Whenever I think of Mother’s Day, I think of the Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. It’s an odd association, I agree, but I can explain.
When my son, Noah, was 18 months old, I decided to take him to Vietnam for six weeks. I’d had a rough postpartum period, the shift from footloose fancy-free travel writer to stay-at-home mom having been more challenging than I’d anticipated.
My Vietnam plan was to return to my work with babe in arms, find inspiration as I always had (in foreign climes), and write about our time together. A long travel piece, perhaps. Maybe even a book!
My partner (and son’s dad) was supportive and kind enough to hide his reservations. Unlike the woman at the local toy store to whom I explained my travel plans, asking if she had any suggestions.
“Actually, I’d suggest not going,” she replied.
And wisely, as it turns out.
Of apparently fascinating Vietnam, I saw almost nothing above knee-level. Noah had recently learned to run and was eager to explore at full tilt. What I remember most is the monstrous traffic, the kind that finds itself on the sidewalks as much as on the roads, and of lurching and scooping my boy out of harm’s way so many times that I eventually flagged down a rickshaw, fell into it like a deposed statue and begged the driver to take us “somewhere without traffic.” He jogged us to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which delighted Noah, as he had also just learned to climb steps and there were about 80 up to the tomb. We stayed for hours: up and down, up and down. No doubt the guards thought us the most devout pair of communist tourists they’d had all week.
The next morning, I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to go anywhere else, so we went back. Up and down, up and down. Day after day. Until one afternoon, midway up the steps, I acknowledged the sheer absurdity of what we were spending our time doing, burst into exhausted sobs, and decided to cut our trip short.
The surrender was as blissful as it was shattering. As though I had finally stopped trying to run a marathon with 30 pounds strapped to each leg. Sitting down on those steps that day was the first time I truly accepted that, yes, my life had changed. There was no point in trying to reach backwards to a former self, a different life. The only thing that made any sense at all was to accept where I was now.
Which happened to be at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, with a spectacular 18-month-old boy who just wanted to run around. And climb things.
We saw a bit more of rural and coastal Vietnam before returning home. And in the months that followed, I began a different kind of travel, one that took me as much through an inner world as an outer one. That focused more on simple joys than complex plans. On stillness, rather than motion. On freedom as a state of mind and of being. And on motherhood as a creative state of surrender — into every moment, priceless small steps and another’s needs. Grace.
Alison Wearing’s memoir, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad, is out in early 2013.