Monthly Archives: December 2013

Solo Traveler

By the time this column appears, my daughter, Clementine, will have been traveling around Europe for the last five days.

On her own.

This means that by the time this column appears I will be somewhere in between moderately and completely freaking out.

Not freaking out at all will not be an option.

Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be freaking out because I’m afraid that Clementine is going to be snatched up in some kind of white slave ring straight out of Taken. I have been to Europe enough times myself to know that the version of Europe that exists in Taken (and movies like it) is only familiar to Americans who have never held a passport. (Which, unfortunately, describes most Americans. Sarah Palin really wasn’t an exception.) Of course, to be fair, there is an equally bizarre version of America that is only familiar to some Europeans as well. (Clementine has already been asked several times if she really owns a gun. No, she really doesn’t).

I also won’t be freaking out because I think that Clementine is not going to be able to handle all of the logistics of getting on the right bus, then the right ferry, then the right train, because, frankly, I already know that she is going to screw up at least once. Which is okay: I mean, it’s not like I haven’t gotten on the wrong bus plenty of times myself, and the good thing about going down the wrong road is that you can always go back, which is, perhaps, an even better lesson to learn than how to go down the right road in the first place.

No. I’ll be freaking out because I’m a mom, and that’s what we do. Even when we pretend we’re not.

What, you didn’t think we really let you walk to school on your own that first time, did you? Or even your first three times? Of course not: we were the ones following along a block behind, in the hat and dark glasses. The one who made sure you really did look both ways (twice!) before crossing the street, and didn’t jump into the first beat up panel van with “Free Candey” spray-painted on the side of it.

Yes, of course we trusted you. It’s just… it’s just… a mom thing. We can’t help it.

And yet, despite all of that, I really am sure that Clementine will be fine—and not in spite of being a solo traveler, either, but because of it. This is because, as someone who also spent some of her youth traveling alone I am intimately aware of the fact that a young girl traveling on her own has all sorts of advantages that other travelers don’t. And no, I don’t mean advantages like that. I mean that since there are few things less threatening than a single female traveler people will practically come out of the woodwork to help you. Which is good, because when you travel, you always need help. It doesn’t matter how badass you were in your previous, non-traveling life: as a traveler, you are always kind of helpless.

And realizing that you are now kind of helpless is kind of horrifying, and kind of awful, and kind of wonderful, all at the same time. It is, in other words, the very best part about traveling.

Because, when it comes right down to it, the important thing about travel isn’t what you see, or who you meet, but who you become.

That, of course, and the fact that if you are doing it just right you get to make your mother moderately freak out.

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cous cous

The other day I came home from grocery shopping, and when I opened the cabinet to put away my purchases I ran into a small problem: it seemed that there was already a can of refried beans in the spot where I wanted to put my new can of refried beans. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, though: I would just put the new refried beans where I usually put the—huh, more refried beans. Well, what about over—nope, nope, more refried beans there, too. I wandered around the kitchen for a while, but every spot I could think of was already filled with, you guessed it, refried beans. It was then that I came to two conclusions: one, that I really needed to start making a shopping list, and two, I desperately needed to organize my kitchen cabinets.

The first was never going to happen (by the time I went back to the store all of my good intentions would have turned into yet another can of refried beans) but the second one was actually doable, so I set about pulling everything out of my cabinets and piling it on the kitchen counters to organize. It was at this point that my son, Clyde, wandered in and started examining everything. Along with the wall of refried beans there was also at least ten different kinds of tomato product (stewed, diced, whole, paste, chopped, sauce, with garlic, with onion, with green chili, etc.) four different kinds of oatmeal, and no less than seven bottles of salad dressing. What he went for, however, was the cous cous.

It was in one of those thin plastic bags they give you in the bulk department. And instead of a twist tie, it was simply knotted loosely at the top. The bag looked pretty old, and if I had had to make a bet I would have guessed that there was probably less than a 10% chance it didn’t have a hole in it. Which is why I tensed up when Clyde started tossing it from one hand to the other.

