Happy Labor Day!
My son, Emmanuel, was born on Labor Day in 2004. It was a bit ironic since I ended up have an emergency C-section about an hour and a half into labor. I never dilated past 3 centimeters and knowing my son’s personality, I can just imagine him in my uterus looking at that hole and saying to himself, “That’s too much for me. You all can just take me out the other way.” Emmanuel is very discerning about what labor he is willing to take on. Humoring no one with half-hearted gestures of acquiescence, he likes doing what makes sense and his fetus self clearly knew there was an easier way out.
Full on labor or not, Emmanuel’s arrival was glorious, punctuated by the fact that it was also the doctor’s birthday who delivered him. That had to be a good omen, right? The real labor, of course, started once we left the hospital and has continued in one form or another for 18 years. Looking back, I didn’t mind those early days of the persistent cycle of feedings, changings, and naps. I appreciated the security of those routine moments against the backdrop of the persistent drama with Emmanuel’s father. That emotional labor far outweighed the grogginess of nursing at 3:00am.
For so long, I naively believed that Emmanuel would bring us together, me and his father. That his presence and love would put an end to the push-and-pull of the relationship that culminated with his existence. But as most people know, children don’t fix what is broken in a relationship, they amplify the problems that already exist.
It took Emmanuel coming into the world for me to see who his father truly was and to ultimately heal the wounds that had haunted me most of my life. Thank God Emmanuel never had to observe the toxic trauma bond that would have been our partnership had his father and I stayed together. Emmanuel did not come to fulfill some emotional and egoic need that I had, he came to push me to be my truest, most authentic self. His arrival on Labor Day portended the necessary labor of my healing journey–one that led me to a beautiful state of self-love and acceptance.
Labor Day Journey—A Mombbatical Begins
Labor Day, 2018 was also the day that I left the United States and moved to Paris. I didn’t register the synchronicity of the day for new beginnings as I was too busy managing two suitcases and a cat on my journey. But, in retrospect, I love that Labor Day once again loomed large in my life as the day my mombbatical officially began. And once again, what I had planned for this new phase and what the Universe had in mind were two completely different things.
Free of the daily demands of parenting, my mombbatical was supposed to mark a carefree phase of my life. I imagined romantic strolls along the Seine with days spent writing my great mombbatical memoir at cafes. I anticipated ease and clarity to emerge within months of my arrival. I don’t know what I was thinking. First, my professional identity was undefined for longer than I expected. I thought I would pick up a job that would leverage my years of organizational development experience and my HEC Paris degree. Nope. I spent months living off of savings and trying to figure out what was next. But, the mombbatical actually demanded rest from me, not another hustle, and so I embraced the time to be on my own and reflect on the possibilities ahead of me.
And then there was COVID. A mombbatical interrupted by a global pandemic, I was suddenly completely isolated from all the joy and beauty life had to offer, without access to my friends, my family, and especially my kid. It was a time when we were all forced to search for meaning in our lives, to assess our relationships, our vocations, our locations, and the bonds that truly matter. For me, the time brought into focus my understanding of energy and my sensitivities as an empath. I gained more clarity about what and who I wanted in my life, and I came out on the other side with new friends, wisdom, and a more sane approach to my professional life. I was reacquainted with an old passion, acting, and in time, I found a community of ex pats of color who rounded out the life I was creating in Paris.
When I started the mombbatical, I asked the question, “What happens on the journey from mom to me?” I didn’t know what the answer would be at the time, but my vision was so much smaller than what ultimately came to pass. When we speak of rebirth in a spiritual sense, we often envision some transcendent spiritual journey with the studying of the wisdom of the great masters, or a singular moment of epiphany. My own rebirth, disguised as my mombbatical, was about the simple act of being fully acquainted with myself moment to moment. It has meant leaning into peace and joy, while staying unrelentingly connected to my intuition as my best guide. So once again, Labor Day was this beautiful marker of growth and expansion, ushering in new dimensions of my identity.
Labor Day? Um. . okay, Labor Day It Is
When I left New York City for Paris on Labor Day, I didn’t have a concrete plan on how my life would play out. I knew I wanted to move around Paris a bit to see what neighborhoods appealed to me. I knew I wanted to take a break from working full-time to determine if I had any chops as a writer and I didn’t have my son in tow so there was no urgency to get settled. So, I left my things in storage in NY, assuming that I would be reunited with them in due time.
