Deep Thoughts,  Mom,  Wanderlust: Travel Tales

Safari Away

Sometimes a girl needs a good cry. When I was in high school and college, there were two songs that could bring on the tears if I was having trouble getting started, and interestingly, they share the same name. One is “So Far Away” by Carole King from the Tapestry album.The other version of “So Far Away” is by Dire Straits. They’re completely different songs, but both talk about the heartache of being separated from someone you love.

When I was crying through these songs in the 1980s, I didn’t have any idea what love or truly missing someone was. I wasn’t married and didn’t have children. I was crying over casual boyfriends or leaving home to return to college. Now I’m missing my mom a lot, and I’m facing a big separation from Bill and the boys next week.

My parents always travelled a lot. When my mother died in October, she and my dad had a number of trips planned. He cancelled several, except for skiing with the guys. But the one they were looking forward to the most was their third trip to Africa. They were scheduled to leave March 16 to explore Kenya and Tanzania. The vacation was completely arranged and paid for.

Several weeks after my mom’s death, my dad asked me to accompany him on the safari. His invitation made sense. My other sisters went on the first trip to Africa, but Finn was very young then and I didn’t feel like it was right to leave him for two weeks at such a tender age. I’m the only sister who hasn’t seen the continent, and my children are the oldest, so I ought to be able to leave them for fifteen days. My dad and I haven’t spent a lot of quality time together in the past, so I was flattered that he asked me.

That didn’t make the decision to head off to Africa easy for me. I know that many mothers would kill for two weeks away from their families in a remote part of the world, and under different circumstances my feelings about the trip wouldn’t be so complicated. Bill and I devoted a lot of thought and prayer to deciding whether I could or should leave for such a long time. We had to think about what was right for our nuclear family balanced against the fact that my sisters and my dad and I now depend on each other much more than we ever did before October.

I might have talked to my dad every two weeks before my mom died. We now talk every day, helping each other with daily errands (“I’ll drop by some extra soup, and can I borrow your label maker?”) as well as keeping track of which sister is having a bad day and needs cheering up, preferably in the form of flowers. This relationship is a new one that we’re all still working on, carefully feeling our way through unfamiliar emotions. In the end, Bill felt strongly that I should go, and my sisters agreed.

I realize that this is a once in a lifetime event. I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to go to such an exotic locale on my dad’s dime. It wasn’t long after I’d
committed to go, however, that I discovered the emotional costs of the adventure.

First, it’s hard for me to ignore the fact that the only reason that I’m heading to Tanzania is because my mother isn’t here to go. She loved Africa. I never understood her enthusiasm, and maybe this journey will help me understand that part of her better. It seems odd to be going on a trip alone with my dad– that was my mom’s role. My mother’s best friend will be going too, so my mother’s absence will be that much more noticeable.

Second, participating in this adventure requires me to sacrifice a lot of time with my husband and boys, time that I value and can never reclaim. I may be more sensitive than others to this; I’ve had some major health problems over the last decade that have made me truly appreciate the time I have with my boys when I am feeling good and able to walk around. Right now my liver is stable and my back is in good shape. I’m having more fun with my kids than I ever have before.

The boys are pretty self-sufficient, and they are growing and learning new things everyday. Drew still cuddles with me at night, and Porter still snuggles in the bed with me in the morning. Finn creates new drum riffs, reads books I loved as a child, and acts more and more like an adult. I know from experience that kids can grow up overnight– who knows how much longer they’ll think it’s cool to spend time with Mom?

Additionally, I’ll be missing the boys’ spring break. We never do anything fancy, but our tradition of gathering all of my lady friends who are staying in town along with their kids and heading to the lake is a special one. I wrote about last year’s trip here. Spring break is the time I hang out with the boys and just relax. I always treasure it.

And although the trip is already organized, our household becomes pretty chaotic if you take me out of the equation for 15 days. I’m still working on the elaborate spreadsheet that tells who is taking care of the boys each afternoon, identifies the recycling and trash days, and spells out the complicated driving patterns that get the boys to and from their art and drum lessons and soccer and baseball practices. More than once I’ve been working out the plans and stopped to mutter, “I better see a hell of an impressive giraffe to make this worthwhile.”

The burden of my being gone will fall mainly on Bill, who’ll be working all day and handling all of the evening activities by himself. I haven’t done well so far on storing up nutritious meals for them, so he’ll be cooking, supervising bathtime, helping Drew and Porter read their books and do their math sheets each night and making sure everyone has clean clothes. Plus, he has to be on the lookout for scams, like Drew’s recent attempt to persuade Porter that brushing your teeth with “very very very hot water” is just as effective as using toothpaste.

My sister is helping out, too. She’ll be taking my boys and my niece and nephew to the beach for several days so that Bill can work. Although Angela, our babysitter, is going with her, I don’t think a trip to the beach with four boys and a girl who’s tougher than any of the males will exactly be relaxing.

I am getting excited, especially now that I have started packing. These last couple of days, however, I haven’t had any trouble working up a fountain of tears. Just thinking about my looming departure brings them on, because I’m going to miss my guys.

I do know, though, that my mom would be thrilled that I’m going. She’d be enthusiastically sharing her safari hat and encouraging me to look forward to the adventure ahead. And so that’s what I’m going to try to do. Hopefully, in the end, my journey so far away will help bring all of us closer.