Hello. I’m Lisa Cole. Welcome to the Mother’s Day Breakfast at Salesian College, Rupertswood. I’m the Development & Community Relations Manager here, but I wear various hats: mum, wife, uni student, journal writer, travel blogger, backpacker, runner. Oh, and I love elephants.

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My amazing family is here: my hubby Steve and daughters Charlie, Ashley, Billie & Dacey. But before I get started, I’d like to wish my amazing husband Steve a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary for today!

This morning we’re here to celebrate motherhood and mothering in all its various forms.

For me the motherhood journey can be described as being behind the wheel of a car – travelling the high road, the low road, around the roundabouts and down the expressway. I’ve gone through tunnels and over bridges, performed illegal U turns, been bogged, had a flat, overheated and even broken down at times. Sunday is the day I try and get out to put the car on cruise control! That is relaxation!

Being a mum has gifted me with a bumper crop full of knowledge, experiences and stretch marks that have shaped the person I am today. I’ve been at the coalface of mothering for nearly fifteen years and have experienced the monumental shifts of being the one to give and shape life while continually getting to know myself. Motherhood has given me greater patience and forgiveness, intense laughter and tiredness, less time, less money and fancy things, and definitely more energy, love and connection.

Our media often distorts how motherhood “should” be, how one should or shouldn’t mother. I tend to ignore the stereotypes and get on with living in the present moment, making mistakes and learning in my stride. Guilt, however, is a difficult one to put back in its cage. I believe that even if there were a manual on how to mother, I’d still make it up and learn it as I went along.

I’ve gone through the good and not so good moments: my baby falling out of a high chair, losing my two toddler children at a major shopping centre whilst heavily pregnant, watching my girls play netball, relaxing on the couch and sharing the day with my daughters over a cup of tea. There’s been plenty of colouring in, play dough, paper planes, piggy back rides, Lego, Barbies, board games, sleepovers, bed wetting, tantrums. You know the go. As any mother in this room knows, it’s a roller coaster ride.

But that’s the beauty of it: the thrill of the ride that never leaves you. Plus the views are great at the top of the ride!

I think Steve and I are a good mix of MAD and RAD.

MAD, because we had four babies in five years, so, as you could imagine, our home was all about nappies, bibs, strollers, car seats, washing, toys. And because we had four girls, changing clothes by the hour meant the floor of their bedrooms disappeared! Times have changed with two teenagers in the house: there’s loud music, mood swings, hormones, pimples, parties and boys. Clothes are still all over the floor, but now I find even stranger things in their bedrooms.

RAD, because we have a radical vision to experience life to the fullest and view the world from a different perspective. Motherhood is a kaleidoscope of feelings, thoughts and memories mulled together to form something special that I can’t quite explain in words. In a way, it’s a sense of everlasting growth and deep gratitude. Always learning something new. Connecting in a new way. In the world today, it’s often hard to find or sustain family connection in our “big homes-inside living-screen cultured-materialistic-workaholic” society.

Steve and I wanted to turn the other way and fulfill a honeymoon promise: that if we ever had children, we would go backpacking. Purposefully avoiding the five-star resorts, kids’ clubs, all you can eat Western-style food and planned vacations, we took to backpacking with a Lonely Planet guidebook and packs on our backs. Our goal was to give our daughters an understanding of the world as a place to embrace, not fear – to appreciate diversity, not sameness. To be bold, to take risks and bounce back from failure. We gave them opportunities to explore, wander, navigate, give, learn, appreciate. We hoped this would have some influence in shaping their way forward.

So we waited until our youngest, Dacey, was big enough to carry her own backpack. That time arrived when she turned seven. People ask me: why Asia? Why backpacking? It seems too hard, rugged, dangerous and so unholiday-like. The answer is tied to our rad parenting outlook: we wanted our children to experience the world as it really is, not from the news or just books. Asia seemed to be a great starting place to make this happen.

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So we set forth on our first overseas travel adventure to Vietnam. 2012, slow travel, five weeks from north to south with a stop in Kuala Lumpur. We travelled how the locals travelled: via crowded buses, run down tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bumpy three-bunk-high sleeper trains. We ate the local street food. We mixed with the local people. The question most asked of us before we left: how will you cope with having your kids with you 24-7? No breaks, no TV, no backyard, no personal space? We didn’t have an answer. We’d find out on the road.

