Monday, April 24, 2017

Confessions of a First Time Traveler

My husband and I had been married for almost fifteen years. Six children had somehow joined us. Our oldest was just shy of fourteen; our youngest, two. Doing the math explains why we’d had exactly zero child-free vacations since our honeymoon. It was time.

We debated Hawaii, the east coast, a hotel down the freeway. Anything. Whatever seemed feasible at any given moment as we pondered our anniversary. One question lingered: What would we do with our children? We looked each other in the eye.


Hidden behind the phone line, in another state, she may have had a panic attack at the thought of commandeering our crazy household, but grandmas are made of stern stuff. She was in.

Hubby and I checked prices. We checked dates. We checked our sanity. Everything checked out.

England and Scotland for two weeks was a super deal. Plus, I knew someone who lived there. Dates were set, plans created, a tour booked, and passports ordered. Mine arrived, including a mugshot-style image of someone who I hoped looked nothing remotely like me. 

We left behind two crying, sick kids with Grandma in front of the airport and the rest of the kids at school. I chewed my lip. I questioned our motives. I ate french-fries in the lobby.

When we landed, a friend and a gift bag of chocolate awaited us. My pal, writer Jacky Gray, had covered all bases. On the way to her father’s house, where we’d be staying for a couple of days, we stopped by Avebury, walked among the huge stones, and ate our first meal in an ancient English pub. We saw burial mounds and a gigantic white chalk horse carved into a hillside. We ended in Warwick, at her dad’s charming 1930s home, practically brand new compared to the 1600-1800 wattle and daub buildings down the street, or the castle around the corner, which was first established in the early 900s (nope, not missing a number in that date) by a warrior princess. We were treated to family meals, family members, and castle tours—including a dungeon, in which I was found guilty by a judge and mocked by the crowd as I stood trial in the docks.

Time after time, my American brain had to verify what my eyes were taking in. “Is this all authentic? Is this really real?” I mean, Queen Elizabeth the First’s riding saddle. Right in front of me. Armor from the 1500s. Paintings, clothing, and furniture spanning ages. I was ready for a director to step out, yelling “CUT!” and for the people surrounding me to suddenly drop their accents and resume business as usual. It was perfect and wonderful and surreal. Hailing originally from California, USA, I suppose I’m jaded by movies and places like Disneyland, where everything is a replica, a fake, or a look-a-like. My mind? Officially blown.

We worked our way up around England, into Scotland, and back. Running, eating, and driving our way through ancient towns and cities. Coventry, London, Liverpool, Amesbury (Stonehenge), Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare and his family), Edinburgh, York, and more, oh my. Stopping at castles, cemeteries, and cathedrals. We ate English chips in paper cones, Welsh pasties in little bakeries, and scones and tea in a 1600s farmhouse, owned by Beatrix Potter in the 1800s—a home currently lived in by a family containing six children. The floor beneath my feet was the original slate. The beams overhead, the wooden panels on the walls, also original.

 Late at night, in our various hotel rooms, my husband and I would try to catch our children for FaceTime, or send a quick text to Grandma. Seeing and hearing the kids made me miss them even more. By the end of our time in the UK, I was ready for home. I needed a hug from pudgy two-year-old arms.

Despite the excitement of returning home, leaving the amazing country, people, and food was mournful. I had hundreds of pictures, but when would I ever be able to wander through history like that again? I’m afraid we’ve opened a bit of a Pandora’s box. Now that I’ve had a taste of leaving our borders, I want more. I want to see more sights, meet more people, and eat more incredible food. I want to experience history and culture in new ways.

But … I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to leave the kids behind again. Traveling is new and adventurous and full of wonder. Home is regular life, full of messy rooms and sweet faces. It’s sports and homework and after-school clubs. It’s cuddles and bedtime stories. The food is basic, the accommodations self-serve and from the current decade. Still, it grabs my heart and fills my soul. The world awaits, but I can be patient. For a little while. Maybe not another full fifteen years, though. Or even fifteen months. Or maybe, it’s just time to take another family trip.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Lost Art of Discussion

Is it just me, or do people seem less able to discuss opinions, nowadays, without losing their minds? I see examples of this trend on social media sites (Facebook feeds are teeming with it), media coverage of whatever protest is happening that day and, worst of all, face-to-face conversations amongst friends.

What happened to us? When did we become unwilling or unable to accept the idea that not everyone will agree with our every thought?

There has always been a small minority of highly opinionated people who, with the slightest provocation, will fly off the handle when confronted by a dissenting opinion. This is especially true with certain sensitive topics, like religion or politics. But those people weren’t the norm. They were the ones we avoided at social gatherings because they tended to suck the fun out of every room they entered.

Now, it seems like those people are everywhere, sucking the fun out of, well, EVERYTHING.

I have lots of opinions, most of which were formed by listening to other people. Many of my opinions have changed over the years when new information was presented that caused me to rethink my position. To be honest, there aren’t a lot of things that I believed in my 20s that I still believe in my 40s. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was dumb as a post back then. Twenty years from now I’ll probably look back and feel the same way about my current level of intelligence.

Which brings me to my point. The smartest people I know are those who are open to hearing, and learning from, the opinions of others. They understand that there is always more to learn and that, should they spend their time fighting against opposing ideas, they’ll likely not learn it.

I wish I could say that I am one of those people but, sadly, I still sometimes fall into the oh-so-easy trap of defending my ideas without truly listening to another’s opinion. I’m working on that. I hope everyone is, because arguments breed anger and resentment, whereas discussions breed thought and progress.

Let's all try to rediscover the lost art of discussion. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn something.