What will the kids think?!

When I told our son we were considering roaming in retirement, his response was “Cool,” followed by lots of questions.  He seemed mildly concerned that we hadn’t thought this through (true), and he had some consternation about our selling a much-loved house that we’d customized to suit all our needs.

Our daughter, who lives in Europe, was excited and immediately offered to help me figure out how to start a blog.  She was not without some trepidation, though. As we discussed it more over the ensuing weeks, she struggled to make me understand her concerns.

“I’m excited for you and think this is a great idea,” she said.  I’m just concerned about you having a safe landing if you need to come home.”  I immediately reassured her about our plans to remain fiscally sound, but I’d missed the mark.  “No, I understand you’re ok financially–I just worry about you,” she explained.  “If something happened I’d want you to be able to get home safely and to have a secure place to stay.”

We went on to discuss things like travel insurance (which will likely be a major monthly expense), our ability to buy another house later if we sold ours, and other “safe landing” plans.  She seemed satisfied, but our conversation highlighted for me an interesting dynamic with our family: role reversal.

For most of their lives, our children have relied upon us–for pretty much everything when they were very young, then for education, guidance, and financial assistance as they entered adulthood. Today they are fully independent, flourishing in their careers, and happily partnered. The interesting, and for me a bit strange, part of this is that we now rely on them, perhaps more than they rely on us! Our son, who lives nearby, comes over regularly to help with household chores that Phil can’t do alone (especially those involving ladders or heavy lifting). He is also our personal help desk for all matters technological, and when we won’t do it ourselves he buys us safety- enhancing things like video doorbells.  Our daughter hosts Phil’s art website and this blog, and she has become a source of sage advice on topics ranging from travel to big decisions to interpersonal issues.

What’s weird is that this echoes our experience with our own parents.  As they aged, they increasingly depended on their children (especially our siblings who lived next door, while we were many states away).  Over the years we stopped relying on our parents for support and advice and started providing more to them.  We became sounding boards for their problems instead of the reverse.  They also gradually became more inwardly focused, showing less curiosity about our lives.  They also began to echo our grandparents– I remember my parents ranting about the expired food in Grandma’s kitchen, but as they aged we began clearing out expired food in theirs.

In some ways, this role reversal with our own children is a somber reminder that we are getting older.  I never want to be so inwardly focused that we lose interest in our children’s lives, our friends and family, and events in the larger world. And yet we are proud and thrilled to have raised these wonderful adults who now nurture us in ways we never anticipated. I hope that roaming in retirement will help us stay independent, keep us interested in things other than ourselves, and cause us to rely on ourselves and each other, delaying the time when we become increasingly dependent on our kids!


How we caught the travel bug


By the summer of 1993, we were ready.  I’d saved up enough frequent flier miles for two round trip tickets to Paris, and we had spent years saving spare change to fund the rest of our trip.  I had finally overcome Phil’s objections to traveling abroad (generally) to France (specifically).  While he was still intimidated by language barriers and the rumors about the French being unfriendly to Americans, he was willing to give it a shot.  Having studied French in high school and college, I’d been a Francophile for years and was eager to have this adventure.

We would fly into Paris and spend a few days there, staying at Hotel Aviatic, a budget-friendly hotel originally serving pilots, then take the TGV high-speed train south to Dijon, where we’d booked a room in a 16th century castle complete with countess and moat!  From there we would drive our rental car to Avignon and stay in a 200-year-old farmhouse for a few nights, then back on the train to take in Bordeaux before returning to Paris for a final night.

Sandy pretending to be sophisticated on the high-speed train from Paris

For two unsophisticated travelers’ first trip abroad, it was perfect.  Sure, we got lost, had language barriers, and halfway through a late-night taxi ride to our Bordeaux hotel realized neither of us had enough francs to pay—but we were enraptured by the entire trip.  Walking the streets of Paris, seeing works my artist husband had only seen in books (I found him silently weeping in the Louvre, gazing at a Velasquez painting), having the meal of our lives at a family restaurant in a tiny Burgundy town, and making lifelong British friends at a dining table in Provence, had us hooked.


The Velasquez painting that induced tears

Here are three things we learned on that first trip:

  1. People are universally gracious if you approach them with respect and kindness. Best examples: we were sitting in our rental car in the Dijon train station parking lot, looking at a map and trying to figure out how to get to our B&B, when a beautiful Parisian couple I’d noticed on the train rapped on our window.  They could see we were struggling and spent the next 20 minutes explaining the route—using only my horrible French and her very limited English to communicate.  That taxi driver we stiffed in Bordeaux?  She came into the hotel with us, negotiated (bullied the desk clerk) for the hotel to loan us enough to pay her, and thanked us profusely!
  2. Traveling truly makes us better. We learn about other people, hone our EQ, become better problem solvers, and practice mindfulness (which wasn’t a thing in 1993) when we get out of our comfort zone and bring our open minds on the road.
  3. It’s all about the people. We met Diana and John at that Provencal dinner table.  The conversation was mostly in French, which left Phil out a bit, but they made sure to include him by translating and asking him questions in English.  John, a WWII hero and child psychoanalyst in his early 80s, and Diana, a Scottish mum of three grown sons who had qualified as a psychotherapist at age 60, were fascinating, especially John’s stories of being captured and sent to a German POW camp, making friends with a guard, and escaping to make his way through France back to London.  Years later, after John’s death, we took our 14-year-old daughter to London, where we stayed with Diana in her 4-story St. John’s Wood house.  It’s one of our most treasured memories.

Our friend Diana preparing a wonderful lamb dinner in her kitchen


Oh, and one other thing we learned that year:  travel requires courage, NOT fearlessness.