One day I started counting how many times I heard one of my offspring say “Mama” in a 24-hour period.
“Mama, will you help me get breakfast?”
“Mama, where’s the brush?”
“Mama, she’s hogging the pencil.”
“Mama, I can’t find the other pencils.”
“Mama, I think you have a new wrinkle right…there.” (finger poke to my face)
I think I’d gotten into the mid-30s when I lost track in this little data collection activity. Suffice it to say, I hear it a lot. Mama, mama, mama, mama, mama.
Admittedly, I love being “Mama.” I always figured my kids would call me the more traditional “Mom”, but I actually kind of like it. “Mama” is a little old-fashioned. A little different. And it’s who I am to my girls. But that’s not all I am. Being a mom (or mama) might be an extremely important part of my life, but it’s not my entire life. And it really shouldn’t be.
As parents we can lose ourselves in our kids. Not just in feeding them, clothing them, keeping them safe and all the other legitimate aspects of basic survival. Today’s parents do so much more than that. Things like sports practices, art classes and dance rehearsals take top priority in our lives once kids come on the scene. Scrolling Pinterest to look through cute ideas for birthdays, holidays or even snack time somehow becomes a hobby. We’re even staging fake messes we’ll have to clean up and trying to convince our kids that an inanimate object with cloth appendages did it. I mean, come on now. And can someone please explain to me why afternoon snack needs to look like gigantic ladybugs?! When exactly did all of this become prerequisites to a child’s enriching, happy life? If we’re not careful we can lose ourselves in all this extra stuff, putting our own lives on the back burner to the point we aren’t sure who we are anymore.
I’ve heard the saying “When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you aren’t saying ‘No’ to yourself.” It’s good advice in theory, but in practice we moms tend to say no to ourselves a lot more than we say it to our kids. We don’t do the things we want to do because we think being good moms means always putting our family first. Maybe it’s a class of some kind we want to take. Maybe it’s a trip somewhere. Maybe it’s just sitting on the couch and doing nothing. Whatever it is we want to do often gets checked against the family’s needs and the kids’ schedules first. It can feel impossible to be selfish when you’re a mom.
Yet somehow, I managed to find the strength to be selfish. I went on a solo adventure to Lake Titicaca during our time in Peru, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. After 15 months of constant family travel, my time at the Libertador resort in Puno was truly “liberating” and a reminder of how important it is to do something for no one but myself every once in a while.
At over 12,000 feet in elevation, Lake Titicaca is said to be the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest in South America. Visitors to the lake stay in Puno, a city of over 100,000 people squeezed in between the shoreline and the surrounding hills.
After an unexpected overbooking at my original hotel, I wound up staying at the posh Liberatador, the only hotel occupying a small island nature reserve accessible via a causeway from Puno. I woke up each day to a sunrise over the lake’s marshlands. On my morning walks around the island I had the company of water birds, grazing llamas and tiny animals scurrying around in the crevasses of rocks.
I took a boat tour out to the floating reed islands the local Uros people call home. Hundreds of years ago their ancestors figured out an ingenious way to escape the Spanish conquistadors by building inhabitable land masses disguised among the lake’s marshes. Each of these islands takes about a year to construct and involves detaching the reed roots from the lake floor, tying large sections of roots together to create the island’s base, and then layering 3-4 meters of cut reeds on top. The Uros travel between their island communities using motorboats as well as their traditional reed boats, made of tightly bundled and woven reeds.
Tequile (not to be confused with the drink by a similar name) is home to over 2,000 native people who run their town based on the three Incan morale codes – “Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not be lazy.” The Taquileos are a unique community known for their handwoven textiles and clothing, which is the trade among the island’s men.
They maintain many longstanding traditions in their dress and ceremonies. For instance, men wear long cloth hats, the color and positioning of which convey information about their age and romantic status. Three months before a couple is married, the woman cuts off her long black hair and weaves it into a wide belt, which is given to her husband as a wedding present, forever indicating his status as a married man. Women also make a pouch for their husbands specially designed for holding coca leaves, a mild stimulant and medicinal plant commonly chewed throughout the northern countries of South America. A standard greeting between the men of Tequile is not to shake hands but rather to exchange a few coca leaves from their pouches.
My solo trip to Lake Titicaca was a nice reminder of who I am other than “Mama.” My inner historian learned a lot about the local culture and its ancient stories. My inner scientist took the time to stare with fascination at plants and animals. My inner yogi practiced a lot of uninterrupted yoga and meditation. My inner sloth did no cooking, cleaning or organizing of any kind. All the different “Tracies” got to come out and play.
I returned to my family feeling rejuvenated, grateful, happy and at peace with the world. When I heard my first “Mama” of the day, I had to smile to myself. It was good to be back with my inner mama.