if they look different than they did or than they will.