Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Travel and Independence and Getting On, Part 2...

I'm beginning this second post about Travel and Independence very aware of how much ground I have to cover. The conversation that's already emerging in the wake of my first post on the topic suggests so many rewarding directions to strike out in, but I'm going to try to remember the itinerary I first planned, and then make room for some side trips later. As it is, I've only just got to my mid-teens, and there are, ahem, a few decades to travel between Then and Now.

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.

26 comments:

  1. Dear Frances,you really had life full of experiences and challenges,and it made you a person you are. I can see a woman bursting with energy,interests, more than competent in oh-so many life departements,you have achieved so many goals perfectly! You don't have to prove anything to anybody ,except maybe for yourself!
    Perhaps you'll choose different timing in an another life,but all elements are here,they are perfect,you did it excellent!
    I think I can understand a lot of your thoughts (or only some :-)),but making some analogies would take too much of space here.
    I think that you can choose whatever you want if that's really something you want.
    Just one of suggestions: why don't you and your husband next time on trip choose "his"and "hers" days when one or another will lead and make decisions? Or whole trip can be your surprise for him? And vice-versa?
    Dottoressa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful response, Dottoressa. Interestingly, as I write out my reflections on my travel, independent and otherwise, I see my happy choices more clearly. In fact, one of the recognitions I had in Paris with my sister (and I'll get there soon, I promise, in an upcoming post) is about ways to maximize this independence when enjoying my husband's company. You're right, there are some easy ways to make this happen when we travel together, and we generally do share many of the challenges and make decisions together. But I'm figuring out a few more tactics and overall strategies to make life even smoother. Thanks for the suggestions.

      Delete
  2. You are miles ahead of me with the bicycle independence. I avoid because I need to go to another building, open the bike room, get the bike off the wall and manage to get it out of the building. I probably am capable but....I like Dottoressa's idea of taking turns.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mme, you are so independent the whole time you're away travelling, that you deserve to have that bike lifted out for you! I think we need to sort out the balance for what we need, according to our individual personalities and our current circumstances, always in flux.

      Delete
  3. Husband and I are off on a trip to Europe in six weeks time and the anxieties have set in. Oh I hate being this way. He is calm, cool and collected and excited. I'm a nervous wreck ridden with worry. One I'm on the plane I start to calm down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I so sympathize! I don't get too anxious until the last day or two, but I do start wondering why I want to uproot, why go so far away, etc., etc. . ..
      It's really important for me to get to the airport well before a flight -- husband would leave it for 90 minutes, if he had his 'druthers. (He used to fly so much for work, but that wasn't his dollar if he missed the flight!!)
      Like you, once the plane lifts into the air, I'm calming down.

      Delete
  4. I too didn't travel as a young thing- I think my husband would have liked to, but I was too set on a family.As Kiwis doing our O.E-Overseas Experience - really is a right of passage and I do recognise that feeling of sometimes wishing my 20-year old self was along for the ride as we travel now. We make quite good companions as I love the research pre-trip and he couldn't care less, but when we arrive and I turn into Scaredy-Cat Girl he thrives on the challenges of navigating public transport, etc.I have to admit, though, to a sneaky little whisper which tells me that I'm not really a grown-up until I've done a proper trip on my own!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, there are so many other ways to be a grown-up, right? Raising your family being only the most obvious. But it's funny (and annoying) what those little voices tell us. The little voice, for example, that has the Scaredy-Cat Girl label ready. I suspect that voice ignores all manner of brave things you do in other ways (My husband reassures me that I'm much more willing to take emotional risks than he is, for example).
      If the whisper gets louder, though, and it would make you happy to do a short trip on your own, you might want to do that with a friend or sister or daughter. I found a very different dynamic when I went to Paris (which I know well) with my sister (who'd only been there once, for two days).

      Delete
  5. As I said in a previous comment we did the far away places when we were younger . I was the planner , organizer ,map reader & booker & loved it , he drove - thousands of miles . I would hear him tell people " we just head off & go where we fancy " & I would smile , thinking of the hours of preparation I had put in . It was wonderful, we were young , energetic & brave & that's my point really . We are not the same now in our sixties . You are obviously very fit & I like to think with our healthy diets plus hours of dog walking & gardening ,that we are doing quite well, but there are limits . Energy can droop after weeks or even days of exertion My hubbie developed asthma so hiking up some of the U.S. Park trails & coping with the humidity of the Far East would be difficult now & my concern for him would make me more nervous in some situations . What I'm trying to say is if independant travel is very important in your life , perhaps best not to wait until retirement . Just my opinion in this discussion :-) You write beautifully Frances , in a very personal & warm way
    Wendy in York

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the kind words about my writing, Wendy. I feel so happy to be able to facilitate this conversation. . . And oh, I hear you about the difference in energy levels between my 30s, even 40s, and my 60s, travel-wise. I really like to get back to hotel or rental for a nap in the afternoons now, and try not to be too apologetic about building our schedule around that (husband often comes back and reads, but sometimes continues wandering on his own). I wouldn't want to carry the backpacks we walked with nor am I willing to cross hallways in the night for a toilet. And when I look at some of the (even) older folks standing in horrid long lineups at crowded airports, I wonder how long I'll have the stamina for certain kinds of international travel. Your point is a good one: if you want to travel, especially independently, do it as soon as if you have the opportunity! Retirement doesn't always arrive with the best of health.

