We arrived in Istanbul during the tulip festival when the moon was full and the air was still chilly. John had elected to drive on that trip, for reasons that now seem silly. We’d watched YouTube videos of driving in Turkey and convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t be that bad. That was our virgin journey abroad, back in the days when we still believed the erroneous myth that “everyone in the world speaks English”.
“I can do this.” John would say several times a day as we got ready for that, our first overseas trip ever.
“Yeah…” I’d say, “I think we’ll be fine.” But I knew that driving in Turkey was strongly discouraged by the U.S. government. Still, I clung to the belief that maybe all those travel warnings would be wrong.
We bought a special GPS system for Turkey and discovered on the street leading out of the Istanbul airport that it
was deeply flawed. Underneath a giant sculpture of a hand doing a peace sign at the exit to the Istanbul airport, John and I had a Big Fat Fight in a tiny Peugot. The sky was darkening and we had to find our hostel, get a little rest, and then get up before daybreak to somehow find our way onto a car ferry that would take us across the Sea of Marmara.
Lydian was 10 at the time, so she didn’t try to intervene. She waited patiently in the back seat while John and I had it out. I argued in favor of reading signs, with the map in my lap while John, in contrast, argued that we should put faith in the GPS. “Give it a minute.” He argued.
“But I’m sitting right here!” I screamed. “With a MAP!”
Thus began a battle that continues to this day. John likes to know where he is on the planet at all times. He has apps for that. I like to wander and lose myself. I’ll feel my way to a destination and back. I argue that being lost in Beijing is relative. I still know that I’m in Beijing even if I don’t know which direction or which street to take to get to my hotel. John says that Lost is Lost. John prides himself on taking no wrong turns. I like to stumble into dead ends and find people and places I otherwise would’ve missed. I hardly ever show up on time. He’s always 15 minutes early (unless he’s with me, that is).
In Turkey, John’s Way and My Way ended up going Separate Ways at Pergamon. We had been trapped together in a tiny car, with the stress level turned up on HIGH for days. I was sick of him always thinking that he knew the way and he was sick of my willingness to go the wrong way to narrow down the options. I started calling him “Captain Responsible” and threatened to make a memorable domestic scene at the entrance to Pergamon as soldiers with big guns milled around. John narrowed his eyes at me. I narrowed my eyes back at him. People stared at us. The crazy Americans.
And so it was that Lydian and I wandered the giant ruined city alone together. We would see John
on a precipice above us, or down below in a coliseum or a temple. Sometimes he’d be looking up at us taking pictures. I left him in Time Out until I felt calm enough to talk again. And near a statue of some famous Roman emperor, we crossed paths. And there, at Pergamon, we decided that both of our Ways were Right. Sometimes we’d use my way. Sometimes we’d use his. And someday, we’d use Lydian’s too, when she was old enough and wise enough to call some shots.
At home, John’s life is John’s life. My life is My life. We spend a lot of time together, but he’s free to use His Way to do his work. I use My Way to do mine. We discuss the outcome of our separate efforts, but rarely do we have to work together. Our Ways don’t have to mesh. I don’t ever have to appreciate His Way of doing things. He doesn’t have to appreciate mine. But when we travel, it’s us against the world. Whatever happens, we have only two choices: work together as a team or go our separate ways.
I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter who takes the lead most of the time. Through many difficult journeys we’ve learned that it makes sense for John to take the lead when his methods will get the best results and for me to take the lead when my methods are most desirable.
John and I have been together for almost two decades now, but our relationship has weathered many storms, some of them conjured on purpose just to give us something to do together. It’s hard to have a shared experience in a predictable place like home. Travel helps to keep us on the same path together. It forces Lydian into close quarters with us. It forces our family to work together in a way that’s never necessary in the states. I’ve learned more about John and Lydian from traveling with them than through any other singular activity we’ve ever done together.
I know that Lydian isn’t happy until she knows where she’ll be sleeping at night. She’s bold and
brave as long as an acceptable home base is accessible before midnight. These are her conditions. She doesn’t suffer from motion sickness and we can push her to the brink of exhaustion and starvation and she’ll continue on, but she won’t be happy until she’s been inside the room where she’ll be sleeping for the night. She’s slept in rooms beset with giant tarantulas in the Amazon, large flying cockroaches in Peru, ants in Costa Rica, and other undesirables and she deals with it. She’s slept on wooden planks, taken cold showers, and watched my back in seedy places when John was bedridden in middle-of-nowhere places. I know that she fights like a big cat and I know she’d poke out the eyes of an attacker if properly provoked. And she has a good sense of direction, excellent linguistic skills, and she stays calm in dire situations. She could travel on her own to far-flung places and she’d be okay.
I know that John thinks chronologically and linearly. He has anxiety when he doesn’t know a part of the sequence of events. He can’t put faith in me to know the steps in a particular journey. He needs to know the steps himself and have some measure of control over the details. And he’s excellent with details. I entrust him with the details of our trips after I’ve planned them. He approaches our trips with a mathematical precision that I lack. He mostly uses humor to get us out of dangerous situations, but he also puffs up at times to get people to back down. John follows the rules, which makes him a crucial part of our couple-dom. At times his orientation toward rules irritates me, but it’s also a source of salvation. I operate almost exclusively off intuition and what I know about the politics and social dynamics in a particular region or country. So we complement each other but under the right conditions we also clash.
At home, we don’t laugh with each other the way we do when we travel. We also don’t tend to fight as much at home. Our lives go in different directions. We close the door when we’ve had enough. Finding resolutions to problems isn’t as urgent at home as it is abroad. At home, I may wonder why I married such a damn slob, but abroad, I remember his chivalry and how his bizarre man-methods make me feel safe. I appreciate that he’s willing to protect me, or just keep track of our passports. And I can appreciate his slobbishness at times when he’s willing to wear the same clothes for a whole week so that Lydi and I can bring a change of clothes with us on a long side trip.
As a teenager, Lydian is no longer merely a moon in John’s and my private solar system. She’s her
own planet. And as she gets older and smarter, she sees our flaws and more and more, she goes her own way. She wrestles with the fear of 24 hour flights or going into danger zones. She gets edgy and grouchy and difficult. And then she summits a steep mountain and sees the view. She knows that she carried herself to the top. She gets to mark new thresholds. Her experiences are legitimately her own and she knows it. Every year she takes new responsibilities like booking tickets, finding our way through airports, or soliciting taxis.
This is her adolescence. And I can’t think of anything better to do with it.
Each time we travel as a family, we hit new highs and new lows. I discover new things about my husband, a person I’ve known since my youth. I learn new things about myself and my kid. Nevermind the landscape; the tourist destinations. These are minor landmarks on our path as a family. When I board a plane, I know that if I get lost, at least I’ll be lost with the people I love. We’ll be lost together. I have a good team. And even if we fight, or we part ways temporarily, we’ll find each other again. Though we may not make it to see every tourist destination on our itinerary, we always find something more important: each other.