Living in Costa Rica, Japan, and Canada for two years each gave me many insights into other cultures. One insight, however, only recently came to the surface of my mind since returning to the U.S. and having my second daughter here: motherhood crosses many barriers, obstacles, prejudices and other challenges. It is its own language, completely universal, and even recognizable in other animals, not just humans.
While living in the rainforests of Costa Rica, I learned that the women living in the particular valley where my tiny hut was located had a deep fear of the forest. Their husband, sons, or brothers would accompany them if they had to walk through the forest before dawn and after dusk. Their daughters rarely ventured out of the house, especially once they no longer attended school (many didn't go further than 8th grade).
At one time I became ill with a serious infection. Unable to get up and leave my hut to report to the local research station where I worked, I remained secluded in my home in pain. Despite their reservations of the dark forest in the early a.m. hours, the local women who came to the station to prepare coffee and breakfast noticed my absence and walked through the forest alone to my hut. They came back and forth individually, bringing me tea made from over a dozen rainforest plants and checking on me. It was as if I was a sole chick with many mother hens hovering around me. At the time I was still in the early stages of becoming fluent in Spanish, so the language barrier presented an additional challenge that didn't seem to faze the women in the slightest.
I saw this capability of overcoming fear and hurdling obstacles while living in Japan. My husband and I had only been married a short time when we decided to climb Mt. Fuji. I had climbed mountains in the U.S. and Costa Rica before this, so I was taken by surprise at the tears streaming down my face as I faced a brutal hike full of sharp jagged volcanic rock and foot deep ash along a narrow path with a steep drop off. I cried because it was too hard. I cried because I was afraid I couldn't go up nor go down. Then along came a five foot tall grandmother. Without a walking stick she passed me up the volcano and continued passing others. She appeared to be at least 70 years old. My eyes followed her footsteps for as long as I could see them, giving me the courage to continue going.
While living in Canada I became a mother for the first time. I found myself missing my own mother even more as I was at a loss what to do to calm my very colicky baby. When I dared to venture out of our house to go on the two mile nature path by our house I often felt panicky if my newborn started to cry, because I couldn't get her to stop crying. It was on this trail among the late-summer blackberry pickers that I found smiles and words of help from mothers and grandmothers. I wasn't alone, and they didn't mind the sound of a baby crying interrupting their quiet solitude. I learned from them that all sounds are welcomed and loved.
We're now residing temporarily on the east coast in the U.S., and I find myself more often at playgrounds than in forests or on mountains. But the mothers surrounding me are no different than the mothers I encountered on foreign soils. We learn from each other just as much as we learn from our children.