A few weeks ago I was in Ottawa with my daughter Nili and her family. The weather was dreadfully cold and by the end of the week we were all sporting colds ourselves. In the midst of that flu-ish haze Nili suggested that we pile the kids into the car, drive to Toronto and pick up her brother Motti, and then all head down to Marco Island for some sunshine. Oh – how I wish I could have just said “yes”, thrown a bathing suit into a bag, and jumped into the car. After all; I’m retired aren’t I? I should be able to do things spontaneously shouldn’t I? So … why am I sitting here writing this posting instead of basking on the beach?
To put this in context, let me go back a few years to when my children were kids. As a single Mom with no additional financial support beyond what I could earn myself as a teacher, planning holidays was a tricky thing. The budget was very very small.
The first time we ventured down Interstate 75 we were a gang of five; me with my two older children (Josh and Nili; Motti – almost 3 at the time spent the week in what we called ‘London Florida’ having fun with his Baubie and Aunt Molly) and my good friend Joan with her son John. After all these years guess I should apologize to Motti for this bit of chicanery. We’d rented a station wagon since we both drove old clunkers that couldn’t make it all the way to Florida. So, with the kids stretched out in sleeping bags in the back (Yikes! Remember when we did that? Let kids lie down and sleep in the back of cars. Holy crow!!!) we headed into the night.
For a number of hours we were basically outrunning a snow storm. Actually, we weren’t so much outrunning it as making our way through it. We’d count cars that had slid into the ditches at the side of the row and when we got to 10 we’d say “That’s it; we pull into the next motel” and then somehow it would seem a little better and we’d drive a little farther having decided to count to 10 again. At one point in the middle of the night we found ourselves on a patch of highway that had stone walls on either side of our two lanes; traffic in the other direction was on separate lanes. Suddenly Joan must have driven onto some black ice and we found our car spinning around and heading straight for what felt and looked like a canyon wall. As we got close we spun around again and were headed for the opposite wall. Back and forth several times, with me speaking in very quiet tones, saying: “Joan, whatever you’re doing it’s working so just keep on doing it. You’re doing a great job.” After racing toward one wall and then the other and back and forth and back again we finally spun right around and came to a stop facing the right way. There had been no other cars on the road (smarter than us?). We sat there in the dark car on this dark road just breathing in and out until finally we dared to look at each other at which point we broke out into hysterical laughter. We laughed until tears were rolling down our cheeks. All through that holiday, from time to time when we looked at each other, Joan and I would suddenly burst into gales of laughter. I think our children thought we’d come unglued. Little did they know!
The rest of the trip (we went to Cocoa Beach that time) was what we’d hoped for; sitting on the beach (albeit wrapped in towels whenever the sun went behind the clouds), swimming in the pool while catching the day’s last rays of sunshine, lots of eating and lots of walking and lots of laughter.
There were many other drives to Florida in the subsequent years (with Motti in tow too). Each trip began with us singing “On The Road Again” and somehow pretending we were as footless and free as Willie Nelson himself. One year I found a couple of high school students to help with the driving; didn’t work out so well when I picked them up for the return drive to find they’d been up drinking and partying all night in preparation for the long (24 hour) drive home. Sheesh! The next year I asked the kid’s piano teacher – Ken – if he would like to share the driving with me and from that year on it was me, my three kids, and Ken who’d set off. As we pulled out of Toronto with Ken on our first foray to Florida (Marco Island of course; we’d evolved by this point) he taught us to sing Mozart’s Dona Nobis Pacem in a round; from that point on Dona Nobis and Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again could always be heard … sung in beautiful harmonies … as we pulled out of Toronto heading south to sunshine. It was also at this time that we got into the habit of picking a Shakespeare plan and acting it out together. You haven’t seen anything until you see my oldest son Josh fall dramatically into a swimming pool, feigning a mortal stabbing after an imaginary swordfight with one of his siblings!
The thing about all of these trips is that the planning was minimal, we packed small suitcases, and each day found us doing whatever we decided to do that day. No tight routines. No deadlines. We ate when we wanted, what we wanted. We felt free. I guess that’s what vacation has always meant to me; free to explore and experience new things.
Okay … fast forward a few years. One summer I decided that it was time to visit Cape Cod. It was the summer of 1991. Into the car we got and off we headed. As we were driving along heading for Boston we heard on the radio that there was going to be a Paul Simon concert in Central Park the next night, and so I turned the car around and we headed for The Big Apple.
That concert was truly amazing (couldn’t help but think about it recently when I was sitting in a staid concert hall listening to Art Garfunkel). Afterwards, we drove down to Cape Cod where we pitched our tent in a campground only to be told a few hours later that we had to take down the tent and head for shelter at a nearby high school; Hurricane Bob was blowing in. Instead we found a motel room where we sat out the sounds of anything but silence; trees whizzing by, branches crashing, wind howling.
The next day the storm was over, we resumed our holiday, and actually spent a horrid day on a Whale Watching boat … indicative of my sometimes questionable judgement – driven by the desire to be spontaneous and open – because going out Whale Watching the day after a hurricane pretty much meant paying money to hang over the side of a boat for a number of hours praying for a return to shore. Still – an adventure’s an adventure! By the way, it was this experience Whale Watching that led me to using every anti-seasickness approach I could when we went o Antarctica recently.
So- what’s happened here? Now, in retirement, when I should be able to enjoy the freedom to be spontaneous … now … why am I saying that I can’t go to Florida because I have “commitments”? Isn’t this just the kind of freedom I want now? Instead here I am being responsible about volunteer commitments and promises made to do various things with various folks.
I don’t have this figured out yet. How do I balance a range of new commitments … for things that I truly want to be doing … with a need for the freedom to be spontaneous? How do I build a new life that leaves me room to be spontaneous once again? How do I do this?