After divorce, my mum, in her early 50s, adopted a sod-it attitude and lived how she wanted.
She married my step-dad and together they took far-flung and frequent trips across the world. Major journeys to the US, Canada, China, New Zealand and Russia were interspersed with holidays to France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and the Greek Islands. She liked to have a break to look forward to and they never seemed to stop.
With only a small income, they found themselves in debt and sold their house to clear it. But the trips still happened. I was frequently exasperated by what I saw as unnecessary expenditure. Worried that her debt would one day be mine. What an irresponsible approach to long-term personal financial security!
I was wrong to judge her harshly.
Now in their seventies, they’ve just completed a term of bankruptcy. Without cash and with health complications (my step-dad has a tumour on his brain), their travels are restricted to coach trips across the UK.
I called mum to ask where they’d been in the world. She rattled off a list but then asked what the country was near China, ‘You know’, she prompted, ‘the one with the Dalai Lama’. ‘You mean Tibet?’, I said. ‘That’s the one!’ she replied. ‘You’ve been to Tibet?’, I asked again, floored by her going somewhere so exotic. ‘Yeah. Heck of a drive that one. Took three days.’
The price of their overspend amounted to property loss, no savings and no credit. But they get by.
I wish we valued experiences over monetary wealth. I wish we spent less money on stuff and more money on learning.
Mum and Ray are rolling-rich in experience and have lots to look forward to. She happily announced today that short-haul flights were possible again after the doctor’s say so. They’re off to Ireland in a month’s time.
On the day I spent with my mum in Devon, the last time I would see her before going away for a year to travel around the world with my family, I took her for a drive across Dartmoor and stopped at Haytor. I climbed the hill whilst she stayed in the car. I wondered what it feels like for a parent to watch their child go.
As we drove home across the moors, she said some things that I want to remember. That I repeated to myself as I cried in the car when I left her:
- Being happy is all there is
- Work to live
- Community is key
- You can explore again after this year
- Don’t look for the answers
I cried for her wisdom.
I cried over my stupidity in only just realising the foundations she’d given me. I cried because I’ve not given my mum all the credit she deserves – she took her chances and engineered change.
When getting back from a trip, she’d say how she wished her children could’ve experience the sights and sounds of the places that touched her heart. She’s so excited for our travels and wants to squeeze into one of our bags. She’ll be with me anyway. Everywhere.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted” – Albert Einstein
Before publishing this post, I asked mum if it was okay that I made her financial situation public on my blog. This is her reply:
My darling Ruth,
Not quite sure what to say after reading your blog and finding it difficult to put into words how I feel. Your words came straight from your heart and I am sure you feel better for getting it off your chest.
My parting words to you when we last met, I thought had fallen on stony ground and once more I felt I had let you down.
I have never really fathomed out what you wanted in life and what would make you happy. To read how you feel now is quite something.
Happiness and contentment comes in all shapes and forms and not all the time, so go on your wonderful trip around our wonderful world.
There is more good than bad around us; enjoy and soak up all the memories, experiences, love you all will make in a year.
If Ray and I hadn’t done our trips in the past, we certainly would not have been able to do our travelling now due to illness and ‘old age’. Our UK is still out there to be explored. It’s the best country in the world and so much to be seen.
Go ahead and post your blog. Perhaps it will inspire other daughters and sons to say how they feel about their parents before we can no longer be here for you.