And so many memories, large and small, lurking in the oddest spaces, as ready to sabotage with long-forgotten chagrin--my first period, long awaited, announced itself as I visited my uncle, the Jesuit priest, in Glasgow-- as to delight with simple pleasures -- my cousin dumping his fourth spoonful of sugar into a strong cup of Yorkshire tea in my grandmother's kitchen; the rag-and-bone man calling out from behind his horse as he steered his cart down Thornton Street in Middlesbrough; my grandma feeding shillings into the gas meter so that I could heat water for a bath.
A few years after my solo visit, I introduced my younger sister to the English tribe. And I reinforced the Competence-Worry Poles for a lifetime when I managed to confuse the date of our return flight. A potentially very expensive mistake, but somehow, through my tears over the telephone, I got us seats on a flight home three days later. Not bad for an 18-year old, I recognize now, but only the horror of my worries come true stuck with me, rather than any celebration of travel bad-assery.
Nevertheless, the sum of those experiences was enough for me to self-identify as a traveler, although my three trips to England (the first with my parents, by car and ship, when I was barely two) were relatively modest ones, never outside the Anglophone Zone. I probably should have been more concerned about how early marriage (at 21) and parenthood (23) might impact this identity, but . . . Well, youth! Romance! Idealism!
And I did manage some travel during my 20s. Paul and I road-tripped our own province, back-packing, hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, canoeing. He'd canoed across Canada in his late teens (by sheer coincidence, my daughter just mentioned this on her blog, in a post which connects her foundational outdoor experience with some hiking she's been doing in Italy). Even more significant to him was the summer he spent in his early 20s canoeing in what was then then a very remote river system in the north. I was enthralled by his confidence and competence and experience in the outdoors, and happy to make that my travel focus for a while, even if it occasionally meant playing Follow the Leader.
That's not to say I surrendered my travel independence when I slipped that ring on my fourth finger, although I don't remember any trips of my own in those honeymoon years. But when our oldest was a few months old, I flew to Ottawa with her (a job interview, and I was still nursing so couldn't leave her behind), making a side trip to Toronto to meet Paul's aunt, just because I wanted to take advantage of the chance to fly. Such opportunities were obviously at a premium during those years on one salary (I did well on that job interview, but decided not to go back after my maternity leave). A few years later, we moved a thousand miles from home, driving two days to get there with our 4-year old and 18-month old chatting and sleeping and squabbling and whining and crayoning and singing in the back seat.
I drove those thousand miles so many times over the next seven years. Drove them by myself, as long as you understand "by myself" to mean that I was the only one shifting gears up a long grade, steering the curves dangerously close to the Skeena River, checking the gas before heading into "Next Service 70 Miles" territory. I did have company, the kind you have to find toilets for just after you've finally passed that long slow line of motor homes, the kind who need to burn off energy every two hundred miles, the kind who could joyfully live on a road trip diet of MacDonald's, not minding if they ever saw a restaurant interior that wasn't yellow and red. Summers were always Pater's busy season, and if he was going to be away for weeks, I packed the car with two, then, three, then all four, and away we'd head, always being sure that swimsuits and towels were at the ready should I see signs for a nearby lake.
Oh, I was a confident and competent traveler, shepherding my little flock across many miles. And eventually, my hibernating desire for wider horizons woke up, and Pater and I took the kids to England, the summer of our 10th anniversary, and on a house exchange to France 6 years later. On both those trips, I was at least as confident in my travel competence as my husband, not least because we were visiting my relatives in England and then because I spoke a passable French which he had not (yet) acquired. Already, though, there was some inkling of what was to come in his much greater comfort in one important area: while we both took turns driving, I was happy to leave him more hours behind the wheel while I navigated the best routes and refereed the backseat dramas.
Much of what I've written here I've also written of in one of my posts about My Paris. I haven't managed to write the next post in that series, although it's on my Retirement List, but when I do, I know I'll describe the image I so clearly had, when we took all four kids, 5 to 14 at the time, to France: as much as I loved discovering the country with my family, I was haunted by a sense of my 20-year old self tucked away on a high shelf. Haunted enough that the next summer, my husband and I spent a wonderful two weeks in France without the kids, and then I stayed for another two weeks on my own
Some of you will undoubtedly be wondering what the fuss is about, solo travel being a regular part of your lives, but I'd been an at-home mom for 15 years by then. Sure, I'd had getaway weekends with my husband or a friend or on my own for a course or a conference or shopping trip, but two weeks completely on my own in a country whose language I only spoke passably? The experience turned out to be validating and liberating and inspiring in so many ways, and I'll always be so grateful to Pater for helping me making it happen. But oh, that moment in the Paris airport hotel when I clung tightly to him as he headed out to his early morning flight home! And then, after he left, checking out and heading for the train to Arles.... Remember, travel on a budget eked from the family grocery money isn't travel that affords taxis and hotels with concierges. This was very much lug-my-own-suitcase and figure out my own connections and finding the right train carriage. And one very long night, managing food poisoning all by my miserable self on the floor of a (thankfully very decent) 2-star hotel. . . .
I suspect I'm coming to your reading limit for another long post, so I'll just tell you Paris was part of that solo trip I took at the end of my 4th decade. In case you're worried I've completely lost my way, I assure you that I'm circling back to the insights Paris offered me on this last trip with my sister, as I promised when I started this conversation. But before I close, I want to add one more element, one that will bring us right up to the moment and that gets a bit closer to my motivation for all this pondering.
You know that I've been cycling quite a bit around Vancouver with Pater, right? Well, what you don't know is that I haven't yet gone on a solo cycling trip in the city. And I am very vexed with myself about this and determined to make a solo cycle, even a short one, a priority next time we're in Vancouver. (I did, last visit, take the bike downstairs by myself, hoisting it off the deck of the condo, through the livingroom, out the heavy hydraulic door, down the hallway and jack-knifing itinto the elevator. I even rode it a few blocks away to wait for Paul. Just because. Just to prove I could. As if I didn't know. But I didn't, at some level, while at another level I absolutely did.)
So that's part of what I want to tackle next post of this series: how can I keep alive an independent competence I've always had, a competence that has so often been undermined by a propensity to worry? How, particularly, can I do this within a relationship that offers me a partner strong enough and happy to take the lead without a second thought? And how to balance maintaining that independence without wasting whatever time Pater and I have left to travel and cycle and explore all other aspects of life together? And I'd love to manage to connect my idiosyncratic and perhaps even peculiar concerns with more general or more common ones that might face us all as we shift into our last third (I believe I'm lucky enough to have readers who are still firmly in their first half of life, but perhaps those of you who fit that profile won't mind an inkling of what might be ahead).
What do you think? Any chance I'll be able to manage even a fraction of that in my next post? Meanwhile, any comments on anything here that resonates are, as you know, very welcome.