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Why we go when we go

A good thing about travel is that it can make us appreciate what we have at home even more. (Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
A good thing about travel is that it can make us appreciate what we have at home even more. (Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I said I was going to stay home more this year and so far I haven’t been anywhere. But, of course, assignments I hadn’t anticipated are tempting me to a few places I haven’t seen before. So I have travel on my mind.

I have a secret suspicion my family believes, even though they do not say it aloud, that I sometimes like to travel on my own to escape them. But what they don’t know is that the very opposite is true. They are with me no matter where I am. But, sometimes, in a new place, I am able to get a clearer picture of who we have all become.

When I am at home, they are never far from my thoughts. Even when I try to push them into a corner, the people I love, all the quirky, precious, problematic people who make up my family, are always on my mind.

And the moment my attention strays from whatever task I’m working on, there they are, front and center. I often find myself sitting with my fingers still and frozen just above the keyboard, the brochure or column or whatever else I’d been writing forgotten for the moment.

Instead I am thinking about the son who is trying to find his way, worrying about the daughter who is too far away, the married daughter who is struggling to balance her own career and a family, or missing the youngest who is just beginning to figure out who she is and where she will go.

I see them as adults but that view is filtered through the images of their childhood and my time as the mother of four children.

At home everything reminds me of my children as they were; the house is full of photographs, mementoes, heirlooms and souvenirs of the life we’ve lived. I fold laundry and find an old t-shirt one of them left behind on the last visit. I look into the refrigerator and it feels strange to be making a meal for only the two of us after so many years of feeding a crowd.

I pick up toys after the granddaughter goes home and I’m assailed by memories of her mother playing with the same things and wonder at the speed at which the years have flown.

When I am home I can’t get enough distance from who we are were to see who we are now. But when I travel, especially when I am alone, the hotel room is sterile. No memories linger in its corners.

The landscape, sometimes even the language is unfamiliar and it’s then that I find myself figuring things out. It is as if I’ve brought a puzzle with me and relaxed, away from the distraction of what used to be, by looking only at the way the edges fit and not at the picture on the box, I can begin to piece together the mystery of the people I love.

Alone, with enough time and distance to think clearly, lying awake, unable to sleep in a new time zone, I replay our time together and sometimes there are sparks of clarity that startle me. I recall some small tone of voice, some turn of phrase or brief body language I missed in the moment. Sometimes, when they are not in front of me, I see more than I saw before.

 Of course, this goes both ways. I’ve noticed that when my grown children return after some time apart, they seem to be making their own adjustments to us, their parents. Most of them, and the youngest is almost there, chart their own course. They make decisions, sometimes life-changing decisions, without our input, just as we did at that age. But the awareness that we won’t always be here is creeping in and without the tension of the adolescent and young-adult tug-of-war for independence, they are more relaxed, more affectionate toward us.

I don’t say any of this to them. Not now. I let them tease me when I occasionally go off on my own because they’ll figure it out eventually. True love is impossible to leave behind and, like a star, sometimes shines brighter in a different sky.




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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.