“Just, just, put it DOWN,” I said, my hands full of refried beans.

“Why?” he asked me.

Because, I wanted to say, there are only two possible outcomes to playing with that old bag of cous cous. One was that nothing would happen at all. And the other was that something would. In the first instance everything would stay the same: there would neither be a positive, or a negative effect. In the second, though, there was only one possibility, and that was the possibility that something bad would happen. How did I know it would be bad? Because there was no scenario I could imagine that involved the cous cous leaving the bag that was not bad. None.

There was absolutely no chance of a cous cous fairy pouring out and granting our wishes, no chance of a magical cous cous garden growing in my kitchen, and no chance of the cous cous all floating out of the bag and over to the trash. None. Zip. Nada. The only thing that could possibly happen was that the cous cous would spill on the floor and that I would get pissed.

Why then, I wondered, given the choice between nothing happening and something bad happening, would Clyde insist upon going for the latter? What could possibly be the reasoning behind such an act? Of course, that’s when my husband wandered in the kitchen, tossing his heavy key ring up into the air and then catching it again—or not. And suddenly I understood.

Well, at least I understood the fact that boys were something I was never going to understand at all. That, and that there really is such a thing as too many cans of refried beans.

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Baby Tooth Blues

Neither one of my children ever lost their first tooth before they were seven years old. In a way this was good, because it almost completely eliminated the need for us to have the Tooth Fairy in our house. (Also, Clementine was born with the cynicism of a 70-year-old man, and therefore didn’t believe in any of that stuff anyway. And Clyde—well, Clyde has Clementine for an older sister, so while in ordinary circumstance he would probably still be clapping his hands and saying, “I believe! I believe!” well into his twenties, he, too, stopped believing at around age five.)

Now while there are probably a great many parents out there who are envious of the fact that I never had to sneak into anyone’s room in the middle of the night and fumble around underneath a pillow for cast-off body parts (thank god the idea of a Toenail Clipping Fairy never caught on), what they don’t realize is that this small benefit is completely negated by the fact that my children are still shedding their baby teeth well into their teens. And a teen with a loose tooth is a much crankier creature than any five-year-old could ever be.

I was reminded of that a few years ago when me and my family had finally come to the end of what might just have been The Most Stressful Travel Day of All Time. Not only did we have to carry our bags (and our children’s bags, because, hey, why would they ever carry their own bags when they have us around?) across a literal mile of trash-strewn farmland, we then had to stand in line for a crowded bus that would take us to a crowded train station where we would get on a crowded train that would take us to London, where we would walk for blocks and blocks in the wrong direction before finally turning around and finding our hostel because, apparently, my sense of direction is absolute crap when I don’t have the San Francisco Peaks to point me in the right direction.

Once at the hostel, after my husband and I tried to cram as much filthy clothing as possible into a tinytinytiny washing machine we finally collapsed in the hostel’s small cafe and ordered a well deserved pint of beer. Unfortunately, however, just as I reached out to take my first grateful sip of said beer I was horrendously distracted by the sight of Clementine reaching into her mouth, wrenching out a molar, and slamming it, bloody and wet, on the table in front of me with a glare.

It was like something straight out of The Fly. “Here,” she said. “For you.” The profanity following that statement was, for once, only implied. As was the “ So you think you’ve had a long day?” Not wanting to enrage someone who was clearly undergoing some sort of metamorphosis (and who, terrible as the thought was, might be changing into something even worse), I simply picked up the tooth, slipped it into my purse, and kept my own mouth wisely shut.

Well, at least I did until several months later, when I was having dinner with Clementine and her new boyfriend. Reaching into my purse for my wallet I felt the little jagged lump with my fingers, pulled it out, slammed it down on the table with the same emphasis Clementine once had, and said to her boyfriend, “Here. For you.”

Judging from the horrified look Clementine shot me afterwards, revenge really is a dish best served cold. Of course, I won’t know for sure about that until I go out to dinner with Clyde’s new girlfriend. Because, luckily for me, he, too, pulled out his own bloody gift to me just the other night.

It’s already in my purse.

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