Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Homeward Bound

There were thoughts as too whether or not I would catch this Spirit of New Orleans train. There was the flight this morning from New York: up and moving towards the airport since 4:30, local time. The cabbie who couldn't find Grand Central Station so we could catch our connecting bus, and then, even early traffic slowing things down a minute here, a minute there. I am here, seated next to a gentleman in his late 70s, complete with his wide-eyed "Opie" face and Harley Davidson leather jacket. He talks of days past and how he loved to ride the trains, and the sunshine he will miss as he heads back north. I am grateful for an amicable seatmate. One trip involved a belligerent drunk, who was forcibly removed at our first stop.

For me, I am stiff and weary. It has been a great trip and folks are eager for my return. Eager to see their shining faces: I want to hear all the news of their adventures and share my stories as well. This trip changed me, in large part because I came to understand that I can truly be at home anywhere and, with a little care and planning, navigate my way around even the largest of cities. My travel buddy, K, is always a treat to journey with: we enjoy each other's company, yet give ourselves lots of space to do what we enjoy, not always having to be in the same space at the same time. She laughed as she dropped me off at the train station...we were in the middle of some happy, earnest conversation, all the while trying not to get lost in the bowels of New Orleans' swirling, chaotic streets. That conversation will probably be resumed via phone or email in the days to come. Or not. We might forget it entirely and move on to the next bright topic. It has been a very long time since I have had a female best friend. What a gift that kind of friendship is.

While travelling, one of our family's friends died of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). Tony was a sparkly-eyed, witty barber who always had a smile for everyone. My plan the last few weeks had been to visit him and tell him one of my only jokes, but life got busy and I didn't make that visit a priority. And that was a mistake. A mistake to assume there would be plenty of time, once I got home. To always think there was no shortage of time. Too late now for me to ask him if he knew who the shortest man in history was?

The train is pulling away from the station, now. It is time. Time to go home.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Room Above the Tailor's

Who could have guessed how much I would love New York City? I certainly would not have thought it possible. In fact, many trips North were planned based on routes that avoided the city in its entirety: wide berths made to avoid contact and delays. And that was my loss, for this city is rich in good experiences to share. Yes, it's crowded and getting around via car must be a real pain. And I personally experienced the infamous "George Washington Bridge" this summer on my 4,000 mile road trip from Mississippi to Maine and back again. And it is true: driving in via bus by was of Newark was no took over an hour longer than expected. But once here and trusty metro card in hand, it's been nearly effortless! Five various trains and two busses, just today! And walking block after block, mile after mile, view after view. Mingling with thousands of other people from all ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds: from an uber-expensive, shaggy, off-white designer dog, sitting calmly in her Kelly green Jaguar (whom I thought it was some hunched-up old lady meticulously putting on her lipstick at first...serious double-take on my part) to the wandering, bewildered, toothless 20-something addict, complete with jaunty pink beret and long curly auburn hair, strung out and sad, yet kindly offering me writing advice "your prose needs to be more like a cobra, and have more bite!" Throughout it all, I have felt, here in Manhattan, a deep sense of self-possession and almost ridiculously safe. Part of this is because I pay attention to my surroundings, and am consciously not being stupid, but a bigger part of this is that bravery thing: just pushing past that wave of fear and getting out there in the city. With a friend or by myself, there is no doubt in my mind that I can navigate my way back " home" to this tiny room that perches above the tailor's shop. So I explore and meet friends, old and new. New Yorkers are not unfriendly. Perhaps, they used to be. Don't get me wrong: they will talk LOUDLY behind your back, if you are rude (and hope you, and everyone else hears them). They like sharing their opinions -- on everything! Just smile and ask away! This city wants you to see it: bustling, busy, overfull kaleidoscope that it is. Find a map. Find your landmarks.
Go see your world, for it is not just "the" world, but rather your own world, of whom you are an important part. And from my perspective, New York City better be on your list of places to, if even for a few short days, call home.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Gallivanting Mother

To see the world with eyes wide be a part.

