Happy Tuesday, and here is today’s Daily Dose. We will continue our story, “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” tomorrow.
Until then, I have a story for you, and it’s about finding sun. I’ve thought a lot about the Daily Dose I wrote last Thursday, and all the lovely reactions you had, and I thought….well…the truth is….there is kind of a part two to this story. Or at least I didn’t really explain how it started.
Like most people, I watch some Oprah, I occasionally read some self help-ish/meditation-y kind of stuff, I pray a little, I quasi-jokingly search for the meaning of life. All of this falls under the exact same category that making a home made birthday cake vs. a store bought cake falls under, which is: I’ll try to do it if I have time.
Usually I am (as most parents are) caught up in the day-to-day job of trying to make it through to the next day without missing any major event. I’m in “survive today” mode, so I don’t have time to give a hoot about next week, let alone next year.
Lately I find that I am spending more time thinking big picture. Asking if we are happy. Asking if our ship is sailing in the right direction. Big questions. Change–or even the idea of change is scary.
It reminded me of a story.
Let’s jump back in time to late May of 1996, when Rob and I went to Europe on our honeymoon.
Before you think this is going to be some goopy romantic story, you should know that Rob and I were married in January of 1995 and postponed our honeymoon for a year and a half (I do not advise this). He was out on the Phantom of the Opera tour and I was in and out of the Broadway company of Les Miserables, eventually landing on the National tour for an extended period of time. So, not only did we not go on a honeymoon right away, but we basically got married, shook hands and said, “I’ll see you in a year and a half for our honeymoon” and took off in opposite directions. That is a bit of an exaggeration–we worked really hard to see each other on a regular basis–but we were just as married to our careers as we were to each other at the time. I hope all the twenty somethings are nodding in understanding. It’s what you do at that time in your life–you get work, make money and build, build, build your resume. Rob and I were just lucky enough to squeeze a wedding in there, too.
Over that year and a half we spent a lot of time planning our honeymoon. It became really important, as you can imagine. The nice thing is we were both working, we had some money, and it was my first time to go to Europe. We bought a lot of guide books (this was pre-Internet), and spent many nights on the phone planning where we wanted to go. Paris? Check. Austria? Check. Germany? Check. Switzerland? Check.
Let me pause and say that Rob, as you may or may not know, has a total obsession with maps. It’s an illness. I give him maps as gifts. Merry Christmas, here’s an atlas. Fun fact– here’s a great party game. Ask Rob what combination of highways you’d need to take to get from one major city to another. Example, “Hey Rob, how would I get from New York to Phoenix?” He could get you there and probably give you an option of a southern or northern route also explain the high and low points of each trip. I mean, he’s handy. Like a GPS in a spouse.
Anyhoo, part of the decision we made (because I am married to a man who has maps for brains), is that we would rent a car in Paris and drive all of our trip. Which is a really crazy idea unless you are married to Rob. We met in Cincinnati and hopped a flight to Paris. Paris was great and neat and cool and we were jet lagged and all those things. The baguettes were great. We drank a lot of coffee. These are things you hear about when people go to Europe. We’d planned to do all the cool things. What we didn’t plan for was the rain and the cold.
Just freezing and sheets of rain.
It was the last week of May and the first week of June, and we–expecting early summer–had packed a sweater and a couple of pairs of long pants. We froze. We wore all of our clothes at once. We left Paris and headed to Germany. Freezing. The best night was the one hotel that had down comforters. I didn’t ever want to leave. But we did and we headed to Salzburg where it POURED. One low point was driving around with laundry we’d done in the sink, trying to dry our clothes with the car heater turned to full blast and socks draped around the car.
By this point Rob and I were barely speaking. If he looked at one more map I was going to bash him in the head with
it. If I complained about being cold one more time–or complained about anything for that matter– he was going to leave me by the side of the road. Take a year and a half apart, mix it with jet lag, language barriers and totally crap weather, and it all adds up to two honeymooners in very foul moods. Even so, we marched along and did the itinerary we’d planned because we’d planned it. Because it was our honeymoon. Because we had no choice but to pray that Switzerland would be better.
Got to Switzerland. Torrential rain. The famous Alps, which we’d planned to hike (Rob had special hiking topo maps) weren’t visible at all under the heavy cloud cover. We paid way to much for a hotel room with bad beds from the 1970’s, and when we woke up to still more rain, we made a decision.
Let’s get in the car and drive in any direction until we find sun.
Suddenly we had a plan. We were like kids in a candy shop. We poured over the maps (and by “we” I mean Rob) and chose south because (of course) if you are looking for sun it seems smart to head closer to the equator. As an added bonus, south was Italy which was on the schedule, but only for a couple of days and not until the end of the trip. Screw the schedule, we’re heading to Italy. And if it is raining in Italy, we’ll head to Greece. And if it’s raining in Greece we’ll head to….whatever is south of Greece. We were giddy.
