The first time I ran away to a foreign land I was about 6 years old. A mystical destination whispered to me through the windows of my tiny two-bedroom house so I waited until my mother was loading the washing machine before I slipped out the storm door and set sail. I chose a dependable vessel, a turquoise banana-seat bicycle bought from Otasco. I steered through my neighborhood to a magical port where tigers ran around trees until they spun into butter and mermaids dried their flowing manes on mossy rocks surrounded by nothing but the blue, blue sea.
I stowed away for about 10 minutes before Captain McPherson discovered me in the “big people” section of the bookmobile and alerted my mother. She wisely allowed me to linger as long as I promised to leave in time for lunch, didn’t talk too much during Story Hour and absolutely, positively promised NOT to take the long way home.
The long way home – my albatross, my ransom, my treasure chest.
For 40-plus years, I have anchored down many times, spending days – months – staying on course through mountains of casseroles, swamps of diapers and the arid torture known as Little League baseball. Luckily, parenthood comes with a license to occasionally kick off adulthood and wiggle your toes in fun. My three boys grew accustomed to the back roads of life and bumping along on itineraries that were all our own. My husband is a fellow gypsy soul so we often took turns. One flying the kite. The other being the kite. Nomadic in spirit, we still recognize and cherish the solid security of home.
When my youngest son left for college a few years ago, I spent some useless days wandering around our 35-acre farm, surfing for obscenely priced purses and waiting impatiently to launch my lifeboat of stockpiled maternal provisions for the inevitable SOS. What I found was silence. Husband: happy and a golfer, no explanation needed. Three sons: “Great, hey, can I call you back after I finish the video game?”
My dirty-socks-full-dishwasher-do-you-have-ten-dollars-world was now a deserted island.
For the first time in many years, I needed a map to navigate me to this new phase of my life. I decided to take the long way home – via Antarctica.
I waited until my husband was knee-deep in a golf tournament before I called to say, “I think I’m going to go to Antarctica so if you want to plunge into sub-zero temperatures, brave the roughest seas in the world and count penguins for nearly three weeks, hop aboard.” He would have been a great traveling companion and a warm bunk mate, but I really preferred to go solo. Self-reliance feeds my psyche. Stretching my comfort zone limbers my soul.
As a woman, self-indulgence can be as uncomfortable as stilettos or lingerie. Guilt works overtime to wage an argument that the money and the time could be better spent, and who are you, this middle-age woman running away from home?
Quiet that voice. Seize whatever dreams kept you rocking those babies and watching the clock tick past curfew for hours upon hours in those sleepless nights in motherdom. Exploring cultures and traveling to distant lands challenges my viewpoints. Testing my own boundaries nourishes me as a woman, which means I become a happier wife, a more loving mother, a better me.
I knew it as a 6-year-old pedaling furiously through the neighborhood in search of a faraway discovery between the pages of a book. I know it now as I travel here and there in hopes of seeing what I have not seen before.
Sometimes, taking the long way home is the shortest route to happiness.