I recently spent 4 hours in the Hamburg airport, while I awaited my connecting flight to Budapest.
During my late teens and 20s, I spent many hours passing through train stations and airports throughout Europe; back then, this would have been a normal few hours for me. Yet in the weeks leading up to my first solo trip in almost 18 years, I had been filled with anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, I have traveled extensively since my single days, but it has always been with either my husband or my children. And while I travel with them, I don’t get anxious—because frankly, there is so much to do with everyone else, that I rarely even think about myself.
So it was with extreme excitement but also, admittedly also with sheer terror, that I recently embarked on an 8-day work trip to Budapest and Belgrade as part of my work with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, passing through Hamburg, Germany, on the way.
Once, I would have jumped at this chance with no fear. At only 16, I boarded buses and planes alone in Israel, as I left teen tours to stay with family and fly home alone. During my junior and senior year of high school, I went on college visits all over the Midwest, sans parents. By 19, I started travelling Europe, meeting friends and family in different cities, often times connecting by myself. I went wherever and whenever I could and incredibly, I did it all without even having a cell phone, let alone a smartphone with internet access. I remember having to pay for 6-minutes of time to log in to check my email at a small café in Vienna!.
I know plenty of other mothers and fathers (including my own husband) who travel either for work or pleasure solo all the time. But one reason or another, for roughly the past 15 or so years, I have not been among their ranks. I have not even so much as taken the train to DC by myself. I have not boarded a plane alone. I have not checked into a hotel without someone with me. And as I sat the other night, at the Hamburg airport in the early hours of July 4th, I felt an intense mix of pride and fear at the same time.
It was odd at how familiar travel in Europe felt to me, yet I was acutely aware that I was no longer the young traveler I once had been.
I was, clearly equipped with more technology, I mean, I could get off the plane and order a car to the hotel with the same touch of the screen that I used 2 days earlier at home. I could get walking directions, find restaurant menus, and check the weather within seconds but in other ways, I felt less prepared than I had been all those years ago, armed with only a backpack and my trusty “Let’s Go” tour book. As I sat there, overwhelmed, I thought a great deal about how my mindset had so drastically changed in this past decade and half or so.
It’s easy to say that my newfound trepidation was because of the current state of the post 9/11 world that we live in. And certainly that plays a role it. It’s also clear that age just simply always plays a factor—as one grows older we tend to think things through more, so fears tend to naturally grow. But the most overpowering feeling for me came from the fact that I am now a mother. And for the past 11 and ½ years, that has become the role that has defined me. There are other pieces to me as a person, but above all else, I am a mother. And although I have yearned deeply all these years to return to Europe and travel, I could not take that mom piece out of me as I sat in the airport already exhausted and jetlagged from my travel.
I know all about the “mom wars.” Working moms vs stay at home moms; moms that go out all the time vs those that stick close to home; moms that hire babysitter after babysitter vs moms that never leave their children with anyone else but maybe a grandparent. I am not interested in debating all of that. I’m not interested in hearing that I have to pave my own path and have an identity separate from my husband and children. And I am just as not interested in judging those that make other choices than I have.
Yet, as I have been walking the streets of Budapest the past few days, I realize that the 19-year-old who once walked these same streets is still there. And at the same time, so is the mother of 3 boys, who spends her days driving carpools, attending PTA meetings and doing her best to help with math homework.
Both personas exist within me; I am unable to be one without the other. I have several days left on my trip, including a visit to Serbia‑ a country I have never been to. I am excited for the days of exploration and learning ahead of me, but I will not leave my mother role behind. I’ll worry still (especially at night) and I won’t let go of who I have become over these past years.
But going forward, I will try a little harder to also remember who I used to be.