Joco Opinion

Susan Vollenweider | I retired, for a while anyway

“You should go for two weeks, make the trip worthwhile,” Brian told me.

“Two weeks? Alone? That seems long to be away,” I debated. “Over Thanksgiving? It seems…wrong.”

When I was packing my suitcases for the trip to visit my parents, I turned to the kids. “Never live far away from me. It’s too hard. It hurts too much.”

They nodded with a look that said, “I see that this is important to you, Mom, but I really don’t get it.”

I understand that look. I gave it to my own parents when I moved out of my home state. I always imagined I would go, have an adventure and come back home.

But I redefined “home.” Now I visit my birthed-into family. For two weeks over Thanksgiving I left my family to be with my family. What a peculiar paradox.

The trip had elements of a dark comedy as my flights raced a massive winter storm across the country:

Mom travels alone with mixed emotions and awkward liberation. She clumsily navigates flight delays, missed connections and a high-speed, cross-airport dash with her new traveling companion, a beautiful and mysterious woman she nicknames The Russian. An hour later they wave good-bye in a rush of holiday travelers — never to cross paths again.

Plot twist! The transition flight from mother to daughter, from the Midwest to New England, was not foreshadowing a hectic, fast-paced visit.

Instead I retired for two weeks.

My own retirement is a long list of parenting milestones and career accomplishments ahead of me. But my parents? They retired years ago, realized the golden dream of living on a boat and have advanced to Retirement Phase Two: Settled into an Over 55 community.

I plunked my not-close-to retirement self into their lives and a weird thing happened: Like any traveler who lives in a foreign land, I adapted to the lifestyle of the indigenous people.

It took a couple days to shed my normal rise/activity/bed schedule, but when I realized that the people of this land nap most days and have earned a slow-paced lifestyle, my conversion began.

• Mom and I happily spent a full morning on a multi-store quest for a specific name brand pain reliever and a reusable water bottle that met exacting criteria ( “32 ounces, stable base, not too clunky, none of that chemical in plastic that’s bad for you…”).

• I started groaning every time I stood up, although nothing hurt — sympathy groans.

• Mom arranged several lunches with her friends. Want to hear a funny conversation? Ask four long-time friends the exact name and location of the restaurant they meet at on a regular basis. Then try to enter, “Chinese buffet in Torrington that may or may not have ‘Chinese’ or ‘Super’ in the name on route 202 or 203,” into your GPS.

• My normal order of conversation topics switched to talk of the past, the present and, finally, the future.

• Dinner was a big deal every night. What to eat and who was cooking it differed, but dining and cleaning up was similar to dinners with my brood back home…

My brood back home.

I was very grateful for the opportunity to participate in the lives of the people who taught, modeled, encouraged and supported me all my life, but I had to get back to do that for my own children.

I had to leave my family to get back to my family; I had to leave my home to get back to my home. It was hard and hurt, but the entire trip went far beyond worthwhile.