I remember the first trip I took with just my mother. It was 1994, and I had graduated with my engineering degree in 1990. Although I’d promised myself, I would use my precious two weeks’ vacation to go somewhere exotic every year, and four years had passed without a single trip. I was "too busy" and "way too important" (aren't we all in our 20s?) to consider taking time away from the office for something as trivial as a vacation!
My then-supervisor at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis brought me to my senses by informing me that no one wins prizes for turning in unused vacation. He also pointed out that the company had survived more than 175 years without me and would continue to survive while I was out of the office on vacation. After getting over the shock of this revelation, I decided to go for it and test his theory. Thinking “Why wait?,” I booked my time out of the office for one month out and planned a trip to Italy, which had always been at the top of my list.
Unfortunately, none of my friends could get vacation time approved to join me on such short notice. Terrified to travel by myself, I had the crazy idea to ask my mom if she was interested in going with me. (I call it "crazy" because none of my friends or I had ever traveled anywhere alone with a parent; in fact, the thought of doing so hadn’t even crossed any of our minds!) Less than a year after moving out of my parents’ house, I was more concerned about establishing my independence than traveling with either of them.
However, I was also too much of a coward to travel in a foreign country by myself. My brother was long gone from the house, and my dad was a pilot who traveled much of the time. That left my mom as the only readily available traveling companion. The family had traveled during my childhood (to such exotic places as Cleveland and Dayton!), but the vacation to Italy was the first long-haul trip my mom and I did together (and the first one with just the two of us). At the time Mom, then 64, had one requirement for coming with me: pre-booked hotel rooms in Rome, Florence, and Venice and pre-arranged intercity transportation (she was O.K. with figuring out everything else on the fly). Although I was originally miffed about having to book rooms ahead of time (rather than wing it — my preferred option, which Mom wasn’t comfortable with), after the trip I realized that the pre-booking was the best decision I had made because during the trip I had enough adjustments to make to Mom's style (and vice versa, I'm sure!) to worry about where to lay our heads each night.
Almost 20 years later, our trip to Italy remains one of the best vacations I've ever taken. As Mom and I traveled together, I learned for the first time that she had been kicked out of school for "roughhousing" (really — my mom?!) and that my father briefly lost his license after flying his plane down the alley behind her parents’ house when she told him she "wouldn't marry him if he was the last S.O.B. on earth." (Fortunately, she later changed her mind!) I was amazed by all the stories I heard on that trip, and for the first time in my life I saw my mom as a person — not as a tormentor who existed solely to question my choice in both men and lipsticks.
During that first trip, I found out that Mom requires a minimum of an hour and fifteen minutes to eat any meal (including snacks or dessert), that she cannot skip meals (something I frequently did), and that she must have eggs for breakfast (a meal I typically skipped). On our last morning in Venice, we got into a huge fight because after sleeping late we couldn't find a place that was still serving eggs. After we had been searching for almost half an hour, Mom started crying because she was upset at me (for being mad) and fatigued (because I had run her hard up to that point). I remember being so angry at her inability to compromise — and at my inability to find a restaurant that served eggs.
As I leaned against a post to take some deep breaths, I noticed that the restaurant two storefronts down had a sign advertising quiche (even though they’d told me they weren’t serving eggs when I asked a few minutes earlier). The server at the door was surprised and delighted to see us return to his restaurant, and in true Italian fashion, he couldn't help but be charming to two women.
After lunch, I gathered the nerve to ask if he knew that quiche was made with eggs. His surprised "No!" seemed genuine, and in fact he insisted on checking this with the chef (and owner), who set him straight, then sat down with us for a glass (or two) of wine. Although this quiche lunch wasn’t the finest meal we had in Italy, it was certainly the most challenging — and one that established a baseline for our travels ever since.
Since that first trip, Mom and I have had many adventures both inside the USA and in such faraway destinations as China, Cambodia, Thailand, France, England, and Australia (to name just a few). I've found eggs for breakfast in every location and always factor in plenty of time for meals without annoyance. Those constants remain even in the face of many other changes, including my mom being pretty much confined to a wheelchair during our last trip abroad. But we’ve managed to adjust to all the changes and still treat every trip as a new adventure!
Our travels together these last two decades have increased my respect for my mom and strengthened the overwhelming love I have for this person who has become a friend in addition to being my parent. Mom still doesn't like my lipstick choices (though at least she's pretty much fine with any man I introduce her to now), but travel has brought us together in a way that no number of phone calls could ever equal.