If you happen to follow me at all on Facebook you probably know I just spent a week in Scotland with my mom and my oldest daughter Amelia. Our trip had been planned for the past year or so as a milestone celebration for Amelia’s high school graduation; she is a fortunate girl. Originally our itinerary included London but after the third ISIS attack in less than 6 weeks this past spring, we formed a consensus to for go London this time. A bummer indeed, as I have agreed with the mentality that we can not live in fear otherwise “they” win. However, I have also come to know that it is always best to listen to that inner voice, especially when it heads warning.
Because Cece was an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, she naturally gives every vacation, trip or party a theme or title. Scotland would be no different. Castles and unicorns became the top headliner for this special voyage. She even placed little castle stickers on our paper itinerary which she kept folded neatly in her overstuffed purse. This is one of the things I’ve always treasured about my mom. She is incredibly gifted with adding the special touches to every situation in our lives. The detail in her method of wrapping our Christmas presents each year, the way that she has managed to mail off Halloween and Valentines day care packages to her sugar cookies no matter that they are now all teenagers, and the thoughtful toasts she has written for milestone moments in our lives. She is the queen of family celebrations and ceremonies.
It is difficult to put into words what this trip meant to all three of us. In fact I think I am still processing each little nuance and exchange the three of us girls shared. We chose Scotland for good reason. Both Tim and I come from Northern European roots and thus made traveling to our native homeland extra meaningful. I have also always wanted to take Amelia to the Harry Potter exhibition at Disney World ever since it opened however as life goes, we have never managed to make it happen for many reasons but primarily because of the extra challenges we face with Ellie. It is complicated. Choosing Scotland also meant an opportunity to see where in 1995, JK Rowling sat in a coffee shop on a cobblestone street tucked below the Edinburg Castle and wrote her first words about a school of wizardry and a boy named Harry. And of course, every little “big” girl can relate to the common fascination of all things castles, unicorns, and forbidden love. Scotland takes the cake in this category.
Our trip got off to a bumpy start. Just as we were ready to depart to Seattle to meet up with my mom, British Airways canceled our flight to London. Talk about major let down. I was dying to get out of town, sick of the sizzling heat of the Inland NW and honestly just fucking burned out. Summer time for working moms is no Bueno. And summer time for mom’s of special needs children is extra no Bueno. We don’t go to the lake for weekend nor do we go camping or hiking. These traditional summer time leisure activities are essentially impossible with Ellie. I do not mean to sound bitter and I am not seeking pity, it is just our reality. Over the years, Tim and I have navigated this challenge by often taking separate vacations so that one of us can stay home with Ellie. On occasion with the financial backing of primarily my mom, we have left Ellie at home with a care giver so that we can enjoy what “normal” families take for granted. Very grateful for these rare and special opportunities.
We waited stand by for several hours on our scheduled departure date but after a while it became apparent that we would not be leaving until the following morning. Sigh. After a brief break down, I gathered myself back up, poured a glass of chilled pinot gris and set the alarm for the following morning. Our second attempt went off brilliantly. Traveling with Cece is always extra nice, she surprised with an upgrade from coach to business class. Individual sleeping pods and champagne on take off was something I have never experienced before. Ahhhh, I could get use to this. I thought as we lifted off and headed towards our destination.
When ever you travel in close quarters with your family you are bound to have some amazing moments and some not so amazing moments. Towards the end of our trip we spent the day touring Sterling Castle and also made a stop at Roslyn Chapel. Both breath taking in and of themselves, however Roslyn Chapel took the cake for me. If you have ever read the DaVinci code or seen the movie, then you know a bit about this sacred place. Nestled in a small town in southern Scotland stands a not so large chapel. But this is not an ordinary chapel. I liken it to when a friend invites you out to her family’s “lake cabin” on Coeur D’Alene and it turns out her cabin is a 7000 square foot “Eddie Bauer lodge”. Same goes for Roslyn. Although it is not necessarily large in size, the ornate details, sculptures, and stained glass could keep your heart and mind fully occupied for weeks. When we first stepped foot into Roslyn, that ever so familiar feeling of the delicate hairs rising up on my neck and forearms, informed my soul of the sanctity of this space. By this time, the three of us girls had worked out some of our “traveling kinks” with one another and our mother daughter grand daughter energy was smooth and fluid making our time at Roslyn even more special. There was even an old black cat named William who has made the chapel his home and he laid asleep on one of the ancient pews while a wee Scottish woman gave us a descriptive historic overview of Roslyn in Shakespearean style. I felt as if we had literally time traveled back hundreds of years in that short visit to these sacred grounds.
