Years ago, I found Meghan Ward on Twitter. She what Natalie and I called a new mom, which is a mother with young kids undergoing the conditioning to competent parent. At the time, Natalie and I were new parents trying to navigate urban living with one then two children. Ward on the other hand, was facing the same challenges, but wherever her travels would take her, her husband Paul Zizka, the photographer, and their two girls.
Meghan Ward wrote a book that gives me all of the backstory of those Tweets and blog posts that gave me some courage during those years, titled Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting (2022.) In a podcast about women adventurers by Rocky Mountain Books, Ward explains that she set out to write a travel book that chronicled their adventure, but as she wrote it became increasingly personal and revealed aspects of a traditional mindset that had to be overcome or surpassed to be herself. In the end is the memoir I wanted to read.
Ward takes the reader to Baffin Island, Malta, Everest Base Camp, Hawaii, New Zealand, the Caribbean, and many more places, often with two little ones strapped to her or close nearby. She traveled mostly on a shoestring budget, so these were not all-expense-paid trips to resorts. The transportation challenges, and her commentary of the stress of moving from one place to another (with or without kids,) could overshadow the freedom of travel. For example, they could fly somewhere else because bad weather or the bugs were dominating the experience, but the gamble of traveling somewhere to make flights earlier, let alone get to the airport, was daunting. Add the combination of being sleepless from an infant needing regular feedings, and the trip takes on a whole new level of complications.
After Maya, Ward’s and Paul’s first, was born, they went hiking from a backcountry lodge. There they met some other parents, albeit with older children. One mother said what Natalie and I had heard for years: You can still travel with kids, but it’s not the same. They realized that staying in one place longer and staying in the same time zone, would be helpful. That, and finding coffee as frequently as possible would combat the new-parent sleeplessness.
Ward surprised me by her background. No, not that she grew up in suburban Ottawa and had a Narnia-like woods to explore, but that she grew up a P.K., a Preacher’s Kid in an evangelical Christian community. In that community, children are expected to be good kids (in a neat and clean way reminiscent of Leave it to Beaver, oddly,) seek parent’s approval for big decisions, marry other Christians, and attend church, among other things. I grew up in that environment. Meghan tells how the turning point of her life, to move to the Rockies, explore the world, and meet and marry non-Christian Paul, started when she grew skeptical of some of the miracles described in the Bible.
Freelancing makes Ward’s travel happen. She sells articles and later blogs and writes this book. There is plenty of worthwhile anecdotes about getting content and meeting client’s needs. I feel that Ward’s calling was to showcase the humanity in the world, whether another culture or her own as a mother. So far as I know, this book is significant in that it addresses travel from a new parent’s perspective.
My only complaint about the book is something typical of a travel chronicle; I wasn’t always compelled to read the next chapter. I was confident — and somewhat bored by the idea — that I knew Meghan would go somewhere interesting and come back home. But there wasn’t an objective other than visit destinations and observe. She wasn’t delivering life-saving medicine by crossing a glacier; she was observing people and places to understand herself. I do that too! Reading that alone wasn’t enough for me.
Although I will read a book about a particular destination, say Japan, if I am interested in Japan, I usually don’t read a world traveler’s book about their last decade in various countries. The thing that kept me going was my sincere curiosity about Meghan sorting out her independent self and parenthood9. On the other hand, I think that should be sufficient for you too.
By contrast, I read climbing books because I enjoy the quest for the objective the author or subject undertakes and (mostly) skimming until I reach a longueur where the protagonist is usually in camp, or benighted on a ledge, and thinking about everything with added self-doubt and, usually, realizing how the dream of glory is overrated. Then as they struggle and face challenges how they often untie a mental knot through continuing on the process of climbing. Gritty things can be cathartic.
Lights to Guide Me Home was like a climbing book to me. A climbing book is always about an objective or an ideal in style and pushing yourself to whatever the limit to make it possible. Yet, for the climber, they discover their human frailty in either accomplishing the goal or changing the objective. Meghan climbs life and changes objectives, smartly and willingly. The climbing, or in the case of Lights, the travel, isn’t nearly as enlightening as the human challenges she faces in her relationship with Paul, her parents, and her role as a mother, while navigating life.
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