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Colleen Louw

Technical Program Manager

Reston, VA

In order to be a mother and take the responsibility of crafting someone’s life, I have to live mine as authentically and honestly as I can.

Six years ago my husband and I packed our bags — my drum, an array of books and a handful of last minute keepsakes pressed into our hands at the airport — and left our hometown at Africa’s southernmost toe. We began our lives as immigrants in the hard-driving Washington, D.C., metro area just outside the Beltway.

We were caught wide-eyed in the headlights of a world in which we often felt out of our depth, and surprised to find ourselves longing for everything familiar, everything taken for granted, that we had left behind. It was a road of leaning in and falling back, of falling down and scraping knees again and again, but ever so gradually standing more and more erect and growing wiser.

It took a long time, but eventually my husband and I felt an inner sense of unity and we finally began to settle and assimilate. Eventually it felt less lonely to be outsiders looking in without an American college education and the school-based network of friends so central to the lives of our peers. We became less shy to stand up and talk about South Africa as something other than a crimefest or the neatly packaged rendition of a country given by the movie Invictus. And we became more willing to accept that our home country has not stood still in our absence but that what we love about it endures, and that’s ok.

Then last year something quite remarkable happened: We had Sophia just before Thanksgiving, appropriately. She’s a dark-haired little girl who has been a telescope for me, because she brought into focus that we are now truly present, that we must be “in the moment" to really be with her, and that means no longer looking back in a state of longing. Like a drawstring she has brought our distant web of family and friends together.

For me she has come to crystallize something even more profound, though: that in order to be a mother and take the responsibility of crafting someone’s life, I have to live mine as authentically and honestly as I can. Children have an unerring ability to reach to the bedrock of who and what you are, and that's what Sophia has done for me. She makes me pause to ask how much I am leaning in on my personal goals and how much I have not even been prepared to enter the room of my dreams for fear of failing, fear of not measuring up and fear of change.

Those truths have put me on a new road, and it is my own, carrying everything I’ve learned and done. I strive to be the custodian of Sophia's history and a sharper example of authenticity—the very thing that I want her to embody with pride as she goes through the world. To lean in this way means knowing that I do so not only for myself but for others, too, however imperfectly.