Arriving in Cape Town, South Africa felt like a momentous occasion. We had made it through Asia’s challenges and almost halfway through our trip. It also felt like a big deal because this was the place where many things began. In our family, anyway.
Cape Town is the birthplace of my maternal grandmother and my father. It is also where I met and fell madly in love with Adam, in June 1998. Adam and I were transformed as much by our passion for this beautiful, complicated, troubled, inspiring place as by our love for each other. The backdrop of our love was the New South Africa, a country full of hope and expectation only four years post-apartheid. (Our oldest daughter’s middle name is Hope, named after this extraordinary time in our life and South Africa’s history.)
Although I had been back to Cape Town since 1998, we had not returned together since we met.
It was extremely special to come back here with our three children, to show them the country that holds a huge place in our family history — and our hearts. We were excited to show them where we lived, to talk about the incredible history and culture of this country, to show them my father’s old house, my grandfather’s business and even the restaurant where Adam and I had our first date. We wanted to introduce them to the country that made their lives possible.
In my last post I wrote about how central food is to the heart of a family and how love is its twin pillar. This trip has been extraordinary because without the daily tasks of our regular lives, we've had time to focus our energies on both these things so profoundly.
As we homeschool our girls everyday, Adam and I are learning their strengths and weaknesses, buttressing them when they falter, pushing them higher when they succeed and showing them our affection regularly. While we may have been able to do some of this at home, our patience and energy often ran thin. Our professional, domestic and personal tasks divided our attention, and the girls were away from us at school most of the day. Now, I have time to love the girls as I want to love them.
I see them flourishing, and I see myself growing as a mother (literally!).
When it comes to Adam's and my relationship, however, there has been less time — and that's been hard. Still, we've found creative ways to carve out time for just the two of us. Some days we get up at 4:30 or 5 am to reflect on the previous day or week, sleepy but happy to be alone in the quiet pre-dawn moments. We cherish these early-morning hours. If feels like recapturing something from the old days, when we met here in Cape Town and stayed up all night to watch the sunrise.
I believe that as parents, one of the biggest gifts we can give our children is our own happy relationship. If we love and respect each other, and regularly show our affection and admiration for each other, we are modeling how to be in a healthy partnership. Adam and I have always maintained a passion for each other, but we haven't always modeled it well for our girls. Our passion and intensity can easily flip to anger, and after 12 years of marriage, we are often worn down by the daily grind and stress.
In our regular lives back home, Adam works an inordinate amount of time. He is gone on business trips at least two days a week, every week. When he's at home, he works all day and, once the children are in bed, he goes back to his computer to continue working well into the night.
I believe in his work — his business is helping to improve so many public schools across the country — however as his wife, lover and co-parent, I want more time for us. This was a big impetus in planning our trip. I wanted to reclaim my husband and to have adventures together that took us out of our domestic (and, in our case, very traditionally gender-based) roles we had slipped into over the years. I wanted to take our relationship to a new level and try on new roles that we hadn’t inhabited before, to see each other anew again.
When we met, we loved how equal we felt. We fell in love with each other’s sense of adventure and independence and passion for life and deep-seated belief in social justice. (Because of this independence, it took us about four years of living in separate places to figure out who was going to move to whose country for the other.)
Somewhere along the way — from Cape Town to New York to Montréal, then back to New York, then to New Jersey and finally to Vermont — we became entrenched in roles that rendered us dependent upon each other in not-so-equal ways. We strained for freedom and we sometimes resented what the other one had.
Falling in love in a faraway place makes it all the more magical to return, especially after a long absence. Here in Cape Town, it’s almost like we have encountered the specters of our youth. Our younger selves are familiar — I am nostalgic for them in a way — but my life is so much richer now from my experience as mother and wife. The key is to find a way to integrate our younger and older selves.
Adam and I made a promise to each other to always keep our love alive. It could not be static; it had to be a moving, writhing, passionate thing. We fight and push and pull against each other, then step together in synchronicity, to a rhythm that is all our own.
Children and jobs and mortgages challenge this ideal. And so many books and articles tell us passionate love doesn’t last, that after many years of marriage, most couples cool off to reach a different kind of love, a contentment.
But I don’t want the contentment kind of love. I want the passionate love. It may not be as easy to achieve as it was 16 years ago, but we are making it a priority. For us, that means leaving our jobs and our house and taking flight with three children in tow and one more on the way. We're seeking out our adventurous spirits to keep that flame burning.
Kids VT contributor Jessica Lara Ticktin is traveling the world with her family, homeschooling three daughters along the way — while pregnant. She’s documenting her family’s adventures until they return to Vermont in December.