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Archive for August 2012

Traveling to Tallinn

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

An acquaintance recently asked where I'd been that had surprised me the most and I didn't hesitate to answer. Tallinn, the beautiful and ancient Estonian city on the edge of the Baltic Sea, was surprising in many ways.

Virtually unknown to US tourists, as are other Baltic countries that virtually disappeared under more than 50 years of grim Soviet occupation, Estonia's capital city is remarkably well-preserved. Only a few buildings were destroyed in WWII, leaving the town square intact. Now, under its own rule, the city is embracing tourism and has become popular with European travelers. It's also a favorite destination for Russian tourists looking for a quick getaway. Tallinn's relatively new (since 1991) Christmas Market is one of the most popular.

Remnants of the old city wall curve around the oldest parts of the city, enclosing narrow streets and lanes and picturesque buildings. A towering Russian Orthodox church anchors the top of the hillside and offers a wonderful view of the city and the Gulf of Finland. Remnants of Soviet presence can still be found, in the KGB museum and other spots, but Estonia—the birthplace of Skype—has embraced its freedom and the culture is rich and vibrant.

I wrote about visiting Tallinn in the last issue of Spokane Cd'A Woman magazine. You can read that story here.

Traveling Mothers

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

  My son has been on a boat out on the Pacific for weeks now and every so often a few lines arrive by email.     
    “This has been a great trip,” he writes “The hurricane turned so the seas are not so rough now,” he writes. “Work is going well,” he writes. “Saw some whales today,” he writes.
    

   I see one word: Hurricane!
    

   I’d just settled into my usual routine of vague worry and superstitious bargaining with fate when, and, as usual, it was the last thing I expected, my daughter—the brand new geologist—was assigned to a job on a boat off the coast of Greenland. (Wait, isn’t Greenland melting?)
    

   Already living 200 miles away from me, with less than a day to prepare, she packed and flew away without my being able to see her face or hold her close. Now I’m left to wonder how two little land-locked children could grow up to sail so far away. At the same time.
    

   My friends point out I shouldn’t be surprised. Don’t I fly over oceans every chance I get?  Why would I expect any less of my children, especially these two adventurers? Stop worrying so much, they tell me.
    

   Of course, I have an answer ready. I’m not green. I’m not confident like my son. If anything, I’m overly cautious and too careful. I’m not young and beautiful and vulnerable like my daughter. I’m just another middle-aged woman on a train or in an airport, hugging her purse and keeping one eye on her luggage.
    

   But, truth be told, I finally had to admit to myself that what’s bothering me as much as worry, is guilt. I’m consumed with guilt. I can’t shake the feeling I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. I’d already booked a work-related trip to Alaska before I knew my children were going to be traveling; not that it even occurred to me to ask. And now, thanks to me, we’ll all be scattered across the globe. How will they reach me if they need me?
    

   Children are meant to fly, some tiny voice inside me whispers, mothers are not. It’s our job to be home base, the place our children come back to. If I am not here, what will become of us? What kind of home base goes to Alaska where cell phones and computers don’t work? The swallows only return to Capistrano because it’s there waiting for them.
    

   Before my children came along, even after I was married, I came and went as I pleased.  I bought plane tickets and train tickets at the drop of a hat. But after the babies, when the occasional chance to travel solo came along, I usually let the opportunity pass.
    

   Occasionally, when I would mention some place I’d been or adventure I’d had before they were born, they would look at me, confused, trying to imagine me anywhere else.
    “Well, Mommy wasn’t always Mommy,” I would tell them, laughing at their confusion. “I used to be another girl.”
    

