I have serious wanderlust. Maybe it stems from being a military brat and moving every 3-4 years. Or maybe it was the spur-of-the-moment trips I took with my family growing up, when my parents packed the six kids into the big van and took off for Disney or the Smoky Mountains.
Whatever the origins, my wanderlust kicked into high gear in college, thanks to a summer trip to Europe.
My world was split wide open as I took in the history, culture, and food of different countries; I loved it all.
I spent a summer in London, and afterward, my friends and I backpacked through France, Italy, and Germany. I had hardly any money, but it didn’t matter. We figured out how to take advantage of free or cheap fun wherever we went. We saved our pennies for giant steins of beer in Germany, fresh baguettes and cheese in France, and slices of pizza in Italy. We washed our clothes in the hotel sinks, and tried to figure out what the toilet without water was for (it was a bidet, we later found out. Oops.)
After college, I headed to Dublin, Ireland for grad school at Trinity College. I quickly fell in love with the people and the country. My friends and I strolled from pub to pub, drinking Guinness and belting out David Gray songs. Then we'd make our way to the clubs where we'd drink more Guinness and dance to George Michael and other 80s hits. Of course, it wasn’t always easy. I ran out of money and had to figure out how to pay my rent, I had to write lengthy research papers, and I missed my family tremendously.
But, as I look back on that time now, I have such a sense of rosy nostalgia for those seemingly easy, carefree days when I wandered through the city without a care in the world. My boyfriend, Seth (ha!), and I would talk on the phone whenever we could. He and my family came to visit, and we drove around the country in cars so tiny that we had to fold ourselves up like accordions to fit into them. We cruised through the countryside in our tiny cars, laughing and talking, as we dodged sheep and tractors on the winding Irish roads.
Sometimes I forget that that was 18—18!—years ago. A lot has happened since then. . . . My boyfriend and I got became adults and got married, we had six kids, my Dad passed away, and life stresses grew along with us. Still, the idea of international travel remained firmly rooted in my mind as the years passed. Which is why, when I'm stressed or feeling restless, I look up flights to all kinds of places.
Could we take a family trip to Italy? How much would that cost? Let me just check as I lie here sandwiched between two sleeping girls. Should we go to Boston to see my family? Maybe Seth and I can head to Napa for a long weekend? Wouldn’t it be so great to pack some backpacks and passports, and head out the door to Europe?
Usually my travel fairytales end there, when I see the outrageous price of flights.
But one magical evening back in November, the stars aligned for us. First off, Seth and I were BOTH AWAKE after the kids were asleep, which was a victory in and of itself.
We sat watching tv and sipping wine as I searched for flights for a spring trip.
Could we go to Dublin? We always talked about taking the big girls when they reached the golden ages of 5-9…. Would the flights be outrageous? What about the babies? Could I leave the babies?
Then the flight price popped up. $360 roundtrip. I nearly fell off the couch; while still pricey, flights to Europe are never, ever that inexpensive. I asked Seth to double check the dates and price, because I was convinced my eyes were playing tricks on me.
No, he said, that’s all right. I’ve never seen flights that cheap in my life. Neither had I. We have to do it, he said. Don't think about it too much or we won't book it. Just book it and we’ll figure it out. (Aside: this is why I love him.) And so, at 11 p.m. one November night, we took a leap and bought tickets for us and the big girls to go to Dublin. When we woke up the next morning, we felt a bit of--oh no what did we do--coupled with--we're really going to do it!
As our travel dates draw nearer, I remain extremely excited and apprehensive about our trip. I cannot wait to show the girls my old apartment, the neighborhood shop I walked to get groceries, and the coffee shops I used to study in. I can’t wait to take them to the park I passed every day on my walk into the city to the university. It was always teeming with kids, and now, almost 20 years later, my kids will be among those playing there. I cannot believe it. Then we'll go visit my friends, the Murphys, who gave me a warm welcome and soft place to land when I first arrived in Dublin on my Rotary scholarship. I last saw them 13 years ago when they first traveled to the U.S. for my wedding.
I know that we won't see everything, and that's precisely why I'm excited about the trip. I have no agenda of things to see or do, and, quite honestly, I'm happy to sit on a park bench sipping coffee for most of the trip. The pace will be relaxed and carefree. One of the biggest highlights for me will be not having to tell the big girls—wait a minute, I have to change the baby. Or wait a minute, let me get them to sleep first. Or, no, not now.
I have to say, since Lucy turned 9, I am feeling the tween years looming closer and closer. I don't want to look up in 3-4 years and feel like I've missed this precious time with her and her sisters. I want to soak it all in. I want to appreciate their curiosity, silliness, and joyfulness in experiencing new things without having to stop for diaper changes and naps.
All that said, I am also so anxious about leaving my babies. I remember the first time I left them for a few hours, it felt like someone had cut off my limbs. It was physically painful. I had been so consumed with caring with them, I honestly didn’t know who I was or what to do when I suddenly had some free time and free hands. I called my mom crying that I just couldn't do it. She reminded me that I didn't have to do it, and that the time would come when I would want to do it.
I think the time has come now that they're 2. They're crazy, nonstop 2 year-olds like any others. But, they're still my sweet babies and I will miss them. I’ll miss them shouting “mama look at this! Mama LOOK AT ME!” I’ll miss seeing them toddle out together in the morning, squinting from the sun and looking disheveled from a long night's heavy sleep. I'll miss them shouting out from their cribs at bedtime--no, no mama, I love YOU! I love YOU!" The only thing that makes it easier is that I’ll be with the big girls and Seth.
I've clearly spent a lot of time mentally preparing for this trip, as evidenced from the internal dialogue above. I have not, on the other hand, spent any time doing any physical packing or prep work for this trip. We have only booked a hotel for the first night, but that's how I prefer to travel--without an itinerary or definite plans. It gives us the freedom to set the pace as we go and change our plans if needed. That said, I should probably go ahead and do some packing. . . .
Well, friends, wish us luck. Our trip is fast approaching, and while our bags aren’t packed, we’re ready to go (I think?!). Dublin, Murphy family, Butler's coffee shop, and pints of Guinness, we’ll be seeing you soon.
Get ready Ireland, because here we come.