My mom hated Texas. I don’t blame her. She was pregnant with me when they drove across the country and apparently rest stops in Texas are just that — stops where you can rest. No bathrooms are no good when you’re pregnant. But knowing my mother and her quiet determination she complained little and looked for solutions instead. She was 28.
“You’ve been traveling since before you were born,” my dad told me smiling when I found out they’d driven through South Carolina too. I never knew I had “been” there until yesterday.
For various reasons I didn’t start traveling as much as I’d always dreamed I would until I was well into my 30s. By then the internet really was worldwide. And in my magic little device I had GPS, Google Maps, Whatsapp, Viber, Messenger, Skype, email, hangouts, iMessage, Google Translate and a currency converter app. One look at anyone’s home screen makes it clear that we’re never really alone unless we want to be.
For all the apps and connectivity I enjoy now, by the time my parents got to their new home in Germany my mom’s connectivity was a pen and snail mail. She would write her parents once a week in the gorgeous cursive I’d recognize anywhere. International phone calls were an expensive rarity.
It was the late 70s. It was still West Germany back then. My parents had married two years earlier and the Army sent them to Untermembach. But when the value of the dollar kept dropping against the Deutsche Mark the cost of housing and utilities kept going up. So they moved into post housing in Herzogenaurach. Both were, and still are, tiny towns in Bavaria. My mom had grown up in LA County and didn’t speak any German.
When I think about how many times I’ve heard people compliment each other’s bravery for traveling I think about my mom in our house in Germany. I think about her first year there, sitting at the table writing her parents. She was still technically a newlywed. She had a newborn and no friends yet. They had no one to talk to yet. The few TV stations were obviously in German so she didn’t even hear her own language, let alone get to share anyone’s company in it while my dad worked long hours and sometimes got sent to other Army bases. And they realized that, of course, everyone’s pets speak German too. They still laugh about the dog downstairs that looked at them cockeyed when they would greet him in English. It took them a bit before they realized he didn’t “speak” their language.
Isolation can be overwhelming. That’s why I think of my mom when I hear the word “brave”. You have to be incredibly strong and resilient to brave a new country in a language you don’t speak while you’re pregnant for the first time.
When they moved to Herzo they met other American military families. My sister came along two years after me and I like to imagine the community my parents came to enjoy. I grew up hearing the names of their friends that I was too young to remember. But I can’t quantify how much I admire my mom for that first year before the friends came. Before they got settled in their new life and everything was different from anything she’d known.
When I travel I get to video chat with my friends, my parents, and my little niece and nephew. My sister and I watch TV “together” while video chatting. I have Airbnb and Yelp and Trip Advisor and a weather app. I can access any information I need — subway maps and metro routes, museum hours, ticket prices and vegetarian restaurants within walking distance. Traveling the world requires a lot less bravery for me than it did for my mom.
I celebrate the German-Irish California girl who married a drummer called “Corporal” and moved across the world with him. They started their family in a foreign country. She navigated their daily lives and responsibilities in a foreign language. And their international adventures instilled an inherent love of language and travel in me and my sister. Consequently, I internalized an unspoken life lesson: you grow up, fall in love, and travel the world. That’s just what grownups do.
I stand in humble awe and I am grateful. Well done, Mom. Well done.