   But if I'm honest, what held me back was that I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving them. Overwhelmed with love and responsibility, I wasn’t just afraid of something happening to my children. I was terrified something would happen to me. How would they survive without me? Who else knew them so completely?  If something happened to me and they asked their father or grandparents ( or their new mother!) for a Sadie Sally story, no one would know the world I’d created for them in my head. No one would know that Johnny was the little boy who kept a dragon named Jimbo or that Sadie was the sister who always discovered magic dust in her pocket just when it was most needed or that a road divided the enchanted forest and one side was a wonderful, magical, place but the other was dark and frightening and no matter how hard they tried something always lured Sadie, Sally and Johnny into that dark place where they had to rely on their wits and the dragon and a little magic to escape. Who else could tell Sadie Sally stories? Nobody but me.
    

   Only I knew who preferred her milk warmed. Who was afraid of the dark. Who liked to talk about dreams first thing in the morning. Who needed an extra kiss and glass of water before bed. I knew them on a cellular level. After all, each had peeled away from me, physically dividing us at birth. We were, at least in the beginning, two parts of one.
    

   Imagining the possibility of not being there for my children unhinged me. Just thinking about it, I whimpered and paced like an animal separated from her young. I didn’t put my traveling shoes back on until the three oldest were out of the house and on their own and the youngest showed an independent streak I wanted to encourage.
    

   I thought I’d left all that worry and guilt behind me, but again they’ve exposed me for who I really am.
    

   Mommy is always Mommy.
    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Seattle to Alaska aboard the Disney Wonder

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   The little boy stood beside the table that held the mini-iceberg, the chunk of ice that had once been a part of the North Sawyer Glacier before breaking away—calving— and falling with a splash into the Tracy Arm fjord off Alaska’s famed Inside Passage. It had been harvested and brought aboard by the Disney Wonder crew and put on display on one of the upper decks so passengers could touch history in frozen form.


    Like most of the others who circled the hunk of ice, the boy put out his hand and touched it, tracing with his finger the rough edges that were softening as it melted and dripped away. His eyes were wide and shining, but that touch wasn’t enough for the pre-schooler. He let go of his mother’s hand, stepped forward and wrapped both arms as far as he could around it, putting his cheek against the frozen surface, embracing it. Claiming it. For a moment anyway. Icebergs are cold, you know.


    I hadn’t known what to expect of the cruise beyond beautiful scenery and character breakfasts, but my daughter was the reason for the trip. She would celebrate her 17th birthday while we were sailing and I wanted to give her a memorable birthday that would be fun for all of us without reducing her to a bored minor on a cruise designed for adults. But most of all,  I wanted her to see the water, the mountains, the wildlife and the glaciers of Alaska, and I wanted to be there when she saw it all. I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left with her before she goes off to school and takes the first tentative steps into her own life, and there is still so much of the world I want to share with her.


    After leaving Seattle, the second day of the 7-night cruise we steamed leisurely up the majestic Tracy Arm fjord until, coming around the last bend, we pulled silently up to the ice-filled water at the foot of the blue glacier. People spilled out onto the observation decks, cradling cups of cocoa in their hands, and gazed out on the view. And the view was stunning. In spite of the wind and the chilly temperature, everyone was drawn to the spectacle and then seemed unable to look away.


    The naturalist accompanying the cruise provided on-board narration about the size and history of the North Sawyer, including its rapid retreat, a condition shared by glaciers all over the world. He pointed out the harbor seals resting on the ice, the eagles on the Sitka Spruce and commented on the habits of bears and other wildlife.


    We didn’t just take a spin around the cove and move on. The big ship rested silently in that beautiful place and let us all drink in the sights and sounds. The PA system was turned off for long stretches of time to give us, and the natural world around us, sweet silence. Even the ship’s crew, some of whom must have seen the sight many times, wandered out on deck to take it in. Then, a steel cage was lowered into the water and the iceberg fragment was brought aboard.


    Several hours later we pulled away, back into the Passage and continued our journey. It was exactly what I had hoped for. I watched as my daughter scrolled through the photos she’d taken, pointing out the exceptional ones, and I was filled with gratitude to have been there with her.


    If I’d been a little boy I might have thrown my arms around her for just a moment, happy to be so near to something so wonderful. But only for a moment. Teenagers are slippery, you know.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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