After wrangling with my own professional instability, a global pandemic, and French administration, nearly four years later, I was finally able to make the call in May 2022. My earthly possessions were put on a ship to cross the Atlantic and land at the Rotterdam port. It was an overwhelming feeling when I received the news that my shipment had arrived in the Netherlands. The possessions that I had accumulated and that had defined me throughout my life had been out of my grasp for almost four years. It was such a powerful lesson in understanding what material things are truly essential in our lives. I had managed to live a life in Paris with mostly the items that came with me in two suitcases, except for the occasional necessities that I picked up along the way, like a frying pan or a heavier coat.
May transitioned to June and then July with no word as to when my things would be transported to Paris. “We’re waiting for clearance from French Customs.” With August and les vacances fast approaching, I knew French Customs wouldn’t be lifting a finger until la rentrée so I finished out the end of the summer not thinking too much about my long lost possessions as they sat at port in Rotterdam. I also had other more important preoccupations then being reunited with my KitchenAid mixer. I would be transporting my son from a farm in England to the Culinary Institute of America in NY in a complicated, yet well-choreographed week of trains, buses, planes, and automobiles from Paris to London to Derby to London to New York. A week that culminated on. . .wait for it. . Labor Day weekend.
It wasn’t lost on me that Labor Day would book-end my son’s journey through childhood and that my nest would become officially empty on the exact same marker that it became so full. It’s as if the Universe was saying, “Well done on doing the work, the kid will take it from here.” Given Emmanuel’s old soul nature, I always had the feeling that he was just riding out his childhood years because it was part of the process of becoming an adult. In his soul, he had been waiting for this moment from the very beginning.
And of course, as I was planning this travel extravaganza to facilitate the most significant transition in both my and Emmanuel’s lives, I get the call, well, the email. “Good day, Ms. Phillips, we have finally secured a driver for your shipment and would like to deliver it to you in Paris on Monday, September 5th.” Yup. . .Labor Day. Now, I know that Labor Day is not an official holiday in France, the Netherlands or any country in Europe, but the synchronicity was impossible to ignore. The real challenge was that I was, in fact, going to be in the States because you know, Murphy’s Law, and would be unavailable to receive this shipment. Surely, they could deliver it another day. The movers would not budge. Labor Day it was going to be and thanks to a kind and unassuming cat sitter, my 30 boxes and bicycle arrived to my Paris apartment in my absence.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic after multiple trips to Target and a hilarious back and forth over my old-fashioned gendered take on his butterfly sheets, Emmanuel was moved in at the Culinary Institute of America and ready to go. He indulged me one last reading of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, a first day of school routine from Kindergarten to 7th grade when, in his middle school swagger, he abandoned with a gentle, “I’m good, Mom.” Outside his dorm, we said our goodbyes and within days, I had boarded a plane back to Paris.
Arriving back to 30 boxes stacked wherever they would fit, under the watchful and curious eye of Ruby, the cat, my nest was empty, and my life was now in Paris. There was no turning back. The jetlag would have to wait as I had to unload these items in order to function and satisfy my none-too-pleased cat whose peace had been disrupted by this insane delivery. Piece after piece emerged with a wink of “Remember me?”–clothes, pictures, books, ceramic doodads from Emmanuel’s days at Brooklyn Friends School. Miraculously, everything had found a place in my Paris flat, and I was officially at home for the first time in four years.
Honoring the Cycles in Life
The synchronicity of Labor Day has taught me to honor the cycles in life. Nurtured by the values of modern western life, I was lured into believing that I was in control. That if I worked hard and persevered, my will and schemes would fall into place. However, whether it was the surprise of a baby boy in my life or the forced confinement and separation of the pandemic, I’ve come to realize that conscious living is neither forcing nor resisting the flow of our lives. For me, the “labor” was learning to trust these cycles, to surrender to the uncertainty that lay within them, and to believe in the resources that existed in me to manage them.
As I was explaining the uncanny synchronicity of Labor Day to a friend, she got chills. I was moved by her reaction as I reflected on the transformation that had taken place inside of me throughout these cycles. On Labor Day, I went from mom to mombbatical to empty nest. What a profound gift from an ever-present Universe, reminding me that there truly is divine order and that I am always exactly where I need to be at all times.