Lucky me, I’m travelling again! This trip will be a little different. My mom is taking my sisters and me on the river cruise she and my dad had hoped to do for their 50th wedding anniversary – a trip that never happened because my dad became too weak to travel. Their world became small for the next several years while mom cared for him at home until he passed away this spring.
Now my mom wants to travel as much as she can before her age catches up to her, and we are more than happy to help her do this.
We had all put our share of time into helping with my dad, so when he passed away that time became available to share with my mom instead. I used to spend one morning a week taking Dad for an outing to give my mom a break from caregiving. It was a fair amount of effort as his Parkinson’s progressed and he became less stable both physically and mentally. Now my Wednesday mornings are spent taking my mom shopping, which is easy and fun by comparison. My sisters each have their slots on Mom’s calendar too, but it is rare for the four of us to spend time as a group.
This trip – from Brussels to Amsterdam – will be a chance to celebrate my dad’s life, my mom’s health, and our new configuration as a family of four strong women (versus our old identity as “Wes and his girls”).
But it’s also a little nerve wracking. Will we fall into old patterns and behaviours – squabbling sisters, triangulating and polarizing under pressure? Will we jockey for position, doting on Mom to appear helpful and grateful – concerned about the optics, afraid to be judged by strangers?
Even though there’s free booze everywhere, my main trigger is far more likely to be any potential emotional discomfort of tension between us. I’m not worried about drinking, I just know I have to be proactive about letting my mind play games.
I’m lucky – my mom and sisters are genuinely nice people. I have no concern that any of us will behave badly or treat each other poorly. It’s just that being with our family of origin can throw us back subconsciously. It’s why so many people relapse between Thanksgiving and New Years as they return home and fall into old patterns.
I remind myself though, that we are a new family – not the old one. This dynamic is new, this all-girl group, and we can choose the code of conduct as we wish.
I’m writing this in the back seat of the car, now just minutes from the airport. I had asked aloud how to spell “squabbling” which begged the question, “what are you writing back there?” so I fessed up I was drafting a post about the four of us. I also promised to read it to them all before making it public. So if you are reading this, know that it passed group approval – which is probably a good sign that our trip is off to a healthy start.