“Beyond my wildest dreams” really did happen to me, in this lifetime. I could never have imagined the multiple ways a trip to Italy with my adult daughter could break my heart open even wider than it already had been in our relationship.
We were celebrating her college graduation. The destination, southern Italy. Her pick. We were together in the magnificent mozzarella, eggplant caponata, and arancino regions for nine nights, ten days—or to be exact, 240 glorious hours, said the mama who savored every second.
The magic that happened for both of us, at its core, had nothing to do with Italy, although the landscapes, quaint villages, sea vistas, sweet locals, and mouth-watering fresh, farm-to-table food seemed to bathe everything in a wash of gold. Ok, actually maybe gold glitter. The real magic, however, had to do with the way time stopped and our connection deepened in rich, dynamic, and unexpected ways.
Each of us got to experience ourselves, and each other, in different lights. It is for exactly this reason that in the future, when my coaching clients ask for thoughts or ideas on how to create a really good life, my list will include a recommendation for regular one-on-one travel time with adult children. To spot-light the key elements of this experience, I’ll share a few insights.
Shedding Old Roles and Ways of Being
Experiencing your loved one in a new place creates spaciousness for special types of interactions, as well as unique ways of experiencing one’s self. Routines and familiarity of ways of existing and connecting, for better or worse, get thrown out the window when one crosses time zones and many miles. Both my daughter and myself had the joy of witnessing each other in fun, distinctly unusual ways, amid foreign lands. Simply stated, yet powerfully felt.
In other words, we had a blast! And this blast was enhanced because of the novelty of place. We had no known template for our relationship as a twosome in Italy. We invented it, and lived creatively into it, moment-by-moment. Each day brought diverse experiences, and with such came an exhilarating, spontaneous sense of expansiveness in our ways of relating. My heart felt waves of appreciation for the special ways I came to know my daughter, and her me, through our adventure. A travel opportunity allowed us to be adult equals embracing each other and the exquisiteness of Italy in profoundly powerful and out-of-the-ordinary fashion.
The backdrop of a new country, coupled with my not having to be in mama-mode in any capacity—instead just a curious traveler—left the door wide open for fresh perspectives on our mother-daughter relationship. How wonderful it was for us to simply BE in the experience of each moment, and of each other, with no expectations other than to revel in the wonders of the sights, sounds, and tastes in front of us. And to do this together! Together is a key concept here. Side-by-side. Out of our typical mother-daughter roles.
Take for example the cold, chilly grey morning we found ourselves in a tiny, five generations- owned gelato shop. Not only did we fall in love with a sweet elderly shop owner with sparkling kind eyes (who I’m sure was channeling care, love, and good-will from my recently deceased father), but we also took him up on his offer to give us free shots of sambuca—the yummy Italian liquor that tastes like licorice. Heck, who needs gelato when you can toast with sambuca at 10am in the morning! Our hearts and spirits were warmed to the core. A shared memory for the books. Novelty for sure.
How different this was from typical daily life, where we might, for instance, chat over the phone about the goings-on of our daily life. Hers centered around work, friends, and college life in Detroit. Mine focused on work, marriage, and activities in Ann Arbor. We frequently share and report back on what we’ve been into and up to. Yet being able to be together traveling, amid the charm and lure of Italy, with no obligations, schedules, or day-to-day demands, brought out a bit of the wild ’n crazy in both of us. Every day was packed with amazing sight-seeing experiences. The wonder of it all seemed to enhance the simple joy we experienced in each other. This reality, and the magnificent freedom it offered, packed a powerful punch. We completely blissed out on it, feeling the blessings of a deepening connection around every turn of the that awe-inspiring Amalfi Coast.
New Paradigms & Appreciations
Stepping out of our typical mother-daughter routines brought new paradigms into play. We weren’t pushed by time constraints. We could actually stroll down the cobblestone streets and delight in slow, thoughtful conversations or mad dashes to check out compelling shops or outdoor bistros (our three pairs of gorgeous Italian leather shoes gives testimony to such delicious impulses). Another perk was getting to share focused quality time over glasses of red wine or aperol spritzes. Together we reveled in the beauty and sensualness of a country ripe with olives, incredible marble statues, ancient churches, mosaics, brilliant seas, fuchsia flowers, and oh, those cappuccinos. Add to this silly, crack-each-other up moments, when laughing, we would find ourselves running to photograph the exact same shot of some very obscure treasure. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Another highlight of traveling with my daughter was getting to watch interesting interactions she had with the other members of our tour group. The group was beautifully diverse in culture, ages, and temperaments. I marveled at my daughter’s ease of relating and the brilliant ways she wove together threads of contact and engagement with our fellow travelers. Equally, I savored the compliments I heard, more times than I could count, about her personality and spirit.
Privately, I noted the ways she had clearly grown into her center. She brought well-developed character strengths of vibrancy, compassion, and playfulness along with her on the trip. She showed up for relationships as a confident, curious, open soul, always up for creative give-and-take in communication. I also got to observe how she competently navigated several challenging travel moments with an ever-steady, calm state. Observing this left me reassured she could successfully travel internationally alone or with company at any time in her future. And keep in mind, half of the pleasure for me in watching her roll in such a fashion came from exactly that—getting to watch! Traveling, unencumbered by day-to-day responsibilities or worries, offered me the opportunity to simply sit back and witness her growth.
In a similar way, my daughter got to observe me mingling, chatting, and simply being full-out me with our travel companions, as well as the many incredible Italian people we encountered. She saw multiple sides of her mama that don’t normal show up at the table. At one point, she shared how refreshing it was seeing me “so independent” and as a “travel companion” rather than just “Mom.” She commented on how cool it was that not only had I worked hard all year to save money for our trip, but then how important it was to witness me “live it all out with abandon”—referring to my completely carefree and spontaneous spirit. She noted the freedom I gave myself as I ate whatever I pleased, drank as I wished, explored with a passion, and indulged on purchasing Italian treasures as so inspired! Indeed, I believe I grew in her eyes by a few dimensions, and with a fresh appreciation. Hopefully I demonstrated a few insights into living well.
Clearly, the best souvenirs we brought home with us were, by far, our memories. They are spectacular. They are memories that strengthened our bond and broadened our horizons. These treasures will not only last a lifetime, but are already carrying us into excitement about the next trip. I’m full-on committed to making travel experiences with my daughter, at least once yearly, part of our shared reality. Because what’s not to love about doing so? Can’t wait to see where the next plane ride will take us!
This article was also published in The Brick Magazine