It seems like every woman I know says they’ve either always wanted to be a mother or they’ve always wanted to be an adventurer. It’s like they either have that innate sense of impending motherhood warming their hearts since the age of five when they’d pretend to breastfeed dolls and cook plastic eggs in a play kitchen, or they have a streak of independence and self-reliance that’s inspired dreams of traveling the world or being a famous writer or getting multiple degrees, a streak that feels like the only thing they’ve ever known.
There’s never been both, it seems.
There’s a scene in Eat, Pray, Love where Viola Davis shows Julia Roberts her box of baby things that she’s kept for years, waiting for the day when she’d be able to use them. Julia Roberts’ character, Liz, says that she has a box like that too — only hers is full of National Geographic magazines. The metaphorical boxes owned by all the women I know are either for babies or adventure. Marriage or singledom. Settling down or dreaming big.
I was always the little girl with the chest of drawers filled with clothes specifically for my dolls. I had dolls you filled with water, dolls that opened and closed their eyes, dolls that were specially made to mirror my features. I brought them on walks through the woods, I buckled them into the car seat next to me, I planned what I’d name their future siblings.
I was a seven year old mini mom, and I was obsessed with the idea of birthing children.
My own mother was married at 22, and then went on to have children at 23, 25, 28. I could only assume that I’d do the same. When 22 came and went, I figured maybe by the time I was 25. When 25 came and went, I figured definitely by the time I was 30.
It’s so funny what we believe in our youth, how firmly we believe we can control our reality.
I ended up having both dreams, both boxes. The baby clothing one and the National Geographic one. I loved babies and childbirth and family and kids. I also loved travel and writing and creativity and exploration. It always felt like I had to choose one or the other. That there couldn’t be a type of person who’d have both boxes.
I’m currently living out my National Geographic-explorer-adventurer persona. When the partner and babies didn’t pan out by the age of 28, I figured I should probably stop waiting. (I tucked that box away for safekeeping.) I put my stuff in storage and booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam. I still dream of writing for The New Yorker or National Geographic Adventure, but in the meantime I’m doing things like hiking mountains at the edge of the world completely solo and booking plane tickets the same week of the flight and having no idea where I’ll be next month
It’s the happiest and most free I’ve ever felt.
I still dream about my other box. And even though it does have a slight timeline to it, I don’t have to be in any kind of rush.
Babies can happen later. But my 20s can’t.
They’re here, right now, and I can’t have them back in a few years time. So I’m going to enjoy them. And 30, too.
I always dreamed about turning 30, imagining the 30s to be this peaceful time when everything had been worked out and was in place and without turmoil. I literally looked toward 36 as my golden year for some reason, thinking it would be this nice round grown-up year featuring babies and sunshine and a back porch and a man.
I turn 30 in November. And nothing is worked out or in place or without turmoil. I don’t have a husband, or babies, or even a home.
But I have freedom, and adventure, and possibility.
I’m living my National Geographic box right now, with the trust that the baby box will have its moment, too.
I’m so glad I can have both.