by Shigeko Ito
Hi! As you know, our current theme is “Travel Adventure”. Traveling strips away our routines and can reveal important issues that would not otherwise be visible. This vivid, honest, and funny piece by our friend Shigeko Ito (whose Womancake interview you can read here), describes a family trip to Paris in which she realizes some hard truths about her marriage, and herself. Shigeko is currently searching for an agent to represent her memoir, from which this piece is drawn. You can contact her here.
August 18, 2013
The day arrived for our much-anticipated two-week family trip to northern France. It had been David’s idea. He’d been taking French for five years and wanted to put his language skills into practice. My travel enthusiast husband was all for it. The two of them studied Rick Steves’ travel guide for two months to produce an exquisitely detailed itinerary.
I’d extracted myself from family trips for several years using my menopause-induced fatigue as an excuse. When David first mentioned going to France and Peter agreed, I’d suggested somewhere closer for him to practice his French, like Quebec. But their answer was an unequivocal non. When I mentioned that I’d rather stay home, David said, “No, Mom, you’ve got to come with us this time. I’ll be leaving for college soon, and this might be our last chance to travel together.”
I wouldn’t confess the real reason I didn’t enjoy family vacations: my husband and son are remarkably similar in their personalities, behavior, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity, and I often found myself excluded. They liked to cram lots of activities into short periods of time, making everything super hectic and stressful. I’d been trying to balance my family’s needs with my own and had been insisting on downtime by encouraging Peter and David to go on father-son trips. I thought it would be good for them to bond, which it was. What I didn’t realize was that it also distanced me further from them.
But David was right. It might be our last chance to vacation together, and things were already kind of rocky with him, so I grudgingly agreed to go along.
Departure day arrived. Immediately I dreaded the intensity that threatened to engulf me. From the moment Peter and David got up at six a.m., they were exuberant, zipping around the house like hummingbirds, while I lagged behind like a sloth. Waiting for the Shuttle Express to take us to SeaTac Airport, I took deep breaths and double-checked my purse to make sure my Xanax was handy. My doctor, who was sympathetic toward my fear of flying, had prescribed it for me. At least I’d found a good pet sitter who could take care of our goofy goldendoodle Biscuit and pain-in-the-butt toy poodle Amber. I reminded myself of Peter’s reassuring words: “Don’t worry, David and I have got everything worked out. Just relax and come along for the ride.”
But when we reached the ticket counter Peter discovered he’d erroneously entered his name as “Anderson Anderson” instead of “Peter Anderson” while buying the tickets on Expedia. The TSA agent wouldn’t let him through because his boarding pass didn’t match his ID.
He struggled to maintain his composure. “You guys go ahead,” he said to David and me. “I’ll go back to the counter to correct my ticket and catch up with you at the gate.”
My anxiety shot up. What if I’m alone with David throughout this trip? David looked equally shocked. This wasn’t the first time Peter had inconvenienced us because of his carelessness, and my fear was soon mixed with outrage. Not only would I not be able to relax and enjoy a trip that I hadn’t wanted to go on in the first place, but we might also end up fighting the entire time. By the end of this disastrous trip our relationship would be ruined beyond repair.
This wasn’t the first time Peter had inconvenienced us because of his carelessness, and my fear was soon mixed with outrage. Not only would I not be able to relax and enjoy a trip that I hadn’t wanted to go on in the first place, but we might also end up fighting the entire time. By the end of this disastrous trip our relationship would be ruined beyond repair.
Luckily, Peter had put a copy of the itinerary in David’s suitcase, and his last-minute decision to bring his phone was a stroke of luck. (Neither Peter nor I were tech-savvy back then, and I didn’t even own a cell phone, but David did.) Still, I resented having been thrust into a leadership role for which I felt out of practice and ill-equipped.
From that point on, I switched to energy-conservation mode and remained silent in the boarding area. On vacation, I often become the Helpless Traveler, a phrase coined by Maria Semple: when you’re with someone who leads with confidence, you can sit back and whine and complain about the inconvenience to your heart’s content. I’d rather remain helpless than lead the expedition, especially when all I wanted to do was stay home, read, and enjoy peace and quiet.
Half an hour later, Peter texted David: I had to buy a new ticket right on the spot for $2,700 for tomorrow morning because today’s flights are all sold out.
“Great,” I said. “That totally defeats all the money-saving efforts that made our flight arrangements so complicated in the first place.”
“Mom, calm down.” David read off another message: “We don’t need to pinch Euros, there’s enough money to go around. I’ll meet you guys in Paris tomorrow.”
“He’s got to be kidding,” I said. “He trained me to be a cheapskate, and now he’s telling me we don’t have to be penny-pinchers? Give me a fucking break.” I must admit I’m no Mother Teresa and get bitchy under stress. I have a fear of flying and don’t like traveling, period.
“Mom.” David flattened his hand to suggest I take a chill pill, then he read off the last text from Peter: “I don’t want our family to be separated like this ever. I’ll rent a temporary phone for us to use while traveling in France, and it’ll be waiting for you at the first hotel. And today, David, you’ve got to step up and be the leader.”
He must not have had the stomach to tell me to rise to the occasion after having assured me I could just relax and come along for the ride. With all the adrenaline rushing through me, I didn’t have any energy left to stay angry. I slumped in my chair and fell into a zombie-like trance.
“Mom, you look so calm,” David said.
Gazing far off, I responded in a monotone. “My stress level has totally maxed out.” It was true. I felt nothing. “Dad’s an idiot, and this is such bullshit.”
David grimaced, but I didn’t care. My crustiness was entirely justified.
The thought of our three-leg flight overwhelmed me: fly to Chicago, two-hour layover, board a flight to Belgium, another layover, then board a plane to Paris. And then somehow get from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Hotel Valadon.
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