We had a new plan. Even the idea of a new plan was invigorating. The plan was a simple as, “Let’s drive to sun.”
But the trip was complicated. Getting from Switzerland to Italy by car was a navigational challenge even for maps-for-brains Meffe. I did a lot of the driving because Rob’s head was buried in a map for most of the day, reading out street names that were longer than our car, names with all consonants like Hstfrabtekedslphyedsbxczczcmwqphre Strasse.
We had to go over a pass that I forget the name of and tried to Google all day to no avail. Proving my point, Rob just walked in from work and I said, “What’s the name of that pass we had to cross from Switzerla–” and before I could even finish the sentence he said, “Grimsel” without missing a beat. Maps for brains Meffe. I am not exaggerating.
So the pass we wanted to take–which is really the only decent route from
Switzerland to Italy–involves driving miles and miles on roads that look like a chase scene from a Hitchcock film. Hairpin turns. Beautiful, I’m sure, if it is not 100% cloud cover and pouring down rain. As we neared the top of the mountain it started to snow. For real. Snow. We kept going up and up in a car that was the size of a tin can, trusting that it was Memorial Day weekend in the States and there was no way it was really snowing on us while our families were enjoying a BBQ by a pool. Up we went. Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, a bearded man in an neon orange snow patrol snow suit appeared in the road ahead of us, waving us down, motioning for us to turn around while screaming words in a language we couldn’t understand. But there was no doubt about what he was saying–the pass we needed was impassable due to snow.
No fricking way.
Here we were, heading for sun, and we’d ended up at the top of a mountain in snow. I can’t tell you how upset we were. But, unless we wanted to build an igloo to pout in, we had to turn around and make a new plan.
Maps for brains emerged from the folds of his Swiss/Italy map a few minutes later (as I white knuckled my way down the slippery mountain) and said we needed the St. Goddard tunnel. It was way out of our way, added hours to the trip, but the only way through. Okay. That’s the new plan. Letting everything else go.
We drove and drove, speaking little and finally got in line for the tunnel and customs. It was still raining. Things were bleak. We showed our passports and headed into the mountain. Destination Italy was moments ahead.
As the car came to the end of the tunnel, we were blinded by light. By the time we were through, I needed my sunglasses and we were cheering with joy. Sure enough (and I am NOT making this up) we entered Italy and found blazing, glorious, yellow sun. We rolled down the windows and howled with laughter. Unbelievable! We did it!
We drove a few miles and decided we were too excited to stay in the car with all the beautiful sun outside, so we
stopped in the first town in Italy and had a latte, stretching out on chairs in the town square and feeling the sun on our face. Six days in, we’d finally found our honeymoon. Rob whipped out a guidebook and we made a new plan, heading to the beautiful Lake Como and the aptly named town of Bellagio. Rob dusted off his college Italian and scored us a room with a view.
The tide had turned. We’d found our way to sun.
For the rest of our honeymoon we had beautiful weather and a lot of delicious Italian food. And yes, for Rob, even some hiking.
About a year ago, when things got to be really rough financially (I’d been unemployed for a year), I started to wonder if we hadn’t become to boxed in by parameters we’d created. Did we have to live in New York City? Was there a way to be happy without all the hard living that comes with this place? I wondered if there was an out of the box solution for our troubles. I talked to Rob and said, “We’re not happy. We aren’t. We’re slugging away in a city that is really hard and we’re losing the battle.”
Is this what we want? Are we clinging to a plan that doesn’t work anymore because we are afraid to toss out the old itinerary and make a new one?
That’s a terrifying thought, especially when you have two kids.
How do you know when it’s time to do something else? How do you figure out what that something else is?
I said to Rob, “No one is going to knock on our door and say hey–bozos–it’s time to jump ship. It’s a decision we have to make for ourselves.”
Now the truth is, it is a little harder to change your life and your career in your 40’s than it is to change your hotel plans in Europe. And another truth is, we still managed to have fun in Paris and Germany and Austria (but not really Switzerland) despite the el crappo weather. And yet another truth is (because this is life and not a movie script), there were ants in our Bellagio hotel room that I complained about and we both got a painful sunburned on a beautiful hike. But still, overall? The second part of our trip was a major, major improvement.
Look, nothing is perfect, but the idea is still there, the idea of seeking the happiest life you can have.
So there isn’t a pat answer or a reveal of what Rob and I are planning to do, or when we will do it. Right now we are open to the idea of change and looking around for a new route. And yes, we use the analogy of “looking for the sun” because at the end of the day, we seek joy above all else.
When I told Charlotte this story, I explained that Rob and I were thinking about packing the car and looking for the sun. Charlotte, ever astute, was concerned. “But the last time you did that Beatrix and I weren’t there!” I assured her we were all in this together, in a bigger car, looking for the sun. Life is the journey.
And hey, maybe Bellagio, Italy needs a musical theater program.
(For the next blogisode in this series, go here.)