I turned on the TV to the images of the destruction of the Gujarat earthquake and was shocked to see the hotel in Kutch where my mother and I had stayed just a few weeks prior, flattened to the ground. Several of the amazing craft villages we had visited were devastated as well. I’ve heard of people speak of surviving trips with their mother, but this was more literal.
We were with friends in a Guatemalan village during the civil war when we were informed that the guerrillas were on the ridge above. We were in the capital of the Chin State in Myanmar (which took the government three days to decide if we were even allowed to visit) when our flight out was canceled. That left us with no alternative but to take the overnight bus to Mandalay, which at times literally drove down the river and included eight separate police checks. And then there was the time when all the shops and restaurants in the town we were in, closed for Christmas, leaving us nothing to eat for three days but the lone open Kentucky Fried Chicken. That was survival of a different kind.
This, admittedly, is not everyone’s idea of holiday bliss, and it can be a fine line. We were slow, boarding the boat for the eleven hour overnight boat to the Banda islands and all the seats and beds were filled. Only some last minute negotiating with the captain got us a first class cabin and saved mom the misery of sleeping on the grimy deck. In the end, however, it turned out to be one of our most treasured holiday memories.
And that is why travelling with mom is so great. Going on a journey with people you don’t know well, or discover mid trip that you don’t know well enough, is a minefield. Sometimes its great but sometimes it blows up. Mom and I know what we like and what each other likes. I know she will love it if we are somewhere she can hear carols at Christmas and she knows I’ll want to find the top of the mountain, building, whatever. I don’t have to wonder where she’ll want to go, what she’ll enjoy doing, how she’ll react, what will make her happy, what she’ll eat and when she needs to eat and when she’ll need to stop for a restroom break. I’ve known her my whole life.
Travelling with anyone, will be work at times. When travelling with mom I know even the work of it is worthwhile because it is strengthening a relationship that will last. I’ve seen friends lose their composure completely while travelling with each other but with family you have no choice but to work it out and to learn more about each other. And we are constantly learning more. She learns more of what has gone on in my life in the times we are apart. I hear family stories that somehow were never mentioned before.
And the memories we make will last a lifetime. I don’t have to worry that she’ll be a travelling partner whose friendship will gradually fade. The tales we tell become a part of the family folklore that will live on. And someday when we are not so nimble we will still recount the voyages until dementia does us in.
And there may be yet an added benefit of travelling with your mother. It hasn’t worked for me yet, but when my sister was travelling with mom in Croatia, mom became very thirsty and insisted on going back to a café for lemonade. A café with a very smart, handsome waiter. A smart, handsome waiter who my sister ended up marrying.
Eric Henry is a teacher who has taught the last 22 years in Guatemala, India, and Indonesia, and is finally back home in Seattle. His mother Mardee also travels widely for work, and between them, they have managed to meet up in interesting places all over the world.