Back in February, my brother gave me a call and told me that he and his husband were surprising our mom with a trip to South Africa for her 70th birthday coming up in March. I was so excited for them, as I knew it was a dream trip that we have often talked about. The shock came when he asked if I wanted to go. Me? Fly to South Africa? You see, I don’t really travel. In fact, my anxiety leading up to any trip or plane ride tends to start weeks in advance. I fly occasionally but have certainly never flown outside of the country because the thought of flying over the ocean for a prolonged period of time has previously put me on the verge of a panic attack.
I quickly expressed my hesitancy, and he gently reminded me that I had gotten myself a passport years ago with the intention to use it at least once before it expired. I told him to give me 48 hours to think about it. The thought of going on a safari in South Africa utterly thrilled me because animals are my jam. I love all animals (lots more than people) so getting away from the chaos of the past two-ish years to see wild animals sounded like the best thing ever. BUT it would require me being on lots of airplanes (over the ocean for a very long time) and leaving my kids for a week, which I have never done.
We have all been stretched thin since COVID (which is really an understatement), and as moms, there has not been one moment to recuperate from any of it. We have had to constantly go. The laundry has not stopped, the tiny people have still required food, the school/childcare has been different and taxing, the quarantining and constant risk of going back to that has been utterly exhausting, and we have been juggling more things than ever all at the same time. I realized that I desperately needed something to look forward to, so I said ‘yes.’ God bless my brother and brother-in-law, who helped me navigate all of the preparations leading up to the trip: flight itineraries, vaccinations, COVID regulations, etc. In the end, we decided that I would surprise my mom in Cape Town, South Africa, as I was going to be flying a few days after my family.
I’ve been back from my adventure for three days now, and I still can’t really put into words what the trip meant for me. Magical is the closest word I can come up with, and that doesn’t quite seem to do it justice. I belly laughed more in one week than I have in a really long time. I didn’t quite realize how weary my heart and soul felt until they suddenly felt alive again. I ate the most delicious food that was cooked and served to me. I was tenderly cared for by the most amazing staff at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town and the entire staff at the Lalibela Game Reserve outside of Port Elizabeth. Our safari guide, Teacha, drove us on six safari drives getting us feet away from lions, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and so many more amazing creatures. His knowledge was just incredible.
I spent a week in awe of the beauty around me. I spent mornings on the porch of my villa, drinking coffee, looking into the South African wilderness, and listening to a myriad of birds singing. My confidence in myself grew as I was able to travel by myself to a different country navigating four plane rides, one of which was 15 hours over the ocean!
Coming back three days ago did not feel like an ease back into reality. Instead, it felt like real-life post-vacation smacked me in the face. My tired, jet-lagged mind has been thrown back into work and mommying, and it is struggling. In fact, the first time I pulled into work, I forgot to put my van in park and simply ran into bushes in the parking lot. Luckily, it wasn’t another parked car or a human (Jesus help).
I’ve been reflecting, though, on my time in South Africa and this harsh distinction with normal, everyday life. I don’t have any answers yet; however, I am curious how I can integrate the parts of my trip that brought me back to life again into my normal life as a working mom because we can’t just keep waiting for the next grand adventure to happen. I want to treat myself like all of the people of South Africa treated me, tenderly and gently. I want to slow down so much that I notice a bird singing and an antelope grazing in the grass (squirrels will have to do). I want to engage with other people where I am fully present. Some of these things seem utterly unattainable, but I suppose if I can fly 15 hours across the ocean, I can do more than I realize.