“Do you think we should take him out of the stroller?” I whisper to my husband, glancing down at Diego. Our cheap travel stroller bumps along the park’s gravel path. Diego is practically stroller skiing, his body angled forward to take in the view. Thankfully, unlike the entire walk here, where he writhed and begged to get out, kicking his legs as we negotiated “wait until we get to the park,” he’s now finally quiet.
David shakes his head, “an object in motion,” and he presses on toward the pond.
An object in motion stays in motion. It’s become our toddler version of don’t wake a sleeping baby. It has essentially the same meaning: he’s doing ok right now, do not mess up what is working—an object in motion stays in motion.
We arrive at the base of a magnificent park and all look up at cascading layers of lush, manicured gardens. The cloudless blue summer sky against the green lawn is such a vibrant visual, it is like looking at a photo of an ordinary park, but with the saturation filter turned way up.
This is no ordinary park. We’re standing at the base of the Jardin de la Fontaine in Nimes, France. This is Day 16 of our Big Family Trip through Europe, exploring the UK, Italy, and now, France.
Watching Diego race up the path, I think about the last time we were in France, three years ago, just before I became pregnant with Diego.
In these three years, we’ve been objects in motion. We moved three times, started a new job (David), adjusted to pregnancy, then parenthood, and then working parenthood.
Like all our friends, we hurdle forward, in the daily spin cycle of early wakeups, breakfast, daycare drop-off, work and e-mail, e-mail, e-mail, pick-up, park, play, dinner prep, dinner negotiations, dinner clean up, bath, bed, and far too many midnight (and 1 am, 3 am, 5 am…) calls for cuddles and milk (don’t tell the dentist). It is so ordinary, the constant motion, the rhythm all parents jump into and ride for decades.
I notice the exhaustion, but it is hardly extraordinary. It is just a part of the job. Every article, discussion, two-second elevator parenting chat always includes some variety of, I’m tired, it’s exhausting, the relentlessness of it all. But we’re all in it, we’re in motion, and we just.keep.going.
An object in motion remains in motion.
I realized, recently, that our little toddler mantra is a totally inaccurate paraphrase of Newton’s First Law of Motion. The law of inertia is: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.”
An object in motion needs an external force to stop. It needs something to halt it, push against it, to make it rest. For me, the whole reason we’re on this trip, staring at that beautiful Provencal blue sky, is due to a delightfully positive external force: a work sabbatical. Last year, the organization I work for implemented a new employee benefit: a six week paid sabbatical, for all employees, after seven years of employment. My friend put it best when I shared this news: “THAT. IS. GOLD.”
It is. And it was just the force I needed to stop the motion. To rest. And, importantly, the motivation needed to shift our longtime dream of a family Europe trip from the Maybe, Someday list to the MAKE IT HAPPEN column.
As Diego pushes his stroller around the pond, giddy from this temporary power trip, I watch him from a marble bench. I’m sitting next to a sweet, older French woman, doting on her two primped shitzues.
A total pinch-me moment. Throughout this vacation, these moments have awed me, like watching Diego slurp melty gelato in Lucca and drifting down the Seine at dusk.
The true gift, though, isn’t in these moments. It’s the deep peace of completely stopping the outside world, getting off the endless parenting cycle, and settling into a restful rhythm together.
Before leaving, I was actually nervous about spending three weeks alone with my family. Surely we would drive each other crazy. How could we handle that much time with our toddler—without any childcare—and not lose our minds?
To my total surprise, our time together was exactly what we needed. Free from the demands of our general just.keep.going parenting motion, and focused only on rest, Diego, and exploration, we actually enjoyed being together. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I finally got to really observe Diego, something I don’t generally have the time or attention to do.
For the first time, in a long time, I tuned out the constantly running “I’m so tired,” whine in the back of my mind, and tuned into all of Diego’s antics. Without thinking about dinner demands, our schedule, and e-mail, I actually had mental space to notice my child.
And I liked what I saw.
The sight of Diego and David, holding hands, walking through cities and train stations with the same exact expression: total awe. Diego’s little voice saying goodbye to any and all vehicles: “bye bye train, bye bye tractor, bye bye bus.” Listening to David singing “Baby Diego” to the tune of “Baby Beluga,” and watching Diego’s exhausted little body melt into his chest, finally asleep. Waking up from a nap and not having anywhere to be—just sinking in for family cuddles and giggles in bed.
This was my rest. An external force made me stop, and I ended up seeing, observing and experiencing so much.
In these last few weeks of sabbatical, I’m ever aware of the tricky part of Newton’s law. There’s no middle ground. That ever elusive balance that we’re always striving for? The law of inertia doesn’t have space for that; you’re moving or you’re resting.
Pretty soon we’ll be back in the rhythm again. This break helped me open my eyes to my child and gave me the peace and space to delight in him. While the official season of rest will end, I hope this awareness stays with me, as we return to our full and beautiful lives in motion.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Rest.”