Note: I originally published this post last year, but share it with you again today in honor of my mother.
Much of the advice I offer about traveling is actually the opposite of what my mother would have done. When planning for a trip, a good rule of thumb is to consider what her approach would have been and then to do the exact opposite.
I write this with all due gratitude, for she certainly was the first person to expose me to travel. Reeling after she and my father separated when I was eight, she took me and my sister from suburban Connecticut to Italy for nine months. It was my first trip on an airplane, to say nothing of my first experience with a foreign culture. But I’ve written elsewhere about the lack of travel-planning prowess this trip demonstrated. Suffice it to say that I learned much about how not to travel in the three-day odyssey from New York to Florence via Reykjavik, Luxembourg, and Basel, all of it without more to eat than bread, chocolate, and Coke.
For many years after her death, I saw my mother as less of a traveler than a fleer. She was a restless soul who never found comfort or happiness but who never stopped trying, running from place to place as if she was being chased.
Three months before she died, I watched her roll in a wheelchair onto a jetway at the Philadelphia Airport. She was in terrible pain and was wearing a wig to cover her decimated hair, but she had a chance to meet friends in Los Angeles and she wasn’t going to give up an opportunity for a final vacation. The passage of time has helped me to realize that she wasn’t always running. Just as I do, she loved travel for all its joy and possibility, for the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to step outside the boundaries of workaday life, if only for a little while.
As I look back, I realize that my mother taught me to notice and delight in the little things about a place. Things like fresh strawberry tarts from a bakery on the Rue du Moulin Vert, which she ate greedily sitting on my narrow dorm-room bed. Or the feeling of cold sand on our feet on a Nantucket beach in October where we walked for hours as if hypnotized. There were bags of blueberries and beach glass that we brought back from Maine and apple blossoms that she snipped from a tree with her Swiss Army knife and forced into full glory at our Dutch friends’ house. She delighted in the absurd, and I can still hear the laugh she let out when we happened on the funny grave in the Montparnasse Cemetery where M. Pigeon lies forever in bed next to his (undoubtedly long-suffering) wife. This acute and charming ability to notice small but essential details is obvious in the drawings I share here, which come from a sketchbook she kept while visiting me in Paris and Amsterdam during my junior year abroad.
What I really can’t believe is that she never had the chance to travel with my boys, to see Tommy running across the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, just as my sister and I once did, or the way that Teddy fell head over heels in love with the Eiffel Tower. She deserves a lot of credit for the way that they respond to the world. It is because of her that when we travel we seek out and eat the best ice cream in our given locale every day that we are there. It is because of her that we made a pilgrimage to Monet’s garden at Giverny (a place she herself never saw in person) and that I made sure Tommy had his sketch book and pencils. It is because of her that I know the importance of making the effort, of trying something new, even when I feel at my most low. It is because of her that I seek constantly to share that which is beautiful with my children, whether it be sunlight coming through a stained glass window or shining on pine trees at the top of a mountain.
It is because of her that I know that a restless heart doesn’t need to be an unobservant or unloving one. What more could one ask to be taught about traveling with one’s children?
In memory of Jeanne Estelle Paradis, 12/20/1942 – 4/29/1999