“Out of my window looking in the night, I can see the barges’ flickering light.
Taking their cargo out into the sea, how I wish someday, they’d take me.” I laugh from the passenger seat as my mom sings another verse of this old lullaby, adding my voice to hers, recalling the familiar tune from childhood memory. It’s night and we’ve just crossed a bridge, prompting a rendition of this song and a conversation about my upcoming travels.
These moments are rare. My mom behind the wheel, me sitting next to her, basking in the undivided attention and the time the unrelenting miles allow us to share. We are on our way to Nashville to visit my youngest sister, to grab what little family time we have left before I leave on my world adventure.
The highway stretches out before us, clothed in black. Scattered exit signs for McDonalds and Shell stations dot the horizon. I lean against the window and peer out at the sky, trying not to think of the distance that will soon separate us.
I’ve always loved riding in the car with my mother. There’s something that happens between us when we’re driving together, an openness unfolds and walls that often block our communication suddenly disappear. I take advantage of this whenever I can.
Tonight is no different. I ask her about my writing, seeking her advice, hoping for approval. I need to know that she supports my upcoming career break and subsequent travels. She has always played the role of my cheerleader, discussing the pros and cons of each major life decision, addressing practical matters and neatly organizing my scattered thoughts and feelings into logical order. She is the reason I’m in Ghana, the inspiration for my nursing profession, the creative gene behind my obsession with words.
While other mothers took their kids to Disney World, she packed our bags and purchased passports so we could explore ancient Mayan ruins in the thick jungles of Central America. She refused to leave the education of her children in someone else’s hands, giving up her teaching career to read us “Little House on the Prairie” from the living room couch and planning weeklong field trips up the Eastern coast, so we could see places like Gettysburg and Plymouth Rock in person.
Last year for Christmas we exchanged homemade gifts instead of buying presents, a tradition we began a few years back. As she stood in front of our family to present my gift, her voice started cracking while she read these words:
“How very simple life would be
If only there were two of me
A Restless Me to drift and roam
A Quiet Me to stay at home.
A Searching One to find his fill
Of varied skies and newfound thrill
While sane and homely things are done
By the domestic Other One…”
Tears streamed down both of our cheeks as I realized my mom understood something about me that even I hadn’t yet understood. She had been the one to give me my restless spirit. She was the fuel igniting my dreams while she postponed some of her own. She recognized my wanderlust because she had it, too.
That was almost a year ago. Now an ocean sits between us, and our communication has dwindled to monthly emails and status updates. I don’t know when I’ll be home again, or the next time I’ll have the chance to sit next to her in the passenger seat, both of us headed in the same direction.
Outside my window, I hear a newborn crying and the soft melody of a lullaby that follows. My breath catches as I think of my own mother’s voice, singing of far away places with a spark in her eye. I can feel her presence almost as if she were standing next to me, humming the tune, repeating the words. “Barges, I would like to go with you, I would like to sail the ocean blue…” I smile and start to sing quietly, a longing for far away places swelling in my heart, grateful for the one who’s nurtured it all of these years.