The most magical moments of my childhood were spent alone. I would lay amongst the prickly spears of grass in the meadow near my home—never able to escape the heat of the midday sun—and always in an imaginative world of my own. Laying flat, pressed against the bosom of the earth, I would roll in that meadow, flattening the flora ’til it formed hallways, rooms, secret corridors, and eventually a house. Standing tall at six years old, the tippy tops of daisy blooms rose to my chin, and as nap time drew near, I would duck below into the pressed-down grasses I had made into rooms, pretend a picnic with a favorite doll, and dream fully awake. There was always twirling involved.
Those meadow days were a standalone time for me where I had a brief respite from the tumult of my childhood. Chronic fear characterized those years, and I don’t remember a single day without a pit in my stomach. Abuse found its way into every crevice of my mind, body, and heart; darkness and disdain swirled in the eyes of my father when my little girl eyes looked up into his that delivered it all without flinching. Laughter, freedom, and fun had no place in the first two decades of my life … except there. In that meadow I spun under the sun, built homes I dreamt of living in, and every whimsical thought I had was displayed for all of nature to smile back at without judgement. I was filled with free spiritedness and utter delight, dancing alone, and God beamed upon me, warming my back with the sun, and bearing witness to a girl playing in His garden. I came to know Him amongst the grass and clay. I counted His love as I scattered petals.
Three decades later, I sat upon a therapist’s sofa lamenting and questioning whether I would ever experience life without the twisting dagger of fear in my body. So much trauma and stress still called my heart home. I had tried to strive it away, wish it away, pray it away, nutrition it away, exercise it away, and pack it away. And yet it lingered, and more, paralyzed me. Soon after that session my family journeyed across the country to my childhood state, and while there I thought I would excitedly show my own daughter the home I spent my first few years in. When we pulled into the driveway the familiar crunch of gravel beneath the tires immediately took me back. As we stepped out, I froze; every atom of oxygen was sucked out of me with vacuum force. I stood, shocked, that this should-be-exciting reminiscing had, instead, caused my heart to well with grief. The tears shook me, and the quake of the grief radiated to every part of my body. Mortified that this was not the happy occasion I imagined it to be, and that I was uncontrollably falling apart, I turned my gaze away from that house, and there still stood, unscathed and unchanged, the very meadow where I felt most “me,” most alive, and most known. Salty streams of relieved tears bathed my face in wonder—I had survived. That meadow had spun me, warmed me, known me, received me, waved in the wind at me, laughed with me, sung with me, twirled with me, and saved me.
All of that sadness that shook me—it was because I moved from that place at age seven. It was the last taste of free spiritedness and delight and alive-ness that I had for the rest of my childhood, and honestly, the last I had tasted since. At nearly 30, I didn’t have a meadow to escape to any longer, a place to dream, be wild and free, or imagine without inhibitions. I hadn’t yet found a place to unpack the weight of life or find relief from the pangs of my childhood or tend to the wounds it had left upon my heart and mind. I snapped a photo of my daughter spinning amongst the grasses and flowers just as I once had, I said a silent prayer of gratitude that she feels free to fly even on the worst of days, and we left.
I knew I needed a meadow.
When we returned home, I began to carve out space for solo self-care. I started by signing up for a four-day retreat with about 35 other meadow-seekers. There, we shed the dust and debris that life had handed us, and by the end of the retreat, we had recovered so much of our true selves that we were all full-time truth speakers, soul barers, and fear shedders. Toward the end of the retreat we were invited to bestow a gift upon each participant: speaking over them the way that the heavens saw them. As I walked through the line of fellow participants, they began to speak over me: “You are a vessel of wisdom and mercy,” one said. “You are watched over with delight,” said another. “You are a little girl twirling in a field of daisies,” said another. Time stopped. My heart was clenched with the gravity of being so fully known, and tears flooded my eyes. I could barely stand. No one knew, and yet Someone knew.
Over the next year, I began carving out four-day solo escapes to different “meadows.” Always, always they were decked out in beauty: a bed and breakfast with sprawling acres of gardens to wander; a downtown hotel near a favorite coffee shop where I could behold conversations in seven foreign languages swirling around me; taking the train to an art museum and soaking in every paint stroke of inspiration as I marveled over how we barely scratch the surface when we try to capture the wonder of creation, and yet it is so restorative to try. I always packed light. In my life, I was always taking in, listening, and absorbing, but this was a time to release, process, and exhale it all. I always came back empty, but so, so full. The catharsis of these solo getaways—even now, with eight children and all of the responsibilities that accompany that—are fuel and oxygen to me. I have learned to dance, create, dream, and unleash again. I sneak away to a different meadow once a quarter, and now, I also have the honor of teaching eight littles to find their own meadow too.
The other day, I peeked out the window and watched one of my daughters carefully construct a “she shed” out of fallen limbs and moss. It’s a little lean-to shack that she built, propped up on the side of our house. On sunny afternoons, she will take an apple and a favorite book out there and dream away the day in a fort that smells like earth and rain. And my heart wells with gladness that she, too, knows this sustaining gift.
As womenkind, our tender hearts will always be home to so many emotions. And often, the thrill will lie in chasing down our own meadows. As we find them, there we can retreat and be gentle with ourselves, shaking off the dust of life. In that place, the sun ever shines upon us, perhaps as an act of thanks that we haven’t forgotten that the heavens delight to see us just as we are, the skies a witness as we free ourselves, twirling and dreaming, heaven’s breath blowing our hair in the breeze as we slowly exhale and are found once more.
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~ Khalil Gibran
Penelope Writes hails from Portland, Oregon, and has staunchly refused to post on her Instagram account, Remnants of Eden, until now. She and her husband are adjusting from going from one to eight children in a two-year timespan with champagne, early bedtimes, and fervent prayers. She writes about trauma, documents beauty, and chases meadows at: ComePlayHouseWithMe.blogspot.com.