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Paris was cooler, cloudier. We saw Notre Dame, Château de Vincennes, the Louvre, Versailles. We browsed in a fashionable clothing store my older son somehow knew about. My younger son took more pictures. We climbed l’Arc de Triomphe’s 284 steps. We ate escargots, cassoulet, pâté, lamb confit, countless pastries. We examined paintings and statues and gargoyles, stayed up late around the kitchen table discussing our experiences, debating politics and culture, showing each other YouTube videos we liked.
In a poetic way, I felt we were traveling back in time. When my sons were small, I quit a full-time job and freelanced part-time from home. We spent afternoons at playgrounds, beaches, sliding hills, apple orchards.
Those years with my kids were precious, but they cost me some financial security. I came to look at them as a long vacation I couldn’t really afford. Not the relaxing kind, with umbrella drinks by the pool — more like hacking through dense jungle, some days — but still, an expensive luxury.
When my sons became teenagers, those outings receded, fading in their memories. Now here we were, enacting a brief, improbable echo of those long-ago adventures, with tapas instead of Happy Meals. This one, they would remember.
On the plane home, the boys sat together. I was a couple of rows behind. I was absorbed in “Life of Pi” when my older son turned and caught my attention. Look out your window, he gestured.
I opened the shade and almost gasped. Everything below was white, not with clouds but snow. Clear to the horizon, maybe hundreds of miles: nothing but blowing, vacant snow. I put the movie on pause, unable to pull my gaze away as the plane crossed over this landscape, a part of the world I had never expected to see.
I can’t predict the future, which is why a sensible financial adviser might have discouraged me from shelling out for a trip to Europe. Money is for a rainy day, to replace a blown water heater, to ensure a comfortable old age.
But in the meantime, there’s the age I am now. The ages my sons will soon leave behind. Our lives are made up of what we do in the present, and of the memories we carry into that vast unknown landscape ahead.
So, foolishly or not, I risked some future security to enhance my own personal Trip of a Lifetime. I’m not talking about our 11-day visit to Europe. I mean the big trip, the one that takes you through childhood mistakes and ill-starred romances and unforeseeable crises … and, when all goes well and you grab the opportunities as they come, some wonderful experiences.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583