Well, Friends, it's time to put my traveling shoes back on: this time I'm taking a solo trip to New York City! Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Bus, Subway, Walking and Boat... planning on doing it all between now and next Thursday. Speaking at a workshop. Touring the city. Eating the food. Visiting the MOMA. Yes, this country mouse is taking her city adventure very full throttle. Someone in my circle issued a reprimand to me about my being a gallivanting mother. It was exactly the kind of comments that my former "June Cleaver" head told me for years. "You have young children, you need to stay with them: always." Or, "A good mother doesn't go off and leave her family for a trip, and never, ever would tack on an extra two days for playing 'tourist'!" Or, "A good wife and mother would never, ever go on a trip without her husband and children. It is too selfish and self-centered." Those comments/thoughts/beliefs kept me home for many years, whether as a stay-at-home mom or a working mother. I quietly, remorsefully, used food and shopping as a pacifier. Stuffing my face and home in distress and disappointment and then in active addiction. They played in my head, full symphony, for decades. And yet, for me, those statements are just not true, for I AM a GOOD MOTHER. A FABULOUS MOTHER. And an AMAZING WIFE. I am all of those good things, but I am MORE. I am Erica, a soul, a woman, an individual. One day, my kids will grow up and have their own lives and adventures. My job of nurturing them, of guiding them, will be over. Will I forever love them? Of course, after all, I am the forever mother, but my "role" will not be the same now for Bear that it will be in 20 years. And I am more than a wife and companion to my beloved Hubbs. I am more than my duties and obligations, and I will not "martyr" my essence to be someone else's version of an ideal. It took me a very, very long time to understand that principle.

If you're a mama, you know the difference between you, the mother, taking a trip and Dad taking a trip are two entirely different things. Dad packs a bag, gives everyone a big hug and kiss and gets underway. Mom prepares the logistics for kids, Hubbs, and herself, and then tries to clean the whole house as well. All the food prepped. All the sitters lined up. All the phone numbers and other needed info. On and on it goes. And usually, that means that, as mom, I do not start to pack my own clothes/bags until after 11 p.m. the night before and then collapse into a fitful sleep, hoping that I remembered everything.

This time, I decided to do it differently. Yesterday, I packed my bags, instead of cleaning the house.
Two whole days early! They sit there nice and tidy, ready for me to add any last minute forgotten items (like band-aids), but I am ready to go. And it is such a relief:  a life-changing relief. I have been practically giddy with excitement since I zipped up that bright blue bag yesterday afternoon. One simple priority change. I put myself above the house being "perfect". I put my needs ahead of whether or not all the clothes got folded. I stopped trying to make the hole of my being gone less noticed by those I care about, by having everything I normally do "all done and taken care of" in advance. Reality: mama is going to be out of the nest for six days. That is going to make for some discomfort, but all will be well, and I am, God-willing, coming back.

So, what did I pack? Are you curious?
Well, my darling friend, Julie, stopped by and looked over my clothes and made a few lovely suggestions. She, actually, went beyond that: she even let me borrow two pairs of more NYC-appropriate shoes, two neutral scarves that will mix and match with my pieces, and an adorable deep chocolate CAbi coat. We put the LL Bean parka back in the closet. Yes, I know I'll possibly be cold, coming from Mississippi, but it is New York City, and a gal's got to look a "together" as possible (even on a tight budget)! I put back in the closet a lovely floral skirt that was deemed "off season".  Later, I also pulled out an extra pair of pants and a more bulky sweater. Everything is able to be mixed and matched, so they were not really needed.
Here's the final cull:
- 4 sweaters (dark green, bright green, royal blue, and a deeper blue short-sleeved one)
- 2 pants (one dark wash jean, one ribbed, off white trouser)
- 1 printed knee-length skirt (black and white damask pattern)
- 2 blouses (one citrine, one red)
- 2 lightweight "layers" (one long grey duster cardigan; one signature embroidered fall corduroy coat)
- 2 camis
- 1 coat
- pjs (as warm as possible)
- gloves
- red beret
- umbrella and flashlight
- underthings and toiletries
- Chromebook (because I will still be doing work, and it's easier than trying to do it off my phablet)
- phone (the lovely ZTE Max from T-Mobile) and earbuds
- food scale, batteries, and backup food ('cause that's what I do!)
- plastic "snack" and "sandwich" bags... for keeping all the little bits and bobs tidy

And it all fits in one carry-on and one purse! From the girl who took every single piece of luggage owned, including a tent, on her honeymoon, to now be the girl who is able to wheel around a big city for a week-long Fall adventure, this feels just great.

So, here's to adventures big and small.
Here's to putting priorities in perspective.
And here's to possibly getting that pile of laundry folded, now that my mind is at peace over "what to pack".
Yours ever,