For the Holiday Traveler

I saw family last weekend, so actual Thanksgiving is not that loaded for me, not like it is for those of you headed home to see capital F “family,” as in Family Of Origin. Yours or your partner’s.

For the holiday traveler, this post is especially for you.

Maybe you are sitting on a hard airport chair, trying to get comfortable while also keeping an eye on your purse and your children.  You wonder if you have enough snacks and the right kind of snacks.  Where is your water? Oh, it’s right there, under your jacket.

You’re already exhausted, and you are still sitting in your zip code.  You watch your children to be sure they don’t swan dive off the ledges that are everywhere in the airport.  But, you don’t watch them as closely as you sometimes do.  The airport gives you a sense of anonymity which both enervates and emboldens you.

You let ’em scream.  It’s the airport and everyone is half-insane already.

You watch your husband take your littlest to the bathroom.  You love your husband, but you can’t reach him right now, because right now, you are hunkered down thinking about meeting up with your past, and you are trying desperately to square your expectations with reality.

You are trying to remember why this is so hard, the going home– besides the obvious, which is that it’s damn-near impossible to travel with two toddlers.

You hear your son screaming, “AIRPLANE!” across the gate, and you smile, because you can’t believe he’s yours.  You openly admire his gusto, even though you know your husband is mortified that he’s being so loud.   You want to connect with the people around you, but that hunkered down part of you is in the tornado-drill position that you learned in preschool.

You are afraid of how it will feel to go back to where you came from, especially with these new people, your new family.

When your kids search for fallen pecans underneath your parents’ tree (just like you used to do), you will feel your heart rip open and you will have no idea why.

When you see your daughter light up as your mother enters the room and then insists that Grandma — not you– put on her shoes, you will be wrenched in a whole new way.  When your son hoists his chubby perfection up into your father’s lap when the vacuum cleaner scares him, you will feel something that has no name.  It will sort of feel like pain, but not exactly.

Ache maybe.

Then, there will be parts that just suck.  Kids that won’t sleep after being hopped up on well-intentioned sugary treats– that will suck.  When a family member cries in frustration about years of miscommunication and long-buried hurt, you will feel that in your mitochondria, and it will hurt.

You will want to be understood, but they may not be able to. Maybe you don’t make any sense to them.

You may want to be heard, though, even if you don’t know what you want to say.

Some relationships are a mess you don’t know how to fix.  You’re not even sure how they got messed up, but you have a vague feeling it might be your fault.  At least partly.  There will be wreckage of those relationships lurking about, along with ghosts, elephants, and skeletons.

You may wish that people who aren’t there would show up, and still others who are always around would find somewhere else to go.

You are taking it all with you: your wishes, expectations, feelings, memories, and your best self.  The messy self comes too, but she’s down a Starbucks getting a latte for the flight.

Most importantly, you will come back.   You will recover from the trip and feel like yourself again. The edges of the new memories will blur just like the old ones.

And you will be back.

God speed.  Safe travels.  Traveling Mercies.

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26 thoughts on “For the Holiday Traveler

  1. I’m reading this from I-90 going west, from Boston to Cleveland. Home to my parents, brother and SIL, bringing my husband and two kids. We do it every year, and every year it’s so, so hard. For weeks before, my body stresses in anticipation. We will drive most of today, and arrive pale and frazzled, but we keep doing it.

    I can’t write about it on my own blog – would hurt them all – but how I long to cook my own damn turkey and have them on my turf for once. Maybe next year.

    • I know! I was very vague in case anyone from my family reads my blog, which I don’t think they do. It’s so so hard. I was sick last week before going home and now I feel like a million bucks . . .because it’s over and I survived. You will too. Good luck!!!!!

  2. The second person voice works beautifully here (so hard to pull off). This reminds me, in fact, of my favorite example of second person: Mary Karr’s memoir called Cherry (imagine that I underlined or italicized that, please). It takes this (and that) out of the Me Me Me that is inevitable in memoirs and sometimes blogs. Well done! (And whew! So glad I’m staying home this week.)

  3. Appropriately, I am reading this from the passenger seat of my car on 78-west heading towards Pittsburgh to my parents for Thanksgiving. I love how you write here using a different voice than you normally do. It makes this post so incredibly relatable. Hope you have a Thanksgiving filled with fun and lots of love

  4. Nothing like a little Mary Karr and Anne Lamott to take on the holiday.

    It’s hard to remember that this is the Gratitude Season. And today is the 13th anniversary of my last lung cancer treatment. Good breath to all!

  5. “The airport gives you a sense of anonymity which both enervates and emboldens you.” Love this. For dads, it’s like this anytime we go anywhere in public. We have a built-in excuse for lower discipline expectations: Oh, they’re with dad.

    Beautiful piece. I think you’ve captured a key steppingstone to becoming an adult: Watching the family who created you embrace the family you’ve created.

  6. My mother-in-law used to have a Christmas breakfast at about 9 a.m. We were literally waking up our kids (who has to do that on Christmas morning?) so they had time to open their presents at home before we drove the 20 miles to Grandma’s. I finally put my foot down and said every second year I was cooking a turkey at our house, and anyone who wanted to come was welcome, but we weren’t going anywhere. Some hurt feelings for a while but it kept my sanity (relatively speaking — ha ha pun not intended but true nonetheless!).

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