In recognition of Mother's Day, and inspired by a recent episode of the Women Who Travel podcast, I'd like to tell you a story about my mom, a trip, and me.
When I was in my mid-20s, I went on a job hunt. (For details and the outcome of my audition tour, I refer you to Chapter 27 of Being A Ballerina: The Power and Perfection of a Dancing Life, "Rejected.")
I made a list of the ballet companies that I thought might like me, sent out my resumé, photos, and when requested, VHS tape of the little bits of solo work I had to show at that time. Invitations to audition came in and as I started making travel plans to Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, my mother said she wanted to go with me. I don't know quite what her motivation was (Dad, you might remember?), but my solo audition tour turned into a mom-daughter adventure.
Thinking back on it years later, I bet Mom had some envy of my spunky (brave? naive?) initiative. She often said things about wanting to go to this place or that, to see the Maritime Provinces (checked that one off the list!) or Portugal or Big Sur or ride the Coast Starlight. So even the chance to go to Raleigh or Philadelphia was enticing because they were places she'd never been. Mom had the travel bug-- my sister and I inherited it-- and this audition tour was not the first nor the last time that my ballet career helped feed it.
We went to three cities together. Miami, the last stop, must have been either the icing on the cake or the straw that broke the camel's back.
We flew there together from New York, arriving the evening before my scheduled audition class. We had dinner at an outdoor cafe, marveled at the palm trees and just could not stop exclaiming over the balmy, soft air. There was no way this could be on the same planet as Manhattan. Things felt auspicious. The next morning, I went off to my audition and Mom went off in search of cafe con leche (she was more successful than I was.)
When I returned from class, we walked down to our Art Deco-style hotel's stretch of beach to wiggle our toes in the sand and wade in the ocean. It was March, not too crowded, beautifully warm but not oppressively hot, and we had the entire afternoon to enjoy a mini-vacation before our evening flight back to LaGuardia. We strolled the boulevards, peeked into fancy hotel lobbies, saw the famous drapes at the Delano, ate sushi outdoors. I remember reluctantly pulling on long pants in the hotel restroom before heading to the airport.
I'll cut to the chase: flight delayed. At first not by much, but since we were already due to arrive home quite late, even a small delay was a drag. But it got worse, and later, and later and later, and finally, worn out and fed up, we retrieved our luggage and somehow found a room at the nearest (and dingiest) airport motel around. All I remember about that night was that it was very short-- we had been re-booked on the first flight out in the morning and it was already past midnight-- the bar of soap was hilariously minute, and we hardened New Yorkers were freaked out by the cockroach in the shower.
The next day, the first leg of our second attempt to get home took us to Atlanta, where we had a long layover. Our last meal had been that sushi on the shady patio in Miami the previous afternoon. We'd subsisted on pretzels, peanuts, Diet Cokes and the "emergency" Power Bar I always had in my purse since then. I walked the concourse 'til I found a frozen yogurt place and got us a couple, which I know Mom enjoyed. :)
Finally, we were on board the second flight and heading for home. But... midway through, or maybe a bit further, the pilot came on. Bad weather in the New York area meant no planes were being allowed to land until the thunderstorms passed. We were circling... and circling... and running out of fuel. He was landing us in Newport News, VA, to refuel and wait until air traffic control would allow us into New York. No time estimate on that.
By then it had been 20 hours since we had first attempted to leave Miami. We'd both fought hard to keep each other buoyed up, with me trying to be funny and sarcastic about the indignities of air travel and Mom trying to be both caretaker and buddy, but now, I looked over at Mom sitting next to me and saw her silently crying. "I just want to get home...." So did I, of course, but I suddenly felt responsible for this whole nightmare. We wouldn't have gone on this trip-- SHE wouldn't have gone on this trip-- if it wasn't for me and my crazy stubborn quest to find a new job.
We landed in Newport News, the smallest airport I'd ever been in. The only food options were a McDonald's and vending machines. As undernourished and desperate as we were, neither of us would stoop to the level of McDonald's, so I raided the vending machines, trying to calculate which salty sweet snacks might have the most protein. I think our little picnic of peanut M&Ms, Chex Mix, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and animal crackers did cheer us both up enough to imagine retelling this story someday.
Twenty-four hours after we'd first gone to the Miami airport, we landed at LaGuardia. The palm trees and soft Miami air were memories so faint as to be questionable. That was the last time Mom went to an audition with me, but certainly not our last trip. I carry a little piece of her with me every time I travel to a new place. I look around through both her eyes and mine, imagine where she'd like to stay and what she'd like to do. I imagine telling her all about it and think of how much she'd love this cafe or that beautiful inn, the one with the peaceful view from the lovely porch with comfy chairs and a soft, wafting breeze.