My sister Liesel told me ahead of time that when I landed in Arizona I was going to feel like I was on a different planet, and she was right. In Maine right now we are just barely leaving winter behind; our trees are still barren and brown. Ive been cold for seven months but as soon as I stepped off the plane and walked onto the tarmac, I was warm to the core. The air smelled like honeysuckle and sunshine even though it was evening, and the curving road that led us out of the airport was lined with palm trees. We drove 20 minutes to the resort and bam, just like that, I was sitting with my sister, barefoot by the pool next to a cactus garden with a mojito in my hand.
Sometime last year, Liesel and I decided it was time to initiate a mid-year sisters retreat, that the once-a-year visits during the summer just werent enough. She lives in Utah and I live in Maine, so as we were staring at the US map trying to figure out where to meet halfway, we thought: Kansas? Missouri? Kentucky? And no offense to Kansas, Missouri or Kentucky, we wanted some place warm and a little bit exotic. We chose Scottsdale, Arizona, which is definitely closer to Utah, but I was totally game to make the trek west, into the sunshine and into the loving arms of my big sister.
During our two days in Arizona (which is not enough, but all we had), we talked and talked like it was our job. When we are usually limited to 10 minute phone conversations while my kids are pulling on me, or her kids are waiting to go to soccer practice and dinner is simmering on the stove, two days of uninterrupted sister time (in the sun! surrounded by wild flowers!) was a welcome change. We caught up on all the regular stuff, what the kids and our husbands are up to, the stresses and joys of work, and updates on friends. And then we got to wander through all of the other stuff, the funny anecdotes that you never have time for on the phone, the good books we have read, the observations we can make about ourselves as working mothers. We know we are both missing out on a lot because we accidentally put down roots in places that happen to be 3000 miles apart. But we made up some ground in Arizona.
Some conclusions we got to by the side of the pool, in brief: our kids are changing in both predictable and totally surprising ways, we can learn things about ourselves as we watch our children grow up and other relatives age, we both worry like our mom does, and we are both blessed beyond measure.
I am an anxious traveler but I dont want to be. So whenever I travel, I create more internal conflict by judging myself for struggling with things that I so wish could be easy. I dont mind the actual state of flying; I watch out the window as much as I can, and I love the feeling of being suspended between two places. But I just dont like being in a closed space with no exit, and airports with all of the security measures and lack of fresh air just make me nervous. But most of all, I am just anxious about getting anxious. My heart races and my palms sweat. Travel takes a toll on me.
I want to be this carefree woman who just flies over here and flies over there and doesnt think twice about it. I am not. But heres the rub: I used to be. I keep thinking I can get back to being that person, and therein lies the struggle. Maybe I know too much, or love too deeply, or care too much about the life I’ve created and I have become more sensitive with age. Maybe becoming a parent has changed me inexorably, made me more vulnerable in the world. I dont know. But despite the fact that traveling has gotten more challenging for me as I’ve gotten older, I still wont stay home. I will go anyway, and white-knuckle my way around the world because I dont want to give in to the alluring pull of home/ the kids/ Tim, a comfort zone that is more comfortable than ever. Traveling reminds me of the quote I posted when I was about to do my first half-iron triathlon: I cant do this, but Im doing it anyway. With anxiety, it is tempting to want to just stay home, live a small life, where everything is safe and predictable, but I resist. There are too many places to see, and too many people whom I love that don’t live in Maine.
On the second day of the Arizona trip, Liesel and I drove to the Desert Botanical Gardens outside of Scottsdale. What a different land. The sun was high and hot by 9 am, the desert sand was dusty on my sandals, and there were way more species of cacti than I had ever imagined. I find the desert beautiful in a slightly haunting way; the earth is so dry and the vegetation so prickly, but the sky was a deep blue and the flowers smelled sweet. When I go west now, after living in New England longer than Ive lived anywhere else (16 years), I realize what a New Englander I truly am. I prefer a lake, an old-growth forest, and a crumbling stone wall marking old foundations in the woods to any other landscape feature. Its fun to walk around and point at a cartoon-looking cactus and desert bird, but at the end of the day, I find myself thinking about the cool breezes and damp earth of home.
But not so fast. Liesel and I had more to discuss, more drinks to order, and some incredible Mexican food to eat (oh my God, the pork belly tacos with cola and lime; and the spicy Mexican street corn; and roasted butternut squash tacos with spicy black bean sofrito, poblano, pickled jalapeño & cotija; and the skewered chicken in mole with sesame, peanut, cocoa & pepitas) at The Mission (voted best Chef in Arizona). We sat in the sun, each read an entire book, alternating between sun, shade, and pool. We ordered drinks from the very attentive wait staff. We ate chips and guacamole in lounge chairs. We exercised not at all.
For people who dont know my sister, I describe her as an older, wiser and much more relaxed version of me. I soaked up as much of her good vibes as I could at the airport before we parted ways for our separate gates and each flew home. She flew north, I flew east. We both returned home to our loving husbands and children, and our piles of responsibility, and unfortunately, to some late spring snow storms that didnt help showcase our suntans.
I am so thankful: for comfort zones, sunshine, window seats, and the greatest sister in the world.