Just a couple years ago, I counted myself among the women who didn’t really see themselves ever becoming a mom. For those of you firmly set in that camp, I totally understand why you’d feel that way and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. I was never interested in holding other people’s babies, and while I liked kids enough, I liked my freedom more: I could sleep in until crazy hours–for example, 8 a.m.! I could spend my money on extravagant things like shoes or student loan payments! I could leave the house unburdened by a 75-pound infant car seat, and wear my hair down without getting it yanked out by sticky little fingers.
In many ways, being childless felt to me like a way to hang onto my youth. Having gotten married at 24, I felt like I had an eternity to figure my life out and eventually decide if I wanted to switch gears.
When did this all change?
As The Husband was approaching his 30th birthday in 2014, I remembered a promise I’d secretly made to myself years before as we were getting married, that I would find a way to take him to Greece, where his father was born, for his 30th birthday. I did a bunch of extra freelance work and saved and saved, and we were able to book a two-week trip in July 2014.
Neither of us has really been abroad before (except for a sequestered resort honeymoon in Jamaica, which I submit hardly counts), and flying into Athens and seeing the sights, tasting the tastes, experiencing the jet lag and trying to pick up tidbits of the language here and there made for an awesome vacation.
But it wasn’t just a vacation, it was a pilgrimage.
The Husband and I didn’t stay in Athens for more than a few days; we took an overnight ferry to an island just off the coast of Turkey, where his family is from. With the generous and welcoming guidance of a cousin we’d never met before but who became an instant dear friend, we got acquainted with the land and the history of The Husband’s family.
The villages in the north of this island are built like amphitheaters around the curve of the road, houses stacked like stairsteps on the mountainside.
The village we stayed in was like Eden. Fig, almond, mulberry and olive trees surrounded the houses, except in the small terraced gardens carved out by a few old-timers.
Most people have moved out of the village. While harvest time brings families back, the year-round population hovers around four. (You did not read that wrong. Four people.) A few residents and visitors we saw spoke English, but many did not. Nevertheless, each time we came back to the village after a trip to the beach or to the town 20 minutes away to check our emails at a cafe, we’d be summoned to a shady porch and served freshly peeled almonds, bricks of feta, sun-warmed cucumbers and over-generous pours of the local liquor of choice. The love and warmth of this extended family surpassed any language barrier.
At night, the quiet was so enveloping that I could hear the blades turning on a wind turbine miles and miles away across the valley.
I know international travel is often a transformative experience , but I was surprised to find myself sitting outside watching the sun go down one evening with tears streaming down my face. This also surprised The Husband, who asked me what was wrong. The closest I could come to putting my feelings to words was, “I just never imagined I would be here, doing this.”
But looking back, that feeling was a profound sense of my own smallness in the vast world and the arc of time. The village with its old houses and its ancient history made me begin to really appreciate how we are linked to each other by the love we share. The stories and traditions and all the other good things surrounding me existed because people in the past took it upon themselves to hand them down to the next generation. While I guess I always understood this in the more immediate sense, this was a macro-level view of just how precious family can be.
It still took another year for me to feel anything approaching readiness to have a baby, but the seed of wanting to share the beauty of life with another generation was planted in Greece.
The Husband’s grandfather (Papou), builder of the village house we called home for a week, who shoveled sand on the northernmost point of the island, who along with his wife raised four children in that village, who dared to cross the ocean and immigrate to the United States, who was even through a language barrier always just as exuberantly generous and kind to me as the relatives we met in his old village, died last week, just a few days after my grandmother.
(Remember I said that it’s been a rough few weeks?)
I’m grateful to have had the chance to see where Papou came from, and even more grateful that place made me realize my role in the world could possibly include motherhood.