Have Mom, Will Travel

A NY seasoned traveler knows that one’s choice of companion can make or break a trip. You need similar views on lodging (it won’t work if one wants a hostel while the other demands the Four Seasons); getting around (one prefers city subways and the other, a chauffeured Town Car); and spending (one swears by roadside food stands, the other is “white tablecloth” all the way). And even though you may be thick as thieves on familiar turf, we’ve all seen how folks can “change” when they’re far away from home.

Although I’ve had great experiences traveling with close girlfriends, family members and even solo, my mom, Gloria, is someone whose company I cherish. We first became a travel duo five years ago when headed to Rome, simply because my dad chose to skip the trip. Mom and I hit the road without missing a beat. We’ve since gotten lost in subway stations in Paris and savored Spanish tapas on boulevards in Barcelona. Leaving the country together puts your mother-daughter relationship on a whole different plane. Once you’re on foreign soil, you leave the familiar behind. You’re struggling to speak and understand a different language, spending different money, navigating different mores and cultures. These overseas situations create a just-the-two-of-us intimacy that lasts long after you’re back home.

However, one thing I’ve learned is that although I’m in my 40s, own property, pay my own bills and have lived alone for more than 20 years, once Gloria and I get on a plane together, I am my mother’s daughter. When she says, “Put on that scarf. What are you trying to do, catch pneumonia?” or “I know ONE thing: You’d better get up before we miss that flight,” I don’t argue. I just do it. To my mind, Gloria still thinks I’m 12 years old, and she probably also thinks I sometimes act like it. Yes, I know I drive her nuts at times, such as when I almost got left behind during a Mediterranean cruise. My mom is superorganized; I’m far less structured. She’s always early; I’ve never faced a deadline I didn’t push. She prefers the comfort of routine; I’m much more of a go-with-the-flow type. Still, when we’re away from home, an unspoken rhythm develops, one that allows each of us to be herself while still embracing the “we” that takes over on the road.

For instance, both Gloria and I believe that when we travel, there’s something sacred and essential about being in somebody’s house of worship on a Sunday morning. Not only do we enjoy the religious aspect, but we also love experiencing local culture in one of its most authentic and expressive forms. When in Italy for a close friend’s wedding, my Sunday school-teaching mom and I made our way to the Rome Baptist Church (no joke!) in a lovely small piazza just off one of the most chic shopping streets in the Eternal City. We sat in on a Sunday school class taught by an African teacher, met fellow students from South Africa, Nigeria and the States, and enjoyed morning worship together in the same city where St. Paul was imprisoned and wrote letters that later became books of the New Testament.

In Barcelona, we attended the small St. George’s Church, an Anglican congregation with members from across the globe. Coming on the heels of Barack Obama’s 2008 election win, we found ourselves embraced by folks eager to talk about the miracle America had pulled off. We not only realized the oneness of worshippers worldwide, but also the true power of the adage, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Sharing these spiritual experiences with my mom—who also happens to be my Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister—was a blessing, indeed.

Now that I’ve moved to a small French village and Gloria and I can no longer spend weekends hanging out on Chicago’s South Side, these journeys have given us an enduring closeness that spans oceans and transcends time zones. This Mother’s Day, I’ll give thanks for the great times my mom and I have shared on the road. And for years to come, I’ll look forward to adding to that sweet soundtrack of shared memories that belongs only to Ms. Gloria and me.

Maureen Jenkins is a freelance travel and food writer who now lives outside Paris. She blogs at UrbanTravelGirl.com.

Read more in the May 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine.