Trading comfort for closeness

Wasn’t sure what I would write about tonight. I was considering my options while I got ready for bed, brushing my teeth and washing my face…when I felt a sharp little sting on my right temple. I looked closer, and saw a tiny cut near my eyebrow. Where in the world did that come from? I reviewed the events of the day and quickly realized it must have been from a few hours earlier, when Cyrus accidentally kicked me in the head. He’d been wrestling with his brothers and I thought it’d be fun to jump in and tickle everyone. So I did, but then was worried if I kept it up someone would pee on the bed, so I stopped and sat on the edge of the bed. Silly me, way too close to the wrestling still happening. (Not that there’s anywhere else to sit in this tiny hotel room.)

I examined the cut. Huh, I thought. A toenail gouge. Yep, sounds about right. Then I finished washing my face and climbed into bed to write.

Have I ever actually gotten an injury to my face from a toenail before? Well, thanks for asking, indeed I have. Yeah. A few times. Um, I am the mother of three boys. At this point, a kick to the face can happen and it barely registers. For a few seconds tonight, I had zero recollection that one of my son’s feet had made serious contact with my face and his toenail had nearly cut my eye.

When did this become normal? I’m not sure. I don’t remember the moment when foot-to-face impact became ordinary. I do remember the feeling, though, of some of the earliest injuries (all caused by accident, to be very clear) I’ve suffered while parenting: getting bitten while nursing; scratched while soothing, with those razor-sharp baby fingernails, no less; knocked in the nose by a forehead while playing; bonked by myriad flying toys catapulted across the room. (Obvs said toys are made only of BPA- and phthalate-free plastic, or wood from unfertilized rubber trees colored with organic pigments and water-based dyes. After all, I care about safety!!)

Not only do I remember the physical pain when those kinds of things first happened, but I remember the shock I felt as I realized, Oh. So, getting a little bit banged up might be a consequence of this job.

The ordinary injuries of my pre-parenting life were much less interesting. Stubbing a toe on the side of the coffee table. Burning a wrist on the toaster oven. I mean, boring stuff compared to what’s caused of some of my parenting scars.

But weirdly, I quickly became fully OK with my new reality, the reality that getting banged up a bit is a consequence of the version of full-body-contact parenting I choose to do with my kids. (I never did accept the old reality of constantly stubbing – and once breaking – my toe on that damned coffee table for no reason.)

I know there are other ways to parent. Some parents get the job done just fine while staying a few steps back – and really, that works for them and their kids. Lots of parents wear way nicer outfits than I do on a daily basis, but it’s harder to wrestle or chase or take a knee to be at eye level with a toddler in those outfits (or, I imagine so). And gosh I would expect that there’s a non-zero percentage of parents that have fewer injuries than I do.

Regardless, I know myself and I know my style. It’s intimate, connected, scrappy, up-close, playful, and, well, it means I get banged up a bit in the process. But it’s just the cost of doing business. I’m ready to sacrifice comfort for the sake of closeness.

And again, I genuinely don’t mind the minor discomforts that happen to me while I’m doing what I love. In fact I hardly notice them.

Travel bangs you up a bit too. At least, this is true for the kind of travel we love to do – the kind we’re showing our kids. It attempts to be authentic, immersed, experiential. It’s friendly and people-focused. It’s not fancy, not always easy, and no one’s wearing nice outfits. But that’s not where our emphasis is. Instead the emphasis is on being ready to have adventures, and on getting close to the things and experiences and people we’ve come so far to understand. The emphasis is on connection. So I don’t really notice the uncomfortable parts, and I want this for my kids. I want them to love the adventures, and (over time) be able to power through the annoying parts.

At least this is the spirit and the intention. We get excited together about what we’ll see or where we’ll go each day – not dragged down by the minor irritations that are the cost of getting there. I’ve been happily surprised to see my boys adopt this attitude at times already, not shying away from the rough edges surrounding each adventure. Sure, they still complain, and they’re dramatic, and Asa goes prostrate on the floor at least once a day for some reason or another (main reason always: he’s three) – but this is just par for the course, and would happen anyway at home. What the boys seem to be getting the hang of, though, is going with the flow of the pace of travel, even when that pace requires extra flexibility, patience, resilience, or being uncomfortable.

What we haven’t heard are more complaints than usual, even when we’ve gotten the boys up especially early so we could all go stand in some long line outside of a museum. Again. We haven’t observed them act even more dramatic than usual when they’ve had to eat not just new foods, like they do at home not infrequently, but new-new foods, foods that we had to translate or look up because even the adults had never heard of such a thing. (Today that was samphire. Totally new to us.) And, Asa still does his requisite daily prostration but he seemed to sense that tantrum-ing ought to be a little more reserved when you’re in the middle of Notre Dame and the British Museum, vs. CVS or the grocery store at home. (Maybe he’s a genius, perceptive to the significance of his surroundings, and has more self-control that we give him credit for. Or maybe he just didn’t like the acoustics and when he screamed, it echoed so loudly that he scared himself. Probably the former?) All in all, they’re doing really great. And I believe, and I hope, it’s because they’re in it – they’re connected to the experiences we’ve come for – and they’re having too much fun to dwell on the tough, wearying, uncomfortable parts.

May we happily sacrifice some comfort for closeness. May we learn to focus on the goal, not the work or discomfort required to get there. May we all be so immersed in the experiences we love that we don’t notice getting kicked in the face. (!?) You know what I mean.

The pic featured w this post is a crowd of people all smashed together to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. We were there a few days ago. Not really my ideal version of the comfort/closeness trade-off, but a good illustration!

P.S. Public service announcement. We’re a week in and I’ve realized, I’m just writing these meta- sort of posts: mostly thoughts about the experiences we’re having and less about the experiences themselves. I intend to balance this out, and write about the experiences (the actual things we’ve come to do/see, btw, like Notre Dame itself, not tantrums in Notre Dame), less about deep thoughts on travel. We’ve already seen SO MUCH and I feel like I’ve shared so little of that. So, for what it’s worth, that’s the plan. Also, shorter posts, and more posts. Thanks for reading!

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jessicajackley View All →

author of #claywaterbrick. cofounder of @kiva. instructor at @USC. investor at @collabfund. in love w @rezaaslan + our three boys.

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