It Started With A Tour Of Ireland
“Does it ever bother you that your life is over?”
Kaitlin, my daughter, walking ahead of us, turned off-handedly, looking back at me over her shoulder without breaking stride, to ask her out-of-the-blue question.
Meandering along the bay-side promenade in Galway, Ireland, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean air, with the ice-blue Irish Sea on our left, the city’s cobblestoned central square to our right,
and seagulls overhead, making our way back to the hotel after lunch, it was Kaitlin and her friend Jules in the lead, with my husband Lief, our son Jackson, and me following behind.
“What are you talking about?” I replied.
Now she turned to face me.
“Well, you know, you’re married. You have two kids. You’ve had the same job forever. Your life is what it’s going to be. Everything for you is figured out. And now you’re 40 years old. What more could there be?” Kaitlin concluded.
A 14-year-old’s take on turning 40.
On one hand, Kaitlin was right. I’d found the man I intended to spend the rest of my life with. I had two children. At that time, I’d been working at the same publishing company since before Kaitlin was born (from her point of view, forever). On the other hand, from where I stood on this eve of my 40th birthday, life was just getting interesting.
I was in Galway, Ireland, celebrating my milestone birthday with a weekend at the historic Galway Bay Hotel, in a suite overlooking the Irish Sea, poking around the 12th-century university city with my family, enjoying the cafes, the theater, the shops…
Not a bad birthday.
Perhaps more to the point, not a bad life, really. And, on this big-birthday weekend, even before Kaitlin posed her get-to-the-heart-of-things question, I couldn’t help but reflect on where I was…and how I’d gotten there. No one was more surprised than I by how things were evolving.
We were celebrating my birthday in Galway, Ireland, because we were living in Waterford, Ireland, about a three-hour drive away. Bigger picture, we were a half-dozen years in to what I took for granted (my teenaged daughter’s interpretation to the contrary notwithstanding) would be decades of living abroad adventures.
Looking back now, Kaitlin’s question might have been more relevant had it been put to me 8 or 10 years earlier. When Kaitlin was small, and she and I were living alone, me freshly separated from her father, working overtime as a junior editor, running out the door each afternoon to fight my way through rush-hour traffic to try to make it to Kailtin’s daycare to collect her before closing time, then, yes, I admit, I might have agreed that my life seemed over.
I started out in Baltimore, Maryland, where, from the age of 8, I was sure of one thing: I wanted to be a writer. In my mid-20s, I graduated college (with an English lit degree), married my college boyfriend, bought a house, had my first child, and worked crazy hours trying to pull myself up the corporate ladder of the publishing company where I’d found a job almost immediately out of school. I was one of those women who believed she could have it all–husband, children, and career.
In fact, I wanted all that and more. For me, family and career were just a starting point. My young vision for my life long-term included things like a pied-a-terre in Paris, a villa on the Med, and friends all around the world. I had a grandiose agenda, though I didn’t and probably couldn’t have articulated it back then, even to myself. All I knew, from an early age, was that I wanted more–to do more, to see more.
My family had been in Baltimore for about 150 years by the time I came along, and the most recent generations, those I had any personal experience with, didn’t see much reason to move around beyond this Maryland city. Growing up, we took annual beach vacations to the Eastern Shore and camping ones to Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland, but I didn’t travel beyond U.S. borders until just before my 18th birthday when my best friend at the time suggested that we go to Bermuda for our Senior year Spring Break. My friend’s name was Patrick. We weren’t romantically involved or even interested in each other that way. Still, I don’t understand, even today, why my parents allowed me to take my first trip overseas, unaccompanied and unchaperoned, with a young gentleman friend. For whatever reason, they went along, and I’m thankful, both to them and to Patrick. On his suggestion, I had a sunny, friendly, English-speaking introduction to the world beyond Maryland, and Bermuda remains one of my favorite places on earth.
It would be years before I’d leave U.S. territory again, but my and Patrick’s spring fling in Bermuda confirmed my subconscious suspicions. What I wanted more than anything was to see the world.
One of my bosses at the publishing group where I’d gone to work out of school asked me, early on, about my motivations. Was I in this for money? For position? What could he put on the table to engage me further, he wanted to know. The question took me by surprise, because I’d never admitted my motivations directly to anyone, including myself.
“I’m looking for adventure,” I replied simply, realizing, at that instant, what mattered to me most, though still having no understanding of what that naïve agenda might eventually translate to.
I hadn’t engineered my first trip outside the States. That was Patrick. Neither was I responsible for my second adventure overseas, which, finally, took me literally over the sea. This first trans-Atlantic trip, at the age of 22, was on the suggestion of my college roommate who’d read somewhere about student-priced Eurail passes she believed we could qualify for even though we were no longer students. As she explained it, with these passes, we could land almost anywhere on the Continent and take off from there for serial adventures by train, all for one greatly reduced rail fare. The cheapest plane tickets to be had at the time from the East Coast to the Old World were courtesy of IcelandAir. We stopped over around Midnight in Reykjavik, then continued on to Frankfurt, our launching point for four weeks of travel by train from Germany to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, and France.
Then we returned to Baltimore, me to the lowly editor spot I’d managed to secure.
Patrick took me on my first trip requiring a passport. Ceci, my college roommate, got me across the ocean. And Agora, the publishing company I went to work for at the age of 21, showed me that Spring Break in Bermuda and a month hosteling in Europe were just the beginning. Agora had a global agenda that I didn’t realize and couldn’t have appreciated the day I walked through its East Baltimore doors for the first time but that, in time, I embraced completely.
Did I ever imagine way back then that, two-and-a-half decades later, I’d have reinvented my life from Baltimore, Maryland, to Waterford, Ireland, and then, from there, on to Paris, France, and, most recently, Panama City, Panama, where today I’m living, running a publishing house of my own, and sending my 11-year-old son, born in Ireland, to a French school because he speaks and reads better French than English?
How in the world did I get from East Baltimore to Panama City by way of Waterford and Paris?
It started with a tour of Ireland…
More on that tomorrow.