You are born into a family and those are your people, and they know you and they love you and if you are lucky they even, on occasion, manage to understand you. And that ought to be enough. But it is never enough. Abe had not been dressing up, styling himself, for all these years because he was trying to prove how different he was from everyone else. He did it in the hope of attracting the attention of somebody else—somewhere, someday—who was the same. He was not flying his freak flag; he was sending up a flare, hoping for rescue, for company in the solitude of his passion.
“You were with your people. You found them,” I said.
“Do you mind if I interview your little boy for The Washington Post?” asked a sandy-haired man in a jacket of the same color. We were all standing in front of the gates of Nationals Park as crowds were streaming in for the opening game of the season. Dante was wearing a bright red National cap embroidered with a “W,” and was looking very much the part of the young baseball fan.
“Sure,” I said, then turned to Dante and asked, “would you like to answer a few questions for this man?”
“Do you have tickets?” Dante squealed at the man. “Where are the tickets? WHERE ARE THE TICKETS?”
I looked up at the reporter and told him we were still looking for a pair of tickets. It was a beautiful day, the best you could hope for on April 1. The sun was out, temperatures were in the low 60s. It was the exact opposite weather I expected for Opening Day, which is one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered to order tickets in the first place. When I realized that Dante had the day off of school, I made a decision mid-morning that we would take the Metro down to the ballpark to see if there were any standing-room-only tickets. “Maybe we will get lucky,” I thought.
Dante’s line of questioning continued, “We NEED tickets! Do you have the tickets?”
The reporter looked at me blankly, clearly wondering why he wasn’t the one asking the questions.
“He’s autistic,” I offered. It’s never the first phrase I utter about my son but it comes in handy to explain behaviors that others perceive as odd. “He’s autistic, but I can help him answer the questions if you still want to interview him.”
“Come find me when you get tickets. Good luck!”
The journalist had struck out. He was there to report on the excitement of Opening Day at National Park and our twin sob stories of a boy with autism having no ticket to get into the stadium were not what he was looking for.
I recently turned down a press trip to a place I’ve always wanted to go. The press trip was going to be an all-expenses paid trip to a destination near the Mediterranean Sea. I would go, see the sites, and write about the destination for a few publications. I didn’t have a firm assignment for any magazine, newspaper, or website, so this presser was going to be more a frivolous pursuit than a full-fledged moneymaker.
So, why did I turn this opportunity down? Ethics? No. I discussed that in an earlier post. I turned down a fabulous press trip opportunity because I couldn’t bear the thought of traveling without my children.
To those without kids (and some with), this probably sounds like a pathetic excuse. I think back to Eat, Pray, Love, in which Elizabeth Gilbert confessed
I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby – I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to – I just don’t care.
Gilbert compared her love of travel to the love of a parent for a child. And, while I once had the very same feelings about travel – that it was what made me me – it was before I had children. It is not the same. (I am saying this at the end of a week being snowed-in with two bored children under four. So it must be love.)
A search for meaning...or just belly lint
The thought of traveling thousands of miles away while my children stay behind is a frightening proposition for me, not in the least because I have only spent one night away from either of them only once in the three and a half years since becoming a mother. While I know that the kids would be fine in the care of their father and/or grandparents, I can’t help but envision the sense of abandonment they would feel while I was away. No doubt, if I took the trip, the thought of my children missing me would put a pit in my stomach from the moment I walked through the airport security gates and would haunt me throughout the entire journey.
And then I start thinking about “what if something happened to me?” I’d never forgive myself. I imagine my husband explaining to my children, “You will never see your mother again because she had to go on an unnecessary press trip.”
Now, you must be thinking, “You’re a wuss!” There are plenty of mothers who must travel for work and they – and their children – do just fine. In fact, my husband is set to go on a two-week business trip next month and I don’t think the idea of leaving his family has even crossed his mind. Maybe it’s like that for fathers and some mothers – “It’s work. It must be done. I have no choice.”
But I wasn’t planning to go on a business trip to Cleveland to talk about business forecasts. I was going to be traveling in a foreign country, over-indulging in the local food, seeing gorgeous, historic sites, practically going on vacation. I was going to be working, yes. But I was also going to be having fun.
This, of course, presents an existential crisis for me. Can I call myself a travel writer if I don’t want to travel?
It’s not that I don’t travel anymore. In fact, my husband’s job as a diplomat guarantees that I will be traveling overseas again – with kids – in the near future. In our last post, Turkey, we traveled all over the place with our sons in car trips to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, on overnight train rides to Istanbul, on day trips to villages near Istanbul. Traveling with kids was trying, but we we couldn’t think of leaving them at home with the nanny like so many others did. I also did a few trips alone with my oldest son (before the youngest was born) back to the States which was a serious hassle, what with airport security, overweight carry-on baggage, and all the fatigue that goes along with keeping a toddler engaged on a plane and in airports. When we returned to the States for good last summer, I vowed that I wouldn’t get on a plane again until I absolutely had to. Friends and family could come to us for a change.
Almost all of the travel writing I’ve ever read, save for maybe Paul Theroux or V.S. Naipaul, mythologizes the way of life in foreign countries. People in countries outside of our own have their priorities straight. They have honest, unhurried meals. They take walks after dinner with their loved ones. They live with less but enjoy life more. They take time for family. All of those traits that we as travel writers admire about residents in foreign lands are not at all beyond our grasp. In other words, we can talk the talk but we rarely walk the walk.
So, call me a heretic for breaking the freelance travel writing creed. Call me crazy for not accepting a free trip to Mediterranean bliss. Call me an embarrassment to feminists everywhere. Call me whatever you want because you won’t be calling me a bad (or absent) parent. There will be more chances to travel later. And I am sure that I will eventually travel abroad without my kids. But right now, I’m going to enjoy to enjoy this time. Besides it’s time to put my youngest down for a nap.
Update: My children are now older, my motherly hormones are in check, and I am ready to begin accepting press trip offers once again on a case by case basis. Contact me.