      Delete
  6. Solo food poisoning...I can tick that one. Very lonely. Twice. Anyhoo...bike ride. Is it growing arms and legs of anxiety the more you deliberate? Why not just get up one day, wheel it out and see where you go. No plan. No rules. Just you and the bike. Not a judgement. Call your worry's bluff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My inner critic approves of your brisk approach. Just get on with it, yes! But no, it's not so much that it grows arms and legs and the anxiety isn't huge. In fact, what bothers me more, in a way, is that it's just more natural for me to wait and cycle with him, while he simply does whichever, no thinking involved. My propensity to nap in the afternoon is often met by his to cycle off on his own. . . And that adds to the scheduling problem of my solo cycles. There really isn't a lot of time for that to make sense, but I'm going to give up a run morning next time we're in the city, and just do it. As you say.

      Delete
  7. I have noticed a worrying tendency in myself to allow my husband to do all the long distance driving now that he has retired. There is one regular journey that I always did on my own, meeting him off the train at the end of his working week. Now we travel together and he automatically gets into the driving seat! The trouble is, I'm not a good passenger, finding the position of the traffic around the offside of the car very aggressive and far too close and I'm not much better at having a rather watchful passenger in the front of the car with me. Catch 22.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I can relate to this! I'm not a good passenger either, and while I still insist on doing at least one or two turns of an hour or two, we often default to him in the driver's seat on long drives as well. Like you, I can get self-conscious about having him as passenger, somehow. I've been working a 90-minute solo trip down to the nearest big city here back into my routine. I used to drive it several times a week, about 15 years ago when I was at grad school, and then somehow our schedule has shifted so that if we go, we go together, and he tends to drive. Yet I actually love being on the road on my own for drives like that.

      Delete
  8. I have so many comments to make...too many. But I'll limit myself. Feeling admiration for you and your two weeks alone in France, lugging your suitcase (long before Spinner bags!), being sick, having an amazing time despite all that. And thinking of a recent conversation with an older friend who has always found time and space for her independent self away from husband and children. The death of a mutual friend's husband and the subsequent bewilderment of the spouse at the thought of life on her own....prompted an admonishment to my friend that she needed to make sure to always keep her "independence skills" fresh. And she replied, "If Ross and I were any more independent we'd have to have separate houses." I laughed at that. They have a wonderful marriage but are most definitely their own independent selves. Not quite the topic of your post. I'm definitely taking one of those side trips, as I am wont to do:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not too many at all, Susan. And even the side trips are welcome, because then I know I'm connecting on some level, even though my idiosyncratic thoughts on the topic might be quite different than yours. A friend of ours, just slightly younger, recently lost her husband very similarly, and although she's confident and independent and very competent, I suspect that her changed situation is also prompting some of my anxieties. But at the same time, I'm so glad that my friend and her husband traveled together so much -- as I say in my post, I don't want to waste time I have with my husband proving my independence; I just want to maintain that independence as much as possible within our framework. Your anecdote really points to the balance needed. . . I admire your friend for achieving it.

      Delete
  9. I had to go away and have a think about this and I wonder how much your quest for independence is connected with your recent retirement, and this particular life stage? A need to redefine who we are and what we can now do with our lives now, I suppose.

    I do recognise this, having gone through something similar some years ago when I went through a big life upheaval - starting a new life with my new partner, as he was then, in a new part of the country where we knew no-one, at the time my youngest flew the nest, leaving me mourning my role as a mother and also finding it impossible to find interesting work, having given up my job in a senior school at the same time - no-one is interested in employing women in their late 50s it seems.

    I still don't have any answers, but adjustments are made and challenges met. Sometimes I think it's just best to go with the flow and not try to hard, but that's just me.

    Interestingly others see us as being a couple who are fairly independent and self sufficient, but not sure if that's true at all... I'm alone at the moment and finding it a strange experience. Enough introspection. Enjoy your adventures, together and alone and I think you are so lucky to have such a long and loving relationship!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Marianne, for taking time to think this through. And for telling me you did so -- it broadens the scope of this conversation even more, far beyond the screens we see, into our various homes across the globe as we carry thoughts about each other through our days....how cool is that!
      I know you're right. So many big events have changed me in the last several years -- becoming a grandmother and losing parents, parents-in-law, a huge chunk of family through a baffling quarrel. Now retirement which is every bit as complicated as I thought it might be. I do find that even just writing this through, here, and getting a chance to see others' perspective, helps me settle into accepting some of my patterns and seeing easy ways to change others. . . .

