“I’m going to Alaska and you should come with me,” I told my Mom.
She was a good sport, so she said, “all right.”
“You’re going to kill each other,” my sister offered.
Possibly. I was in the middle of my know-it-all-phase, but we went anyway. Though I hadn’t planned for it, it was a fantastic bonding trip with my Mom. She has since passed away and memories from this trip are some of the most treasured I have.
Into the Great Beyond of Alaska
Alaska is a great place for this. Its vast openness and domineering mountain ranges set the stage for humility. Without the conveniences of our modern world you realize how small and insignificant you can be. Out in the open and stripped of your lodgings and pre-prepared foods, your entire existence is focused on basic necessities. Any comfort feels like a blessing.
Alaska’s remoteness makes you realize that life can be very different than the one you’re living. When you are in Alaska’s theater, it undresses you and leaves you susceptible to feeling something new.
It was 2004 and I decided to run my first half marathon in Alaska. Looking back, this was about the time that my mother’s health started its slow decline. I didn’t know that then. It is the last time that I remember her looking healthy.
At least that’s how I remember it. My photos from that trip have vanished, but every once in a while I comb my hard drives for these photos. They’re so precious to me I’m convinced they couldn’t have disappeared. As if their being gone forever means so the memories will be too.
In It Together
Nonetheless, I remember how she helped to prepare me for the race. Even before we left, she helped raise money for the race’s dedicated cause (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). We rented bicycles to preview the course beforehand. She patiently attended the pre-race pasta dinner, though she didn’t know anyone. While I was running, she made friends with many other spectators who cheered me on to the finish. I felt like a rockstar.
When the race was over, we started sightseeing. We laughed like little girls when the bleachers we sat in erupted in back and forth jerks in a cheesy demonstration of the epic 1964 earthquake in Anchorage.
Hours on the road melted away while Mom shared intimate details about her dreams as a young girl. She told me how she had seen the military as a way to get out and experience life. Yet the military didn’t feel accessible to her because she was a girl. In her rural school she was taught to make banana bread, leaving her with the expectation that girls belong at home. No one showed her a path to do anything else.
With that discussion I realized why her hopes for me were so high.
What trip is complete with at least one mishap? She sighed and said, “It’ll be fine,” and stroked my back in the soothing gesture that only she could do. I realized I had made a grave mistake – our redeye flight was leaving from Anchorage in an hour while we were 4 hours away in Denali. Anyone else ever screwed up dates for a redeye?
Normally, her response to one of my mistakes was her characteristic open-mouthed cackle. But she didn’t do that this time. It is from this that I recognize one of the greatest things about her: a drive to give selflessly to people she loves, putting their desires above her own, especially in life’s grievous moments. Teaching by example.
Sharing in Accomplishments
I went on a trip with my mom. True, but we also accomplished something together and that is the key to the experience. Accomplishment will give you some positive psychology, and sometimes we need that when dealing with our parents!
We went on a trip with a purpose – the half-marathon. Having her support before/after the race and seeing her cheering for me at the finish was a MasterCard moment. It was a big goal for me, and we did it together. Everything else that happened on our trip was a beautiful once-in-a-lifetime bonus.
How to Take a Trip of Your Own
I believe everyone should do this with their parents (or grown children). Find something that is mutually interesting, and get out there and do something together! It will be something you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. Need some more ideas? Try these:
- Family History trip or reunion – Retrace a place or event in your family history. Check out this father/son who took a trip to Normandy to relive the father’s WWII experience
- Fishing Trip – But don’t just go out on the water together, host a family dinner with the fish that you caught (or tried to catch)!
- Craft getaway – Make a quilt or learn to knit. I once spent spring break knitting with my mom, and I still have the potholders that we made 15 years ago! Yes, I was a party animal.
- Athletic trips – They’re not for everyone, but consider canoeing the Boundary Waters in Minnesota or biking on the Pacific Coast. Check out this father/daughter pair who cycled the entire coast together! If you need a bit more structure, check out the guided tours from Adventure Cycle.
- Education trip -Learn how to make the perfect homemade pizza, pasta, or wine. Don’t forget to throw a homemade pizza party when you return.
- Volunteering – Try trail conservation or habitat restoration volunteering. Or find something that speaks to you at Grassroots Volunteering, a database of independent volunteer opportunities all over the world.
- Your parent doesn’t travel? Complete an errand together, but try to get them away overnight and leave some time for leisure. Build a deck, moving, garage-sale, cleaning out a relative’s house are some examples of this.
I want to hear from you! Have you ever had a bonding experience that was unplanned? What other mom/dad trip ideas to do you have? Please share in the comments!