Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Chris and Erica's Big Adventure
Back in the fall I was feeling old. It struck me that at one point in my adult life I had been pretty adventurous. I had given myself an eighteenth birthday present of a jump out of an airplane. I had joined the Peace Corps and lived in Yemen for two years, pretty much on a whim. I had moved to Montana with no connections, no job, no place to live and all of my worldly possessions on the back seat and in the trunk of my 1970 Plymouth Valiant named Fuad. Erica and I had decided to get married just a few months after we met, and we spent our honeymoon camping around Portugal for six weeks.
But back in the fall I was having a real hard time thinking of the most recent thing I had done that could be categorized as even remotely adventurous. I was feeling a hole in my life and I was able to identify that hole as the place where I used to take risks and be spontaneous. But rather than being empty, as I looked more closely inside I could see that my spontaneity had been squeezed out and replaced molecule by molecule and cell by cell by Financial and Parental Responsibility. It was very much like the process of fossilization experienced by trilobites many millions of years ago.
Not wanting to be a living fossil, but also not wanting to be the cliché 42 year-old man who adds excitement to his life by buying a sports car or taking on a younger mistress, I began to cast about for something I could do to address my need to continue to believe that I am an adventurous and spontaneous human. One thing I did was commit myself to saying “YES” more often instead of simply and reflexively rejecting any unscheduled opportunities that came up in the course of my days. And then it just came to me that I should ask Erica to come to Paris with me. Neither of us had ever been there and it would make a statement to me and to her that the man she fell in love with is still here, UNfossilized and ready to try something new.
Before I even asked her, I called my parents in Delaware to see if they would take our daughter for the Spring Break week in April while we were in Paris. My mom was up for it, so I went ahead and asked Erica and she was thrilled. We got a couple of guide books and started to think about what to see, where to stay, and what to do with the five short days we would have in Paris.
We didn’t buy the airplane tickets in September because they were very expensive. We figured the costs would drop as the time got closer.
We were wrong about that. In fact, ticket prices continued to go up AND the dollar slipped into freefall against the franc. When February got here we had to decide just how much we were willing to spend on regaining some of the spontaneous spark in our lives. After a long, hard look at ticket prices, hotel costs, and exchange rates, we made the hard decision to forego Paris THIS time.
Instead, we kept the part of the plan that involved leaving Isabel with my parents and replaced five romantic days in Paris with five romantic days in our Ford Windstar van, roadtripping somewhere in the Eastern half of North America.
Last week finally arrived and we dropped Isabel in Delaware and drove away, atlas in hand and a plan just starting to form. Our week turned out to be a great one. We saw nine states and drove 2100 miles down to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and back. We played much of the trip by ear and had a wonderful time. It was good to be reminded of the beauty of being open to the possibilities any day presents. It was also eye-opening how much I missed my daughter. I think Erica and I had a harder time with the separation than she did. But we all three survived and now trips like this are much more likely to happen again in the future.
It became clear to me on this trip that I had been both a willing and an unwilling participant in my own loss of spontaneity and adventurousness. Some things do have to change when you take on a child and a mortgage, but not everything. It was really great to be reminded by the stunningly purple flowering trees in Virginia, the vibrantly yellow chest and crystal song of a meadowlark in a field in Tennessee, and the sudden rain shower on (and IN) our tent in North Carolina that being open to experience can make life richer. It is not a lesson I intend to forget again. And we didn’t even need to leave this time zone, let alone this continent, to have a real romantic getaway.
Now we are back in Connecticut, back at work, and back to parenting, but most decidedly NOT back to the rut I had worn into my life. Now that I have remembered to stick my head up and look around, there is no way I am going to willingly resume my trudge deeper into predictable middle age.