I have been recovering, secluded, unable to write. Too much stress in November and December. I feel more rested now. The following is a sneak peak at the Spring Issue of my Motherwords magazine column, Unfit Mother.
We are sitting next to them on the boat. An Orthodox family consisting of a man, his wife and their two daughters, look completely different from us, but my oldest does not seem to notice the girls’ exceptionally long hair, their skirts even longer. Ivy is eager to accept the invitation to play and share plastic bags of snacks. When we reach the Channel Islands National Park, we walk with them on the guided hike picking lemonade berries along the way. Quenched, the three girls run ahead and the husband stays behind, leg trouble.
Hours after the day’s excursion, the shared lunch and accepted advice about raising girls, we are back in the parking lot when Ivy asks, “Can I have a play date with Rachel and Zayit sometime?” I am already thinking about the mother’s suggestions for non-Disney places to visit in LA; this family’s influence has been rich.
“Well, Ivy, they live really far away from us.”
We did not exchange contact information, although that idea crossed my mind briefly.
“Sometimes, we meet people when we are traveling and we become friends with them. Sometimes it’s just for one day. Or even for a couple of hours, or minutes. We have a good time with them and we remember them, but really we probably won’t ever see them again.”
She is crestfallen, still flushed with a full day of sunshine and laughter. Her small sisters nap contently in their car seats. Ivy looks out the window pensively and waves goodbye as we drive away, continuing on the California vacation in our 14-year-old VW Vanagon with a pop-top. We have come to know this event as “The Five-Minute Friends” rule. We open our hearts across culture and destination and we soak in the warmth of shared experience, but we remember it is fleeting.
As we return to the open road, I recall a time stranded in the Azores when I was 10. Military dependents and enlisted men spread across the hanger floor with box lunches of paper wrapped sandwiches and tins of Duncan Hines pudding. The month before, my brother and I had fought for the chocolate one as we flew backwards across the Atlantic on board a windowless C-141 Starlifter. My brother was not with us on the little Portuguese island. It was just my mom and me and more people than I could count waiting for a flight to Frankfurt. Trapped on the air base, I found a friend. Her name was Tammy and she was flying to Crete where her dad was stationed. We played for hours, slept on the linoleum floor and vowed to become pen pals. One or two letters were exchanged before we dropped the connection when the pull of our current lives overshadowed the interest. It is easier to hold these five-minute-friends in our hearts and move along to the next layover, leaving them posed and waving in our minds.
I still like to travel. Growing up an Army Brat, I became accustomed to never staying put, but taking advantage of my location wherever the dart landed on the standard issue map. It is something I want to give my children, this experience of different people, different ways of life and different weather. Provide a broader worldview. Although my family may like to travel, the word, “vacation”, seems to imply lounging languidly on a poolside lawn chair with a cocktail sweating by your side. What we do is closer to adventuring.
My husband and I must have set a precedent when we chose to ride our bikes across Western Honshu, the largest of the Japanese islands, for our honeymoon. In the seven years since we have become parents, we have spirited our children away to Japan, Singapore, and Thailand. We have driven them back and forth across the North American continent. When I did attempt a relaxing poolside spa retreat to Mexico without my progenious companions, they were never far away from my thoughts. I imagined my children on the beachfront playground and haggled trinkets for them in the winding market alleys. I do not do well sitting still; I like to have an itinerary packed as full as my luggage, my daughters along side. It is more likely that I need a vacation from my children upon return, exhausted and jet-lagged. After all, this is what motherhood feels like: jet-lag. I figure if I must toil in the day-to-day drudgery of diaper changing and nose wiping, I might as well set the task against an exotic backdrop. If I could be doing this anywhere it might as well not be here.
I have also noticed that traveling with my children opens invitations from native people in ways that my solo backpacking presence does not. Slowly spread smiles are offered for my struggles and old ladies dig in handbags for cellophane wrapped sweets lying forgotten among broken pens. Once during an ill planned rush hour Tokyo train ride, fellow passengers barricaded themselves behind my husband and I protecting the fragile infant twins strapped to our backs from the pressing swarm of commuters.
It is my plan, when these girls of mine become saturated with pubescent hormones and begin commenting from the side of their mouths, to cart them off to volunteer in Southeast Asian orphanages rife with squalor. “No-you-may-not-have-a-brand-new-car!” I will grit through my teeth. “Now go pump more water from the well in the compound, watch out for the snakes and bring a couple of those locusts in for dinner.” I’ll rely on perspective to teach them a lesson, the consequence of broken family rules.