A week ago my husband and I left on a trip to Thousand Oaks, California to visit my youngest daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters. We always book the cheapest flight we can find on Southwest, so our flight was at 7 a.m. We left home in the dark, driving down the Northway in a snowstorm that was followed by sleet and then freezing rain as we drove south to the airport. California was looking pretty great about this time, even though it had been cool and rainy there during the past week.
We flew to Burbank instead of LAX, opting for the smallest airport with perhaps less invasive screening procedures. The baggage carousel was actually outside under a roof but open on the sides. The warm air surrounded us, and when we walked out to the pick-up area, the sun blinded us. I know that “blinded by the sun” is a cliche, but in this case it is the only way to describe the brightness that was everywhere. The sky was a robin’s egg blue, another cliche I guess, but so perfect a color! We were transported to another world after having spent months in upstate New York enduring a particularly harsh winter.
While in California, we accompanied my five-year-old granddaughter to school so we could see her teacher and her friends, watched her karate and gymnastics classes, and helped take care of her as she battled a stomach bug. We rode along to our eighteen-month-old granddaughter’s music and Gymboree classes and helped take care of her as she battled bronchitis and suffered through getting two more teeth. The weather was incredible every day and we loved it even when we were stuck inside with sick kids. We managed to work in a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium, definitely a great place to go, and had lunch in Malibu overlooking the ocean.
I feel like the California weather creates an entirely different way of life than the cold, snowy weather of New York. The looser, free-er flow of clothing in California made me want to throw out the fleece tops and knit pants I had worn all winter and go for a more relaxed look. The open, airy homes of California made me want to lessen the clutter of my house, tear down the draperies to let in more light, and cover all the dark surfaces of the wood door frames and cabinets with a pristine white paint. I wanted light. I wanted a feeling of freedom. I wanted warmth.
Our flight home arrived after midnight a week later. The cold air blasted us as we ran for the shuttle to take us to the short-term parking lot. At the airport, we didn’t see snow, but as we drove north, even in the darkness of night, we could see an increase in snowbanks along the sides of the road and finally in our front yard.
The great thing about vacations is that memories linger. I could no longer feel the warmth of the California sun, but I could still envision the sunrise over the mountains seen from the patio of my daughter’s house. I could still feel my granddaughters’ hugs and kisses and remember the two of them sitting on the beach playing in the sand. I could remember how their faces looked early in the morning and how their eyes drooped in sleepiness at night. I could remember the sound of my oldest granddaughter’s voice as she read a story to me, and how she cuddled up next to me as I read stories to her. I could remember my youngest granddaughter’s sweet voice as she said her favorite words of “ma-ma” and “uh-oh.” I remember the look of joy on the faces of my daughter and son-in-law as they watched their children play, pure love in their eyes.
Forty years ago I discovered that love and that joy myself when my first daughter was born and then again when my second daughter was born. Who knew love could be so powerful, so endless, so forgiving, so healing, so all encompassing? I am so grateful for the experience of being a mother even now when my children are grown because what sustains me today is the gratification in knowing that they still need me, that I can still be a mother who is loved in spite of the many mistakes I have made in the past and still make today. What we need to be as mothers is loving, not perfect.
The world is a terrifying place today to bring children into. It’s a difficult time to raise a child with violent wars, devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, economic uncertainty, and educational chaos. Still there is love. There is love for our children that overrides all the negatives. There is hope for the future in their laughter and their joy in playing with grains of sand and watching iridescent blue and orange fish serenely swim in their watery world. So while it’s painful to be separated from my daughters and my granddaughters, I am so lucky to have them, so lucky to be able to spend any time at all with them, so lucky, so lucky, so lucky.