My son and I went hiking this evening in a wooded area we've not visited since he was just a little tyke (read: light enough to wear in the Moby) and as we stomped through the quickly melting snow I couldn't help but notice the diverged path ahead and think back to a time, long in my past, when memorized words described what lay before us. Maybe it was the crisp winter air calling me to a childhood time long gone. Maybe it was the reflective nature of New Years Eve. But either way, I couldn't help but think back to the very first poem I'd memorized as an elementary school student.
We were homeschooled at the time - something very few others were doing in the early 1980s. And as dorky as it may sound to some kids today, we eagerly dug through my father's poetry books to select a poem for the speech competition at our local school each year. They let us 'unsocialized' kids in to participate, and we often walked away with ribbons in tow. There are many poems I've long forgotten - and many more that I composed myself throughout the duration of my school years. But one I will never forget is that very first one - by Robert Frost - selected with the gentle guidance of my father.
Little did I know, that nearly three decades later, many of the words of Frost's The Road Not Taken would mean so much, and so many things different, to me. One of the joys in poetry is figuring out the author's interpretation - her meaning behind her words. (In this case Frost said his poem and its meaning were "very tricky" and not what most people read it to be.) But another joy is reconstructing poetry metaphorically to fit your own needs at your present place in life. As a traveler, I stood long before my parenting journey began and looked down two roads. I explored them best I could. Peered through to the distance to see if I might catch a glimpse of what lay at the end of them each. In the midst of a confused, and often hostile U.S. subculture of parenting, it is easy to be fooled into taking a path that, step by step, catapults a parent into destruction - of themselves and their little ones. Thankfully, through some miraculous intervention of divinity or nature, I found what I was looking for - a clue to which parenting path to trod.
It began many years before I was to even birth my first baby, but I found it. It was primal. It was peaceful. It was innate. It was sure. And it felt, oh, so right.
Prior to this, I never actually wanted to be a parent. Analyze it, yes. Study it. Actually do it - not so much. I would finish my degree(s), build my career, and help others along the way. But I'd leave the down-and-dirty work of experience - the real mothering - to someone else. I was fearful. Scared to death of taking the wrong path and ending up like everyone else around me - those who'd obviously been hurt, deeply, somewhere along the way. I didn't want that. I did not wish to mess up another child. And I wasn't sure that there was really anything that could be done to avoid it all - until this less traveled path became visible.
I've heard women say that they never really wanted to mother children, until they discovered how naturally, normally, innately it could be done. I've listened to men who wrestled for years with this fear of fatherhood, until they started tuning into their instincts to protect, to love, and just go with the primal rhythms that babies are born with: To break the cycle of destruction, and dis-attached parenting, and really parent from the heart.
Truly, over the course of human history, peaceful parents are walking the path that is heavily and heartily worn down before us. Until the present day, and even now, except but in a few (unfriendly) cultures, babies and children are typically raised with the utmost gentle care and primal parenting. But sometimes in the midst of the Parenting magazines, Baby Story episodes, uninformed family and unsupportive friends, marketing gurus and professionals out to make a quick buck off moms, and What to Expect lining our bookshelves, we lose sight of truth, and all that really matters. It is in these times we must pause, take a breath, look ahead, and from among the confusion, take a step out onto the road less traveled.
At the conclusion of that first poetry competition, I was chosen - knocking knees and all - to recite Frost's poem to the whole school at lunch. And with a voice that likely trembled a bit amidst the stares of foreign peers, I spoke...
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost (1915)
Photography by Nancy of Whispers of Peace