At dinner on one of our last nights in Vietnam, we had a family vote. Who wanted to keep going? Most hands raised; one, a little homesick, said she could do another week or two! It was then that I realised how connected we all were – and that home was not where the heart was, but home was simply us being together.

I cried when we returned home. Steve back to work, kids back to school, me back at home. It took me a month to recover and come to terms that the backpacker journey was over.

To alleviate the pain we planned another adventure!

In 2013 we backpacked to Myanmar (Burma) for four weeks with a stop in Penang. It was not a fluke the first time round. Our family was amazingly connected on the road less travelled. And Burma was a hard country to navigate. No English. No established tourist centres. No phone or internet. By the time 2014 arrived we were financially spent. No money for six airfares meant a hiatus for travel, but we kept dreaming.

So what did we come to understand more and more from our backpacking adventures?

That we were family everywhere and anywhere. Our experience of being closer and more connected on the road rather than at home showed us we needed to stop rushing and gather around each other more often. The dynamics of living and relating to each other had changed for the better. We were more of a sharing family. We were more giving to others. We talked at length about different cultures and inequality and felt empathy for others less fortunate. We felt we belonged to the world out there and that we could make a difference.

We managed to form friendships without language. Billie has three Vietnamese pen friends she keeps in touch with. Charlie initiated the idea for Janna, a teenage girl from Burma, to visit, stay with us and attend the College here last year. We chose the path less travelled: we visited orphanages, blind and disabled centres. We gave money raised to various programs and people who had pretty much nothing in materialistic possessions or good health. But the one thing that made up for that was their possession of family, community, connection. They were happy.

Through our backpacking adventures, we have been able to understand and respect different people, cultures, customs, languages, food, societies. It takes a while for the “want-want-want” mindset to disappear when we first land in Asia. Relinquishing the modern materialistic world we live in takes time. But the girls loved the small amount of pocket money they had to spend at local markets in Asia. They became great at bartering. So much so that, when we returned home, shopping at Coles or Target just wasn’t fun any more without haggling and interacting with shop keepers. We appreciated the life out on the street – the people that come together out on the streets thrive within their close community.

As a mother of four daughters, I witness the growth of four unique human beings. Relishing the extraordinary development and disappointments of these humans is an utter privilege. We have been changed forever by our backpacking journeys. We inherently know that life is for living, not to sweat the small stuff, that by just being in the present moment is to value and experience life, consciously and purposefully.

And I think it’s the same with other families – whether you backpack to Asian countries, go to the football, play board games or just hang out on the couch together. It’s all about making that connection with each other.

The motto I share with my children is that life is about the journey, not the destination.

I want them to be value time. I want them to be curious. I want them to stand up against injustices. I want them challenge stereotypes. I want them to collect experiences rather than possessions. I want them to know that life is not about figures, not about obtaining a particular mark at school or a wage at work. What really counts is the attitude and effort that has been put into something.

I want them to follow their passions with vigor. I want my daughters to love their life, to be open to learning and laughing about themselves. I want them to trust the person they are now and will get to know over the course of their lives.

For me motherhood is all about stepping out onto the skinny branches of the tree: taking risks that mean you’re often swaying in the breeze and at times holding on to dear life. Living life on the path less travelled is being on those skinny branches. And, as I reflect on this, I know that path is never straight forward, but it zig zags all over the place. It feels like being picked up and placed on someone’s shoulders and twirled around, and all you can do in that moment is enjoy the ride, kick your feet around and scream with delight!

As a mum, I know that the clock is always ticking. Life has no dress rehearsals. We never really know how long we have here to live and to love. That’s why all that matters is right now.

Our next stop is Thailand and Cambodia in July, and the six backpackers cannot wait.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone! Thank you.

Lisa J. Cole

Lisa J. Cole is the editor of Barn Owl Journal and a Twilight School VIP. Her role as Development and Community Relations Manager at Salesian College, and ambassadorial duties at the Twilight School keep her busy writing and ensuring the great stories are told.