One of the most hilarious and self deprecating moments took place on the first day we arrived in Scotland. As you walk up to the main entrance to the Edinburg Castle there is a very large courtyard. At this time of the year there were rows of cascading bleachers along the edges forming a center stage if you will. Amelia commented that this was the place in which the tattoo took place during the month of August. She explained to me how it was a very big deal – sort of a military ceremony. I nodded knowingly, but was secretly confused. “So why do people come to watch all the newly enlisted service men get tattoos and how on earth are they going to be able to see anything way up at the top of those bleachers ?” I inquired. My mom and Amelia both spun their heads toward me and busted out in laughter. “Why are you guys laughing at me ?” “Mom. Really. You don’t know what a Tattoo is ?” Amelia replied in the way that only a teenage daughter can. “Wow, you have been in Spokane too long. ” My mom chimed in. (Of course a dig on Spokane) Ugh. Apparently there is more than one meaning for the word tattoo. Just in case you are not up on your vocabulary like me, the Edinburgh Tattoo is an annual ceremony of the armed forces in Scotland complete with pomp and circumstance, attracting thousand of visitors from around the world. Now I know there is more than one meaning of tattoo and it happens to be a big fucking deal in Scotland.
On about the third day of our trip we took a bus tour to the Alnwick Castle just across the border into England. If you have ever watched a Harry Potter film then you have seen this castle. Although I was looking forward to our day, it ended up being sort of heavy and tight between my mom and I. On the way to our destination our tour bus stopped for a short 30 minute break in a historic little town. We did a quick scan of the streets and found a restroom and then began our way back toward our bus. I spotted a cute little café just across the street from where were to meet the bus. “Mom, let’s go check this café out real quick, we still have 10 minutes until we are suppose to meet back at the bus.” She quickly looked at her watch and began to take a few steps forward with me and then she hesitated. “Come on Mom, relax, we have plenty of time.” I said as I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. Ohhhh. She did not like that. She took my arm and peeled it off her body. She said something to the affect that she was tired of us not giving her credit for her travel experience and that those bus drivers want you to be on-time. It was not so much what she said but how she said it that sent me shriveling back to my child self. I felt punished but not sure exactly why. I was just trying to get her to relax a little and lighten up. However I did not reply to her harsh words with my small child self. Some where in that exchange I found my voice and stated with confidence that I would not stand for her treatment and turned back toward the bus without her. “You can’t do that Shelley, come here.” She protested. “I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of energy mom. You have been so tense and cranky lately and I am tired of it. This whole thing that is going on with your sisters and Grandma has changed you. It makes me angry.” I stated. It was a fact. Over the past year I have observed the disintegration of my mom’s side of the family. As my grandmother has been steadily losing her mind, my mom and her sisters have lost their way with one another and it has truly broke my heart. I need these women to always be “the force” the “white light” that they have symbolized to me ever since I can remember. As I have mentioned in previous writings, these are the women that taught me the ways of life and celebrated life’s milestones with me and now they are no longer a trio. Now two are against one, my mom. It is complicated. I won’t share any more on this issue. Except one thing…. I will always support my mom, she comes first.
The rest of our day together was fairly silent. We were kind to one another but the energy was not fluid. After 10 hours on this bus tour I was finished for the day. Amelia and my mom went on for a nice dinner out together and I offered up an excuse to return to my room to read my book. This was a lie but I needed some down time. At first I was going to find something to watch on TV but instead grabbed an umbrella and headed out the rotating doors of the Waldorf Astoria. The rain was coming down in sheets while the wind blew softly. For the next hour or so I roamed the side streets and alleys of Edinburg. I felt like I was 20 years old again back packing through Europe on a dime. Alone but content, exploring the realness of this ancient city, not the parts that the tour buses show you. The smells of local foods, the sounds of ambulances in the distance, the sites of side street restaurants with out door seating where locals sat relaxed enjoying meals with friends after work, all the while the rain was rinsing my soul out… clearing my mind and heart again. Another world far from home, although I felt like I was at home…. I soaked it all in and sealed it into my treasure chest as I returned back to our hotel for the night. Restored.
My mom and I began the next morning drinking our coffee and eating the best croissants with a fresh start. It was almost as if we needed that dark moment to release the tensions that are inherent with travel, and then we proceeded forward together again. I chose not to bring “it” up however she casually mentioned on a few separate occasions her own thoughts about our exchange and acknowledged that the events with her sisters has affected her and she was seeking a more joyful way of living what ever that may be. I fully support her.
To be able to lift up out of your daily life and time travel to another land with the most special people in your life is a priceless gift, especially to a place like Scotland… If you ever need perspective on your life, there is nothing like walking cobblestone streets, peering into shops, gazing at ruins that have existed since the 1100s and before to help you put your existence into perspective. For me it is like trying to wrap my mind around how the television works or the cell phone or even whether there truly is a god – my mind is incapable of comprehending how it all works. History is a little easier to grapple with, it is not abstract. But still, to walk the halls and enter grand rooms where the queens roamed, where countries were formed, where blood spilled…. just mind blowing. And now they are gone. The only thing left is the stories we tell and their tomb stones where their remains are buried. Did we really time travel to another land or was it just a dream? Will my life be here and then gone just like those before me, I think so…. huh.