      Delete
  10. About marriage I have no advice, obviously:). About bicycles, no experience at all, so less than no advice.

    What strikes me is that what you are doing now is consciously recreating a time, your twenties, when you might more commonly tested your competence with solo travel. That solo travel may be a metaphor for the thrashing about in our 20s we who marry later do by necessity. Maybe that thrashing is something valuable to a full life - but if so, I am sure you will find a way to layer it on now. In a less painful and destructive manner, because, wisdom.

    I admire your careful and considered approach to knitting together this full identity, the way you sense what you need, and go after it, bit, by bit, by bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm, I can see why it might seem that way, and perhaps I haven't articulated clearly enough. I've done enough solo travel since the kids have been gone, and I went back to grad school in my 40s. And I did manage some thrashing about on my own before I married.
      What I'm looking at now is so much more time with my husband, in our retirement together, and my own anxiety about certain things, as exemplified by the cycling -- the way it can be so tempting to lean . . . I'll try to parse this more carefully in the next post, if folks can stand more! ;-)

      Delete
  11. The fact that you traveled a thousand miles by car with 4 freakin' kids (never mind 1) blows my mind. That is the most intense bad-assery I can conceive of. Honestly, in a zillion years I wouldn't have the nerve to do that. I couldn't get my kid into a 5 minute taxi until she was 10 (lest she vomit all over the place from motion sickness). Not to mention my extreme anxiety about either of us throwing up (me from the stress, but also cuz I get motion sick in the back seat of a car). That you would load up the car with swimsuits and go, is truly impressive. You know I'm a germ phobic sort, but traveling with young M, I was traumatized by the public bathrooms that we inevitably had to visit. You must have had that times 4?! Not to mention that you saw the world, and the night time stars. I bet your kids have enviable memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, most of that was in my 30s (almost half a lifetime ago! I can scarcely fathom that).
      Luckily, I'm not the least bit germ-phobic. During that whole ridiculous AIDS-scare thing that happened when my kids were small and so many moms were holding their kids above public toilets, to the permanent detriment of their own backs, I trusted to healthy skin, designed to protect... I was lucky to be led in this direction by some smart, practical nurse and doctor girlfriends. . . Also supremely lucky that our kids never suffered from motion sickness -- they would read in the car!!
      As for enviable memories, funny you should mention that, given what my daughter just wrote in her last post on hiking in Italy. Poor Paul....

      Delete
  12. Frances, I love your thoughtful examination of the last third of life, which is where I am also. You've done extraordinary things on your own as a child and as an adult. A solo bicycle ride is in your future, and I admire you for your current riding as a couple, and for your future solo journeys. In California, I respect bicyclists, but have no desire to join them. In hilly SF bicycles were particularly impractical. We're not a bike-friendly nation, and I prefer to walk, take the train, or drive. I identify very much with your concerns about how to balance a relationship and an independent life. It looks to me as if you are already doing an extraordinary job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't imagine cycling in SF!! Vancouver's got hills, but they're manageable and many of our routes work around them. Road-biking is a stretch to my comfort zone, but Vancouver's developed so many fabulous bike paths lately that I'm surprised and delighted to be enjoying this activity.
      So pleased that you get what I'm trying to work out here. It's always that balance, isn't it? Wonderfully elusive, keeping us in process...

      Delete
  13. I think you're still searching for something real or imagined that you missed out on by marrying at a relatively young age. You have proven yourself more than capable of travelling solo when you have to. Isn't there a danger that you can spend so long analysing and worrying about what ifs you're not fully enjoying the present and there is so much to enjoy now. By the end of this post I was thinking just go for the bike ride, get it out of your system! Life's about compromise. You can't have everything. But you're a wise lady I think you know that. On a lighter note dramatic new hairstyle, what a change, symbolic? Regards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment--I'd love to develop a sense of commenters over time, so should you ever feel comfortable with adding an initial, or even a first name, at the end of your comment while still posting as Anonymous, that would be very welcome.
      I do know I can't have everything, and I will just go for the bike ride. But we all come at life from different perspectives and with different personalities. What I'm trying to say is that I'm the kind of person who DOESN't just go for the bike ride. I've done so much in my life, and I feel very blessed and able and all sorts of good things, but I will never be the person who just goes for the bike ride. I wish I were, but I'm not, and I think that's the nub of what I'm saying here.

      And while I know every choice represents both the thing chosen and the things left behind, I really don't see myself as having missed out by marrying young. I'm not sure I'd be any more likely to get that bike out the door if I'd married at 40. ;-)

      Delete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...