November

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I have a strange, sometimes frustrating method for traveling. It’s one part methodical, one part woo-woo. I started traveling at around 18/19 years old, so 20 years later it has evolved into a method I am confident about, even when I can’t necessarily explain it.

I wish I felt this grounded about the rest of my life.

It all starts with a nugget of an idea. A vague sense about where I want to go. Really just an idea– the dime a dozen kind of idea. Then, I begin checking prices– almost compulsively. Usually first thing in the morning. Especially on a Tuesday. I must have read that somewhere, because I don’t miss a Tuesday. I have airport codes memorized. I know how to get creative about which cities are cheaper to fly in and out of, and how to search for my preferences, within my parameters. This is the methodical part of my traveling. When it comes to packing, I’ve become just as organized, with packing lists for every season saved on my Google Drive, and I’m all about the packing cubes and my secret packing trick: Ziploc bags.

But my method is a lot of woo-woo too. I can have a plan, but I don’t always feel the plan. A plan is only a plan for me when I feel it in my gut. There are no words to explain that feeling inside when everything aligns and you just know you want to press the button that locks you into a non-refundable ticket even when you may or may not have all of the details ironed out. You just know. If I don’t have that feeling, if my entire heart isn’t into it, I can’t stomach spending any kind of money on it.

This is what I’ve been doing these days, trying to capture the elusive travel bug, hoping to get a solid feeling about where I will go next. I am itchy to travel after a long pandemic-induced hiatus. But alas, nothing feels right yet. I scribble down notes. I let ideas marinate, chewing on possibilities, hoping something will come together. So far, not yet.

And that’s okay.

I think there are three stages to traveling. First, the dreaming and planning stage. Then, the actual trip. The last stage is what we are left with: the memories and photographs. I try to savor each part. In the other domains of my life, I can be plagued with impatience, feeling unsatisfied, racing from one thing to the next.

Slowly, I am learning.

For Veteran’s Day, I took my kids to the local aquarium. We used to be members when my oldest was a toddler. It was a regular outing for us. I think about how lucky Ethan was, going almost weekly to this cool place with both his mom and dad, getting their undivided attention, attending the grand opening of the penguin exhibit and memorizing the fish in each tank.

I wish I could have given all of my children the same experience, down to the dad part. Poor Peter, the youngest, was only 13-months-old when his dad died, and then had to live with me trying to balance everything solo. Fortunately, children grow around their circumstances and they are much more willing to lean into them than we dumb adults are. Peter thought our trip to the aquarium was awesome. The next day, he told me it was “the best day ever.” He didn’t notice all of the things that I thought were missing. At least not yet.

I had watched the other parents pushing strollers, grappling with toddlers, hands full of babies. My children were old enough to move around on their own. I simply followed them, engaging them where I could and wanted to, otherwise letting them be. The only potty breaks were for me. My role is changing. I can picture myself holding a baby Ethan, chasing after him, lugging strollers to and from, and that person feels like she existed just yesterday. Now I am deep into a new season.

Recently, I listened to Brene Brown’s podcast episode with Dr. Maya Shankar. Shankar says “I think the reason why we can have so much anxiety or trepidation in the face of change is because it can threaten our sense of self, it can threaten our self-identity.” It’s true. When children grow up, we can feel unsure about our role as their parents. We hitch our identities to things that inevitably change– jobs, relationships, physical features, abilities, and so forth. Or we try to be what other people want. When we continue to do that, we set ourselves up for situations where we don’t know who we are anymore. An identity crisis. In reality, we should be training ourselves to adapt. Reinvent. Reimagine our lives, finding new paths when others end. Over and over again.

Our lives seem to consist of many seasons– or chapters– that tell our stories, and I’m trying to get better at leaning into each one. But I still have a lot to learn. The alternative seems to be kicking and screaming about changes we can not stop and wasting our time being miserable.

As the seasons begin to change this time of year, we are about to find ourselves swept away by a tornado of holidays and hustle and bustle, where we will get spit out somewhere on the other side of 2022. Maybe this is the time to pause and check our internal weather. To identify what we want and find the courage to create schedules that reflect those priorities. To use what we already know about ourselves in conjunction with our gut feelings to make decisions.

Having the ability to discern what we want takes a healthy observing ego– the ability to look objectively at our thoughts and feelings and actions and act accordingly. The action part takes a lot of determination and perseverance. None of this is easy.

I think November is the eye of the storm. There is reflection built in. We think about what we are thankful for. But can we go further than that? November might be a good reminder about the grand scheme of life. Letting go and leaning in. Opening up and embracing what could be. Sitting with our gratitude, envisioning potential. Intentionality. Digging in deep, establishing and defending boundaries, seeking joy. Creating the life you want to live. Making space for this. Whatever you want this to be.

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