Who do you most admire? My answer to that question used to be a fairly predictable list of assorted literary and historical figures, with a liberal bent towards those who made the world better for their fellow man. Lately, however, I've been re-thinking my choices and Susanna Fontanarossa has soared to the top of my list.
Who is this Susanna you may ask? I'm not surprised you've never heard of her. Up until today, I hadn't either. Susanna, the person I most admire, was the mother of Christopher Columbus. She may seem like an odd choice, compared to, say, Martin Luther King Jr. or Susan B Anthony. But, as the mother of two adventurers who are making their own way in this world, far from home and far from my embrace, I have come to realize the sacrifices made by generations of mothers before me.
I knew even before my children were born that they would not be mine for the keeping. Like many liberated young women in the '70s, I had read The Prophet and embraced its sage warning to parents that your children are not really yours to keep.
"They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
I seized upon that wisdom as permission to leave my parents and seek adventures far from home. I loved my parents. I often missed my parents. But I never felt the need to live in the same town, or even the same state, as my parents. I followed my heart to Australia and back again, but never quite all the way back to them. They headed south. I headed west. And never did I wonder, or worry, how that separation felt for them. Well, it turns out that what goes around comes around.
I have raised two beautiful, clever girls to find their passion. Follow their hearts. I taught them that the world was theirs for the taking. I spent over twenty years trying to show them as much of that glorious world as possible. What was I thinking? Instead of filling their heads with tales of adventure, I should have been warning them that danger lurks in the unknown and that they are safest in our own little corner of the world.
Instead, one followed her passion for the ocean, became a marine biologist, and lives in California, within sight and smell of the ocean. The other left our home near the mountains of Colorado for a new home near the beaches of Sydney, Australia, where she has landed her dream job in marketing.
Yeah, yeah, I know that I am supposed to be happy that they are happy. I know that their independence is a credit to me, and my husband, for a job well done. I know that I'm supposed to be the bow from which my children are shot forth into the world. Just as my parents, and in-laws, released my husband and I to the far winds, so I must delight in the release of my own precious off-spring to follow their dreams. What crap! That's fine when you're the kid but it's a whole new ballgame when you're the parent.
Lately I've been wondering what Christopher's mother might have been thinking when he hit the road and unfurled the sails. Did Lewis and Clark's mothers celebrate their sons' explorations or wish that they had never learned to row a canoe? Did Amelia's mother gaze lovingly into the sky, encouraging her daughter to soar with the eagles? Or is reality more along the lines of:
"Dr. Livingston, I presume? Your mother called and it's time to come home for dinner."
I know that the world would be such a different place without the brave men and women who stretched their boundaries. But let's not forget the mothers who loved them enough to selflessly cheer them on.
One small step for man.
One giant leap for mankind.
While one mother sits, back home on earth, silently cursing the day she ever bought that blasted toy rocket for her son