ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Traveling With Difficulty

Those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I’ve sometimes had a difficult relationship with my mom.

To be fair: she sometimes had a difficult relationship with me.

It doesn’t really matter why. But the gist of it is that when I was young, I didn’t understand that relationships are something you work at. Even the ones with your family. I was expecting to be understood and liked and given unconditional support when I was making choices that my mom didn’t understand.

For her part: my mom can be uncompromising. She likes to rewrite my life and tell me all about what I did and what it meant when she doesn’t actually know those things. She does not understand the concept that some things are none of her business, or that she shouldn’t tell everyone in the world every single thing that she knows. She just doesn’t understand the concept of TMI.

And does she get on my nerves? You bet. Like the time she walked up to some innocent bystanders at the Holocaust Memorial in Portland and told them that she was shocked, SHOCKED, that there was no mention of Denmark’s rescuing of their Jews.

(That would be because it’s a memorial. For the people who died. Not for the people who didn’t die.)

Do I get on her nerves? I must. I talk fast and change directions rapidly. I complain about things that I’m not willing to do anything about. And I’m sometimes consciously, emphatically different just for the sake of being different.

But there are a couple of things my mom and I get right.

Mom and I never take each other for granted. I suppose that’s the gift of grace you get with a difficult relationship–and the realization you come to when you’ve seen family members go years without talking to each other rather than apologize or accept the idea that stuff isn’t as important as people. I might snap at Mom because she talks to me before I’ve been awake for half an hour. She might get annoyed at me because I have once again forgotten to bring any money when we’ve gone somewhere.

(I’m kind of noted for that, these days. All those years of being the lady who remembered the diapers, change of clothes, snacks, drinks, and the Big Bag of Good Things To Do. I couldn’t be responsible for everything.)

But after we snap at each other, after we disagree or she thinks I’m lecturing her (I am) and I think she’s rewriting history (she is), we apologize. We make it up to each other. Sometimes we explain ourselves. And after that, we’re friendly again.

She tells me that she never imagined that I would one day be the kid she got along with the best. And I overlook the implied insult and take it in the spirit she means it in.

In a few months, I’m taking her on a trip she’s wanted to go on her entire life. She wants to see the place in Norway that her grandmother was from. And she wants to see Scotland because, well, why not?

I’m not just taking her because she wants to go. I want to go too. I always thought I’d travel more than I have in my life, and of course, I still can. But I’m not the adventurer I was when I was young. I’ve never been to Europe without my husband. I haven’t visited South America. Or Hawaii.

And mom? Well, not getting any younger or healthier. She has a couple of long-term conditions and she’s survived cancer. Twice.

And I make no predictions about this, but someday one of us is going to have to learn to live without the other. One day one of us will reach for the phone for one of those ten minute conversations we have about nothing and the other won’t be there. But you know what we will have?


Whatever else I bring back from this trip, food or clothes or a million pictures of sunset over Dafjord, the most important thing will be memories. Like of me learning to drive on the left and my mom yelling, “Keep to the left! Keep to the left!” Or of us standing and looking down at the ocean. Or meals, or great places to drink beer, or just hanging out and watching it rain.

What? I hear they do that a lot in Scotland.

I hope that we’ll have a great time. I hope that every day of the trip is an adventure, and that we have nice weather and don’t hit any livestock or have to visit a chemist. But if we do? My mom will be there with me to help me learn the ropes. Just like she was when I had kids, or when I was graduating from college, or when I was learning to drive standard. She might not know any more than I will, but she’ll be supportive when I’m figuring it out.

And maybe that’s all you need.

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