what to do with that lingering pull towards adventure? can you love more than one idea or one life at the same time? is that grass always greener? or is it that now i’m peering through the lens towards a shorter stint here in this incarnation that has this nugget of wanderlust, spent decades simmering just beneath the surface, shouting to be let free?
i’m as american as the next gal, rooted in home team pride, squarely planted in the great middle west living a terrifically lovely life. roots abound, my history puddled around me as i watch the three children that get more terrific and independent and wonderful by the day.
when you raise kids, feel free to do what i have done countless times. tell them, “i’m making this up as i go along…” i mean, who really knows what you’re doing, right? so far, so good. and as they get closer to launching completely into lives of their own making, i find that my parenting comes with profound statements such as, “you’re driving the bus of your own life.” for some reason, this seems to be working, so i’m sure they’ll hear me say it again. and again.
something funny happens in all of this. when you’re lucky, brave and energetic enough to become a parent, you sign up to live again. not like the elixir that promises immortality, rather you experience a repetition of your early life. and in that comes examination, often profound, of the choices you’ve made when you were driving your own bus.
yes, it’s time to cue ‘the road not taken’ by robert frost. or maybe not. maybe there are two paths, after all.
so, growing up, my siblings and i had a very unusual mother. actually, we still do! back in the 70s, gloria steinem came out with a really groovy magazine. it’s arrival in our mailbox coincided with my mom, with five country kids all doing our time in elementary school, deciding to go to college. now, she’s got one of those worlds worst childhood stories that i’ll save for another time. note to anyone: make sure you pack your sense of humor and you can endure anything. so, she’s off taking a course or two, we all chip in to make it work: do more chores, learn how to cook, take care of the dogs, feed the horses, take shifts on the john deere to cut the five acres…whatever! it only seemed fair, right?
so, the few courses turned into two degrees and a masters in anthropology. in her 50s. oh, and also some overnight sketchy study sessions with fellow archaeology students. when confronted with pot smoking classmates who’d ‘sit in the corner weeping’, my mom decided to stick with her martinis.
the kids are all older…college and grad school, gathering to pose for pictures with our mom in a cap and gown, poised to launch herself into her very own adventure. this involved digs. lots of digs. it also involved trying to load the groceries into the back of the bmw with my sister, only to find a couple of full skeletons tucked inside. i mean, come on!
i remember a few times, when i was younger, wishing i had a ‘normal’ mom. the kinds my friends had. waiting eagerly at the door for any sign of us, offering us freshly baked brownies or oooing and aaahing at hair care products or make up. but, let me tell you, those moments were fleeting and instead of the norm, the safe, i pretty soon figured out that what we were watching was the evolution of an incredibly brave, adventurous, deeply faceted woman.
as her children set off to first apartments, city life, careers, my mom set off for annual stints in turkey…digging around, drinking martinis, killing tarantulas, one of the earliest uses of testing old blood scrapings for dna…oh, and buying us lots and lots of really cool kilims & magic carpets. at cocktail parties, my dad would be told by some of their local pals, “you’re so nice to let andree go to college and then go off on these digs.” he, who at that point in life learned how to cook, looked right at them and said that, he learned a long time ago, “if andree is happy, we’re all happy.” so there!
from within my little piece of earth, i haven’t wandered so far, but i have given my kids a taste of what it’s like to not have a ‘normal’ mom. just ask them. but here’s my pickle. and it goes back to so many of those moments, as a parent, when i try to see my kids for how they really are, for what really fires their passions and drives them into joy. the cliché: follow your heart. listen to your gut. the cautionary tale: every step you take in one direction will lead you over….there. so, before you step, make sure it’s where you want to end up.
this might sound like i’m griping. i’m not. i love my life. i just thought that, again, just yesterday in a particularly wonderful moment. but…and there’s always one of those, right? or at least, there always should be….i’m just stuck on the truth that, here, in life, there are just so many choices. how, and why, would you pick just one?
constantinople. abyssinia. mauritania. morocco. mozambique. bombay. luxor. tipperary. the river dee. the river kwai. don’t cry for me argentina.
i’m a big fat history groupie. i see the layers in our existence as clearly as they were forms moving in front of me, solid, substantial. i have surrounded myself with a cultural mix of flavors as i hang out in my cool life in my cool house with my cool people. right now i’m listening to some indian woman sing plaintively in bollywood fashion. the other night i watched my kids wrap wontons & dumplings. then watched audrey tatou carry on some demented deeds all the while filling the air with her lovely french dialogue. swimming in cultures, surrounding myself with everything else that’s out there. just passing my time, living in one place, but longing for everywhere else.
this isn’t what i pictured, it’s not how i thought my life would look like.
when i graduated from college back in ’82, there was this little problem. i couldn’t get a job. oh, i could get a job, like flipping burgers or running a printing press (which i did do…). but i couldn’t get my dream job. any of them. advertising, communications, radio, publishing: nobody wanted me. ouch.
to pass the time, when not running a vintage heidelberg printing press, i took a course at the oriental institute at the university of chicago learning hieroglyphs…loving the trifecta of language, illustration & history. at about this time, i learned about an opening at the chicago house in cairo. they needed an artist. as in, sit around under tents and draw rocks, bones, pottery, and more rocks. i could already hear the sounds of that cluttered, ghostly place: talk about a cacophony. i could feel the hot sun soaking into me, taste the flavors and colors of spices. on fire, on an adventure, onto the unknown.
gee, i wonder how i even got this idea, right?
at about the same time, i started getting nervous. friends had launched their careers, settled into their very cool apartments, bought cars…just, i guess, ‘started’ their lives. now, here i see, so clearly, the pull between convention and not. traditionally safe, responsible, and taking a risk. it’s funny, i seem to take a risk every single day that i’m alive. but from this lens, looking back, something pulled me far, far away, and something else, apparently, stronger…kept me right where i was.
so, i started my graduate degree, first stop: the school of the art institute.
yes, i got my grown up career, some super fab apartments, the single in your twenties experience that is just wild and dazzling. and the line formed accordingly: husband, children, house in the suburbs (though, thankfully, not in a subdivision)…oh, plot twist: add a divorce, some shifting around in households, bury a few pets, build a business, build a house, watch those crazy kids get older and cooler by the day. isn’t it a lovely ride, and wow, how’d i get here so fast? and more importantly, my full-time shift is ebbing, it’s narrowing down, it’s that final stretch, around the bend, nearly across the line. and then….
and then, turn up one morning, strong coffee and piping horns staccato guitar plaintive violin thrumming drums pounding through my headphones. and all i can think of is this: why can’t i have both? there’s more than enough time to layer another life right on top of this one, isn’t there?
wander, my gypsy wagon is waiting, waiting still.