Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Writing Contest: First Place Essay

I am pleased to present the first place winner of the Writing Contest! One of the judges commented about her essay: "I thought this one was the most well written. It was transportive. I felt the transformation happening. I didn’t need to be told it how it happened. She showed it."

Melissa wins her choice of one of these prizes:
~ $50 gift certificate from Second Womb Slings
~ handmade hat (up to $40 value) from Paper Raisins
~ handknit wool soaker (up to $35 value) from Monkey Muffin Creations
~ $25 worth of handmade play food from Hooked in Harmony

More about Melissa:

I'm a biological anthropologist, studying maternal investment and the weaning process in wild Nicaraguan mantled howler monkeys. While I was writing my dissertation, I got pregnant. I suffered from severe nausea and vomiting the entire pregnancy and as a result, didn't enjoy being pregnant very much. Two days before my 30th birthday, my husband and I welcomed our son, William Miles, into the world. I struggled mightily to breastfeed during the first few months. Managing to successfully get through that difficult period is a far bigger accomplishment than anything else I've ever done.

For the moment I am staying at home with my little boy (now 9 months old), while also working on research publications and trying to figure out how to have a meaningful career that still lets me spend time with my son. I love oceans, lakes, volcanoes, trees, and guys on road bikes (in particular, my husband). I'm a vegan.  I've run 9 marathons and am looking forward to my 10th. I love to write, and whenever I have a chance, I blog at Cloth Mother.


I never wanted to have children. My husband and I had such full lives already. I enjoyed being free and untethered, and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling any other way.

We moved to Nicaragua for a year, where I spent my days in the jungle observing wild howler monkeys for my dissertation research. At the end of the dry season, I met a little boy named Eduardo who lived in the village. He was 12 years old but looked more like he was 8 or 9. He worked at the field station in exchange for English lessons. He had the sweetest smile and an uncommon generosity.

Eduardo became my shadow. He helped me with small tasks, ate breakfast with me, and brought me fruit he had picked from the trees. He was endlessly fascinated with my many possessions—such as my flashlight, compass, pencils, and hiking boots. “Tienes muchas cosas bonitas, Meli,” he told me. You have many beautiful things.

As my year in Nicaragua drew to a close, I became immeasurably sad at the thought of leaving him behind. I wanted to take him home with me. I wanted to fix him breakfast every morning and see him off to school. I could imagine myself tucking him in at night and wishing him sweet dreams. I wanted to get him a bike that fit his small frame, unlike the one he rode now that too large even for me.

One night Eduardo stayed late at the field station and asked to borrow my flashlight so that he could see on his way home—riding his oversized bike on the bumpy dirt road that was littered with jagged volcanic rocks. He promised to bring the flashlight back to me first thing in the morning. And sure enough, there he was, tapping at the door before 6am the next day. He was wearing yesterday’s clothes, his hair was rumpled, and his eyes were still small with sleep. He was golden.

Eduardo stayed to talk with me. He swung back and forth in the large hammock across from the room my husband and I shared. The hammock was colorful and ornate, with the name William woven into the side. That hammock had been right outside our room the entire year, and I had often wondered who William was and why he had left it behind. I suppose someone at the field station might have known, but I had never asked.

Some tourists came to join us, and they asked Eduardo what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be a volcano guide. It was the hardest job around, but it had the best pay. Guides got $15 every time they led a group on the arduous 8-hour hike up and down the volcano. The tourists asked Eduardo if he wanted to travel, and he said yes. He said that he wanted to come to the United States. He said he wanted to come and live with Rob and me, in our house. I smiled and then turned my head so that he wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.

Rob and I left Nicaragua during the wet season. Eduardo came to say goodbye on the morning of our departure. I boarded the dusty bus and waved at Eduardo until I couldn’t see him any longer. I cried all 2,000 miles home.

For a year I pined over him. I couldn’t sleep at night, and when I did, I would dream that I was stretching my arms out wide over the water but I could never quite reach him.

Finally I could stay away no longer. Rob and I went back to Nicaragua when it was the wet season once again. We visited the monkeys I had studied, and we saw all our friends. We looked for Eduardo. He wasn’t living in the village anymore. I found out that his mother had sent him away to live with some relatives, but I never did understand why. We found him eventually. He was 13—suddenly shy and a little bit aloof. His smile was less childlike and didn’t light up his face anymore, but he seemed happy nonetheless. I realized that as difficult as his life must be here, how selfish it would have been for me to really take him home with me—to take him away from his family and friends and language and culture. When he said goodbye and walked away that night, I knew that I would never see him again. But I wasn’t sad. In a strange way, I was finally at peace for the first time in a year. I realized that knowing Eduardo had forever changed the way I saw the world.

Four months later, I became pregnant with my first child. The baby was born in August, during the wet season. It was a boy. The moment I saw him, I loved him with all my heart. We named him William.


  1. My hope is that you ALWAYS continue to write ... and to live and to love with such passion. This is my favorite writing of all!!!!!
    hugs, auntie

  2. This was wonderfully written. I really enjoy it!

  3. Wow! Thank you so much! I am truly honored.

    I wrote this essay typing one-handed while nursing my baby (as I do most of my writing these days), and I almost didn't send it in because I didn't think it was any good. Glad I took the chance.

    Thanks to Rixa and the judges and to everyone for your kind comments.

  4. This was absolutely beautiful.

    When I was living in South America, I fell in love with a little boy in the neighborhood as well. It didn't have quite the same transformational affect on me because I'd always known I wanted to have children, but I still think of him all the time and pray that he is happy and well taken care of. As I prepare to have my own son in July, the idea of mothering (our own children and others) has really been coming full circle for me, and this essay drove right to the heart.

    What a beautiful, beautiful piece.

  5. Very nice! Congratulations.

  6. sniffle, sniffle (i'm in a place where i can not sob, darn.)

  7. Love it! Congratulations.

  8. This is lovely. It reminds me of a favorite Rilke quote..
    "the future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens."
    Thank you for sharing Melissa.

  9. Excellent choice. I loved reading it.

  10. Loved it...

    And I added her blog to my reader. (So many fabulous blogs, so little time!)


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