Back in February, when Paul and I returned home from Mérida with Mom and Dad (ages 84 and 89, I’m sure they won’t mind my telling you), we were a little stumped when my normally effusive parents went a little quiet when I prodded them about the trip.
Now I think I know what happened.
Dad explained to me over dinner on Saturday night that “We understand now that this was a business trip, not a pleasure trip.” It was as if they were reconciling their disappointment and forgiving us. I was irate.
It seems they wanted to see more things and experience more Kodak moments. Their natural restlessness doesn’t correspond with their natural limitations. I’ve traveled a lot more than they have in the last 25 years, and I can see their attitude about travel is similar to what mine once was. You’ve got to go-go-go or you’ve wasted your trip.
It’s true we did have to leave them sometimes to meet with the architects. We may or may not have snuck away to the hotel lobby bar just to regroup a couple of times. But we also introduced them to our friends, took them to a private concert and, our crowning achievement thanks to our friend Joanna, got them to Uxmal followed by a wonderful lunch at the Pickled Onion. We peeked in at the cathedral, and then next door at the Macay museum, where they were content to relax on a bench in the center courtyard. They couldn’t be persuaded to go upstairs to the exhibit halls.
Mind you, taking them on the trip was a challenge. I worried constantly about them tripping and falling and getting hurt. They don’t walk fast enough to dodge traffic. Getting them three blocks, from the Museo Casa Montejo to the Mansión Mérida on the Park, required a cab ride (and required irritating the cab drivers disappointed by such a measly fare). They struggle with stairs even more than I had realized, and the New Jersey winter had kept them indoors, making them even stiffer. Mom had made it a point to avoid stairs for so long that she’d lost muscle, I think, and she often looks like she’s about to lose her footing. Dad’s on a cane; a wheelchair for longer distances.
I want them to come back down for Thanksgiving and enjoy Casa Nana. We will finally have the house to ourselves, and this will be a chance to spend time together in a peaceful setting that’s all our own. Mom and Dad are reluctant.
“What will we do?”
“Well, Mom, you have to visualize the trip you want and then we’ll figure out how to make that happen.”
But then Mom draws a blank. She knows she can’t walk that far and deal with high curbs and broken sidewalks. During her down time, there’s nothing to watch on TV.
“Do you want to hire a car and drive around?” I suggest. “We can see the beach.”
“Bleah. I’ve seen beaches.”
I’ve never heard Mom say bleah before.
“And I don’t want to be trapped in a car,” she adds.
Earlier that day, we had gone to an art exhibit of hyperrealistic paintings depicting the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders of America’s national parks. She recalled going to the Grand Canyon, standing on the lookout, and being unimpressed. She probably said bleah.
I took that anecdote to explain how futile it is to fill up a trip with sightseeing. Better to settle in and experience everyday life, exploring the rhythm of another culture. But they are from the “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” generation. An action-packed itinerary. They just seem to forget that they’re not physically up to it … and that’s why a sight-seeing whirlwind is ultimately unsatisfying.
I had to learn that the hard way, too. I once booked two weeks in England, where I endeavored to see every cathedral and tower. But I grew tired with that pretty quickly. It was trips on the Tube, or meeting people at pubs, that I remember most. Small moments are best. After that, I learned (with some friendly coaching from a mentor) to open myself to travel sometimes that has no culturally redeeming value, like at a resort, and just learn to relax and enjoy the moment. Casa Nana can be that resort for Mom and Dad, if they allow it. We don’t need to justify every trip by visiting grand cathedrals or important museums.
We can all just start learning to just relax and enjoy each other’s company, at our own pace, in a foreign land.
Photo: Detail of a portrait of Bryce Canyon, Utah, by Anthony J. Rudisill, whose work is on display at the Noyes Museum.