Lissette and I have (and had) very different mothers. But both have – in very different ways – led to the travelling life we’ve had over the last 7 years.
My mom (Trudi)
I inherited the travel bug from my mom. Born in Germany, she started travelling in her teens.
She met my dad in Germany and they settled in a little town in Quebec and had me. The lifestyle didn’t suit her though and I think both my parents wanted something more exciting. When I was 9 we moved to Zambia in southern Africa.
My parents broke up in Africa and after a couple of years my mom and I came back to Canada. We lived in Vancouver. Actually she lived in Vancouver and I went to a private school on Vancouver Island. That lasted a year. My mom decided that her career opportunities would be better in Ottawa so we hitchhiked across the country (I remember camping in Banff and sleeping in someone’s apple orchard) to Ottawa.
My mom worked her way up from being a secretary at United Way to working in the accounting department. She studied hard during my teenage years and I had a lot of evenings of tv diners at home while she was at night school.
When I was 19 I went off to university in Montreal while she went back to Africa. She was by then working with CUSO (an international aid organization) and was responsible to training their staff in exotic locations in Africa and Asia. I would get postcards from places like Vanuatu, Togo, Benin, Thailand, and the Solomon Islands. She then became regional controller in the Southern Africa region and relocated in Zambia (where we had lived just 10 years prior). A year later, the office moved to Zimbabwe. Some of my best memories during that time were of visiting her for Christmas in Africa.
During my mid-20’s my mom re-married and moved back to Ottawa (her new husband was from the same NGO and was also based on Ottawa). By then I was also married and starting my own career. There wasn’t a lot of travel for either of us.
In the early 2000’s – in her mid-50’s, – my mom’s marriage ended and, true to form, she got rid of everything and went back to travelling. The next few years were spent in Asia (back then it was quite cheap and less touristed than it is today). In 2004 I met my mom in Lake Toba and we explored Sumatra together. I remember riding a motorcycle and narrowly missing a water buffalo with her clutching my shoulders. Some of my craziest travel adventures were with my mom.
My mom decided to settle down in Chiang Mai (Thailand) a year later. It was cheap and she made a lot of friends. It was a good place to retire and I loved hearing her stories of life there. But with time (almost 10 years) Chiang Mai became over-polluted and too hectic. She had friends who recommended Mexico. So she packed up and moved her few belongings there. She’s lived in Mexico ever since.
My mom doesn’t travel as much as she used to but we try to have at least one trip a year. These days we’re mostly sticking to Mexico and last year – after a year of not seeing each – we explored some of the country’s Pueblo Magicos.
I can credit my mom with a lot of things. I definitely got my wanderlust from her. I don’t know if it is genetic or learned but I realized pretty early on that few things turned me on like the adventure of travel. I also got my independence, work ethic and my risk-taking from her. Nothing ever stopped my mom in doing what she wanted out of life. Finally, I learned that you can travel and live frugally overseas and have a good life doing so. My mom’s been doing it now for 20 years.
Lissette’s mom (Mary)
Lissette had a less privileged childhood then I did. Shortly after being born, her father left her mother. Her mom (aged 35) was suddenly stuck raising 3 kids by herself in the South Bronx. With poor English skills and little work experience, the family lived off government assistance through much of Lissette’s childhood.
Lissette had a complicated relationship with her Mom. She’ll always talk about her two greatest attributes: a great sense of humour and the ability to cook something fantastic with the most basic of ingredients. In retrospect, she appreciates that her Mom did the best she could. But it was difficult. Her family went from lower/middle class to just barely making ends meet. Every struggle and set back during those years could be traced back to the moment her father decided to walk out the door. With time her mom moved on with her life but she never moved forward.
Seeing her mom’s circumstances and struggles motivated Lissette. Getting married, having kids and the idea of relying on anyone for anything wasn’t an option. She did well at school, set up a tutoring network and had a part time job in the mail room of a small direct mail company. She was reliable and hard working and was in her early 20’s when she became Director of Marketing. After the company closed, she was offered positions in New York, Las Vegas and Montreal. The idea of remaining in NY was safe but suffocating… so she stepped into the unknown and chose Montreal. Lissette has always said that the place she was born was not necessarily the place she had to be. Many years later when we decided to leave Montreal to travel full-time she again didn’t feel the attachment that many people associate with a place they’ve lived for a long time.
Over the years her relationship with her mom had some highs but mostly lows. When I met Lissette in 2005 they had gone several years without talking. About a year later Lissette reached out and they started talking again. Lissette told her about me and her mom seemed genuinely happy for her.
In 2008, just before Christmas, Lissette’s mom died. She was 75. Lissette went to Syracuse to attend the funeral. It was sad for her: they had never had a great relationship and Lissette had some regrets. Many things were left unsaid and unresolved. There were no last words and no prodigal return. But she found out something on her trip. Her mom had kept every letter, post card and scrap of paper that she had sent her over the years. Despite all the harsh words and sentiments exchanged over the years, her Mom was proud of her achievements and success in life. She often bragged to her friends about her – much to the chagrin of her siblings. She had projected herself forward in life in ways her mom had only hoped to have done herself.
Lissette and I had very, very different moms. But both, in their own ways, motivated us to be different than most people in our circles of family and friends. Neither of us would be living the lifestyles we’ve lived without our moms.
Related: Memories of Childhood Trips
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