What’s the expression, “We are our parents?” Well, not always, but the older we get, the more of our parents we tend to see in ourselves. In at least a small way, that’s what baby boomer Barbara Winard of Jersey City, New Jersey, is beginning to learn, as she sees her grown daughter doing what she once did.
I was a rebel back in the day, like many baby boomers. But when I lit out for other countries and continents, it wasn’t pure rebellion. It filled a spiritual and emotional need.
My folks certainly made it tough for me to travel. When they came to the airport with me for my first trip to Europe, my mother said, “If you’re not back in six months, you’ll never see me alive again and my death will be on your hands.”
My parents survived that trip I took, and many others. In fact, my mom— who said I’d be the death of her— lived to be 100 years old. Perhaps she lived longer because of me. She may have been curious to see what I would do and where I would go. Of course my mother, like most mothers, would often tell me that some day I would feel the same way when I had children of my own.
When I look back at it now, 50 years later— and with a 27-year-old daughter— I think my mother had reason to worry. In those days, there were not many young women in their 20s traveling alone. It was all unfamiliar to her, and Stone Age communications didn’t help. I remember calling home— collect— every Sunday at 10:00 a.m. (their time) and asking for myself, our money-saving signal that I was okay. When I wanted to say more, I sent postcards (which I still have, yellowing in large scrapbooks).
I needed to travel, even if it upset my family. My mom lost two children to polio before I was born, and she held on tight to me because she was never sure where her losses would end. But I needed to get some distance to overcome my own fears, one of which was that I would be called upon to fear the world along with her.
Solo travel was not easy then, nor is it now. There were times when I was ill, times when I was alone, times when I was too uncomfortable to be out on the streets by myself in some pretty shady places. And yet, nothing compared to the joyful feeling of accomplishment I had when I returned home.
I would happily have traveled with a friend, but no one I knew wanted to go where I did or how I did. I told my daughter years later that you can’t wait for someone to share your travels: either you go alone or not at all.
After graduating college, my daughter got a film job that required her to work in many different countries around the world. I told myself that she would be fine because she always traveled with a crew. When some of the places she traveled to ended up in the news because of bombings or state department warnings, I tried not to dwell on the dangers. That’s not to say that I don’t sit up at night tracking her flights, but I can see how she has blossomed from every trip, every new country, every opportunity to talk to people and to see for herself what the world is like. Travel changes people— it did me, I am sure.
So my mother was right: I did end up worrying about my kid. The difference is, I would never tell her to stay put because of me, nor do I want her to. I share her difficulties and setbacks, and I share her joys in what she discovers. I hope that travel gives her hope in the world and that she, too, is exhilarated every time she returns.