Sometimes there is a single event that transforms one’s perception of a relationship forever. Sometimes that event is so damaging that it triggers the death of a relationship. Other times it is so profound that it gives birth to a new relationship. The most rewarding time is when that single event is so magical that it launches an existing relationship to a higher vibration. This is what happened between my mom and me in January.
It started last August when I received an invitation to my friend Sally’s January wedding in Herefordshire, England. I’ve traveled extensively internationally, most often with a backpack and a thirst for the unknown. In other words, just like with my road trip, my international travels are not fully-fleshed out ahead of time. I like serendipity to step in and lead the way to new and unexpected adventures. Yet as I sat holding one of the most beautiful wedding invitations I’ve ever received, I couldn’t shake the thought that I should take this trip with my mom. My mom has long had a dream to go to Europe, and I knew she was retiring in December. This could be the perfect retirement kick-off for her. When I called Mom to ask her to be my date, I smiled as I listened to her process my unexpected request. Her response went something like “Oh my. (long pause) Well, I might be able to go. I have another trip scheduled with Didi, but maybe I could do both. I’m not sure. I’d have to get a passport. Well, actually, yes, YES, I want to do this!”
Over the next few months I let Mom plan with her travel agent. I knew this trip would involve suitcases instead of backpacks, and would involve well mapped out itineraries. In part I was relieved, because I didn’t really have to think about the what, the when or the how. Yet in part I was also nervous, 12 days was a long time to spend alone with my mom. But overall, I was simply giddy with excitement, and Mom and I spoke almost daily for the month leading up to the trip. Because it was my mom’s first trip to Europe, we wanted to see as much as possible and decided to visit 4 countries in 12 days: France, England, Scotland and a train ride through Wales. On January 12th our respective flights connected in Atlanta, and we hopped on the same plane to head to France. We arrived in Paris at 6:30 in the morning (12:30am back home), and I had to break the news to Mom that the best way to conquer jet-lag was to stay awake until 9:30 or 10:00pm. We dragged ourselves around Paris for the next 15 hours in a jet-lagged stupor, propelled mainly by adrenaline and our excitement with being in this historic city together. After Paris, we continued on to London, York, Edinburgh, Herefordshire, Wales, Bath and then back to London before flying home. Mom was moving slower than I’m used to, and I was moving faster than she is used to. At times I’m sure we were both frustrated with each other, and with ourselves, while we tried to find our happy medium of traveling together. Yet somewhere in the midst of all the trains, buses, and subways, getting lost together, navigating different currencies, lugging around suitcases and enjoying coffee while we people-watched, something lovely happened. We found our common comfortable travel groove. As a result, I started being more honest with my mom about my life than I ever have before. Then something even lovelier happened. I began to see my relationship with my mom in an entirely new light.
I’ve lived a very different life than my parents or sisters. I moved far away from home. I had an enviable career. I haven’t yet married, and I haven’t had kids. I’ve been a pathological over-achiever, mistakenly thinking that each new achievement might bring me the contented happiness I had always been searching for. I chose a way of life very different than the stereotypical way that I felt people in the Midwest view as a “successful” life. As a result, I secretly thought of myself as a failure – I didn’t have the husband, the kids, the house, or the plump retirement account. I think, as a defense mechanism, I convinced myself that my family didn’t approve of my life because it was different than theirs. As close as I have always been with my family, I also had a secret wall up to protect myself against any judgment that might be cast upon me. It was during this trip to Europe with Mom that I began to realize that I had made myself believe I was an outcast in my family, when really I have always 100% belonged. My Mom had never judged me in life, even though at times I felt I was disappointing her when she would question some of my choices. Now I realize that her questions were more about trying to understand me, not at all trying to judge me. I realize now that, in a weird way, my fear of being judged kept me from seeing that my mom has always completely accepted me. Even if she hasn’t always understood me, she has always been proud of me, quirks and all. In fact, what became clear on the trip was that my mom and I are more alike than I ever imagined.
Now that we are back in the U.S. in our respective States of Wisconsin and Texas, I don’t think our relationship is any different on the surface than it ever was. What has changed is my perception of our relationship. By making myself vulnerable and completely honest with my mom, I’m letting myself fully experience a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter.
And Mom…I unconditionally love you too!
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