Mother-daughter pair Ann Hite and Maddie Hite-Smaka volunteered in Ecuador over Maddie’s 26th birthday to be able to spend time together away from home. At the end of their week in service in Quito, Ann and Maddie reflect on their time together unlike any other.
By Ann Hite and Maddie Hite-Smaka
I think there was a part of us both that thought volunteering abroad would have been a really picturesque mother-daughter trip. We sort of hyped it up that way. In a deeper sense it was, because it helped us define each other outside of Mother and Daughter. But not how we thought it would…
My mom and I have taken one trip abroad together before, when I had just turned 21. It was a magical time, but I still very much needed my mommy. On this trip, not technically many years after but in lived experience about a lifetime later, I was turning 26, and Mommy was no longer in my vocabulary.
Being a mom becomes muscle memory. It is impossible not to worry, even once children grow into independent and capable adults. At home, I allow myself to cater more to the mom role. Here, it would not have been appropriate. Maddie was asked to be a full member of the team and was able to do that. I found myself starting to make suggestions or answer questions for her, and it was almost funny how many times I had to bite my tongue.
“Wow…your Spanish is still really good.”
“Oh, you already have a map up…you know where we are…okay!”
“Sorry, I don’t need to speak for you!”
Our volunteer group was small, and there came a point where our Team Leader, Maggie, asked if we wanted to be in the same classroom. She was intentional about making sure that we had an opportunity to have the experience together. With a mutual shrug of the shoulders and an identical need to please everybody that we are in the room with (I am very much so my mother’s daughter), we established that we are happiest where we are needed most. We were there to be of service, not to have a Moving Experience Together. So we each went off into our own classrooms. And we had our own experiences. Which, at the core of her motherly teachings, is what she has been pushing me to do my whole life. Have my own authentic, trying, honest, often joyful but sometimes really really not, experience.
I asked Maddie about volunteering together, because it was important for me to be in the bigger world with my daughter and to create relationships together across difference. My own travel and life experience had led me to many opportunities to learn about myself by looking outside of myself. Choosing a Spanish immersion school for their education was the first way I offered that same experience to my daughters. Traveling together as adults in a way that really allowed us to connect with people was a natural extension of that value into our adult relationship.
“My own travel and life experience had led me to many opportunities to learn about myself by looking outside of myself. Traveling together as adults in a way that really allowed us to connect with people was a natural extension of that value into our adult relationship.”– Ann Hite
I’ve personally chosen to travel in the last couple of years in an effort to honor both of my grandmothers and the fact that they never had an opportunity to travel abroad. I want to live my life as freely and intentionally as I can since they weren’t afforded that luxury. I never got to know my maternal grandmother. I never got to meet her, because she passed away when I was born. And then I never got to know or learn about her because most people in my life had a pretty limited knowledge of her. So eventually I figured I’d find it for myself by living a life I feel would make her proud.
My work in understanding ancestral patterns has led me to believe that a lot of our personal baggage and habits have trickled down to us from those before us. So by challenging myself on a trip like this with my mother, I truly did feel like we were honoring my grandmother. It feels like a constant for so many peoples’ lineage that their mothers and grandmothers and aunts and all female predecessors did not get to travel. They did not get to see the world.
I have often struggled with the whole notion of travel! I do it, because it broadens my view of life and the world. I believe it is an important way to create real understanding between people of different cultures. However, I’m also very aware of the dangers and privileges associated with travel. It costs money and resources, which not everyone has. It’s possible to travel and never actually talk with people in a way that opens an opportunity for relationship. When that happens, people might return home with a negative and/or stereotypical narrative about what they saw. I know I will still be a tourist, in a sense, but I appreciate the option of serving and connecting as part of exploring the bigger world.
“It’s possible to travel and never actually talk with people in a way that opens an opportunity for relationship. When that happens, people might return home with a negative and/or stereotypical narrative about what they saw. I know I will still be a tourist, in a sense, but I appreciate the option of serving and connecting as part of exploring the bigger world.”– Ann Hite
So not only did we both get to travel, we got to engage with women in Ecuador who very openly shared that they have not and probably will not have the opportunity to travel. We got to get to know them on a more personal level and compare our experiences and share our realities. While we certainly came from what any American would see as a more privileged position, we all found our constants.
I think it was so great, given Maddie’s purpose of “bringing” her female ancestors on her trips with her, that this project was centered on working with women who work with children. I noticed and appreciated the transition of titles given to those women. They have, until recently, been called “tía” (auntie) by the little ones, which is such a warm familial term. The change to “profe” (teacher) shows respect for the formal education they are bringing to their profession. Both titles are honorable. Women who choose to raise and teach children around the world bring real knowledge and love to this lifework. Maddie’s grandmothers and aunties would indeed be proud, not just of her curiosity and service, but of her openness to becoming herself while keeping an eye on her role models. I’m proud of her, too, and learn by watching her grow.
“Women who choose to raise and teach children around the world bring real knowledge and love to this lifework.”– Ann Hite
I got to experience something with my mom that not a lot of people ever get to have, and that I don’t think she got to have with her mother. I got to watch her across the room, invested in something, and being the person that she was this whole time outside of our home. I’ve seen my mother so often, I’ve heard her laugh and watched her get wide eyed when something takes an unexpected turn. But I can’t really say I’ve seen much of Ann, investing her time and energy in the things she’s passionate about, like social justice and education. It’s lovely and heartening and I would recommend finding time, if possible, to have the experience yourself. With your own mother or with mine or any figure in your life whose relationship to you could be defined with a label.
“I got to experience something with my mom that not a lot of people ever get to. I got to watch her across the room, invested in something, and being the person that she was this whole time outside of our home. It’s lovely and heartening and I would recommend finding time, if possible, to have the experience yourself.”– Maddie Hite-Smaka