The year before my daughter left for college, I wanted to show her California, so we headed West from Maryland for a two-week vacation.
We had a horrible time. She complained most of the trip and I felt beat upon and unappreciated. We vowed to never travel together again. There are no photos of that vacation in a family album, no cherished souvenirs. In fact, the memory would have been buried by both of us if it were not for this: Andrea and I love to travel together today.
We have sunned on the beaches of St. Tropez in France, watched young boys dive for our lobster dinners in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and toasted the sunset overlooking the Aegean Sea in Santorini, Greece. We’re off again this summer with a group of traveling buddies, her age and mine, to Rome and Tuscanny.
That California trip was more than two decades ago. Andrea was 16; I was 35. We did laugh briefly in Los Angeles, visiting friends and Hollywood tourist sites. However, things turned sour when we headed to San Francisco. I booked us on Amtrak’s scenic train that runs along the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco so we could sit in the bubble car and gawk at the beautiful landscape. As we boarded the train, my daughter turned to say, “Please tell me the reason we’re taking this long ride is because you couldn’t find a flight.”
With that, she folded her arms across her chest and went to sleep. And it only got worse.
We met a friend and her 71-year-old aunt in San Francisco and after a couple of days there, headed to Big Sur, the spectacular Central Coast where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise from the Pacific Ocean.
We stopped at scenic overlooks and points of interest along the way. My daughter refused to get out of the car to see the elephant seals on the beach or the lighthouse built in 1875. What she remembers about the trip is the bathroom stops for the aunt. Andrea says, “I remember thinking, ‘Really? Does this woman have to pee every five minutes?
My normally respectful teenager became a rude smart aleck.
My friend booked us at the famous Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn Bed and Breakfast, knowing I love nature and inns listed on the National Register of Historic Places. My daughter was outraged. There was no TV, a shared bathroom and heat only from a fireplace.
A week later, we were both happy to be home. We didn’t talk about the trip and we made the vow to never travel together again. Then Andrea went off to college.
She would learn to navigate life without me. I would be without my baby for the first time since I was a teenager. We missed each other more than we imagined we would. But while apart I say “we grew into ourselves.”
I remember well an incident on one of Andrea’s first trips back home.
She hopped into the car and immediately reached for the radio knob to switch the station, as was her norm. But this time she froze and said, “No, I’m better than that. We talked about this at school.”
With that, she took her hand away from the radio, settled into the car and listened to the talk radio station I had on. I asked her about what she had learned at school and she talked about respecting others and compromising.
Of course, the lessons went both ways. I had to learn to trust Andrea to make important decisions about her own well-being and to respect her decisions.
On her first Father’s Day away from home, I asked if she had gotten a card for her father, who had been in and out of her life over the years.
“I’m not getting him one,” she announced.
Her answer made me realize that I usually bought the card and pushed it under her nose for her to sign. Now she explained that she didn’t think her father deserved a card and she told me why. I had no choice but to accept her decision.
Her decision forced me to see this about myself: I was a “pleaser.” I didn’t like arguments, confrontations or anything I deemed to fall into that category. I didn’t face situations head on, was afraid to say what I really felt and believed. My daughter was not going to be like me.
Each summer she came home, we made a new discovery about ourselves and each other. Sometimes this meant tumultuous visits, heated confrontations and parting with anger hanging in the air. But our relationship matured. We laughed at the same jokes.
Finally, we did the unthinkable. We went on a trip together. This time we joined some of my girlfriends for a trip to London and Paris.
Andrea and I landed in London giddy with excitement and ready to explore. Everyone else in our group was tired and wanted to sleep. My daughter and I hit the streets. It was a drizzly evening and we walked and walked. We found our way to a jazz club called Ronnie Scott’s. People had warned that musician Roy Ayers was performing so we probably wouldn’t be able to get in. But Andrea and I looked at each other and saw in the other’s eyes the look that said, “These people don’t know us.”
Yes, the club was indeed sold out, but of course we talked our way in. Then after the show we spoke with a saxophonist in the band, who just happened to be from Baltimore and was delighted to run into two women from Maryland. He invited us and our friends as his guests the next night.
Andrea and I left the club, found a cute café and ate and drank while talking as best we could to other patrons and the waiter in English and a smattering of French. Exhausted we headed for the hotel, arriving in the wee hours of the morning, impressing everyone with our adventure and invitation.
I remember thinking: This girl is fun! While we still had vast differences, we discovered a huge middle ground, a place big enough for adventure and mutual respect and admiration.
I accept that my daughter believes “rustic” should not describe a place you vacation in. She wants to read “quaint,” “country,” and “surrounded by nature” in her novels, not in her travel brochure. But we both like spas, a good glass of wine, a beautiful boat and pretty blue water. If she wants to shop designer stores while I wind through flea markets, we split and meet later for wine and a meal.
I watched her dive off a yacht on the Aegean Sea in Greece while I drifted away in my bright orange life jacket. The captain had to pull me back in while Andrea and I laughed, hysterically. I am braver because of her.
When we visited the Aborigines in the area around Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, she asked the translator how to say “thank you” to the Aborigines in their native language.
“There is no such word,” the translator said. “There is no need because if you give to someone, it is assumed they will give to you and so there is no need to say thank you.”
I have learned many things I would not have known if I had not traveled the world with my daughter at my side.
As for the future, when I’m peeing every five minutes, maybe the mother-daughter trips will be to Charleston, S.C. instead of to Beijing, China. And I will gladly let my daughter plan the itinerary because she knows me—and I trust her.