Sometimes I have to travel halfway around the world to appreciate home. With three young kids, I feel like I live in a state of constant motion; moving, making and doing all day but not really producing much other than a couple of school lunches and a few changes to the to-do list. Sitting still is now a luxury.
I love my life with my children and my husband, Rich, but sometimes our lives look and feel completely out of sync. Rich longs for more time with the kids and fewer flights and meetings pulling him away. I see his passport with its crumpled, thick pages, filled with stamps from business meetings all around the world, and fight back the envy. Mine is crisp and clean, sitting in a box with other important documents that rarely see much use. I fantasize about a little more time to myself, even if it means sitting next to strangers, dealing with security and eating airline snacks. I would gladly fly to Milwaukee or Cleveland, two of Rich’s current destinations, for a few waking hours without hearing the word “MOM” echoing through the house.
Once in a while, I have a chance to escape the routine and the children. It takes me days to prepare for a short trip. I run around constantly checking the time, trying to fit in the grocery shopping, many errands and cleaning. Added to the list is a stop at Petco to get crickets for Pheobe, our new pet gecko. The day before I leave, I draft a detailed itinerary with all three kids’ schedules outlined, along with the logistics and contact information for playdates, birthday parties and soccer practices. Thinking of every detail is impossible, but I get as close as I can before hopping into the backseat of the clean, quiet car and riding to the airport.
Rich and I recently had one of those rare weekends away by ourselves, without the kids. We weren’t really by ourselves, as we were meeting twenty of Rich’s colleagues and their spouses in Saint-Tropez, but we had two flights and a half a day alone in a faraway place, a place where neither of us had been, a picturesque European beachfront town much like the ones we traveled to in our younger days. It was forty-eight hours, it was France, and it was heaven.
Saint-Tropez was charming, the boat ride in the Mediterranean was breathtaking and with the combination of scenery and jetlag, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. The best part by far, however, was the flight home. I sat next to Rich for eight hours straight, sharing small moments and enjoying his company. We bonded while trying hard to ignore the couple in the next aisle, a May/December romance with a spark of newness. The couple’s love seemed to be based entirely on a mutual enthusiasm for public displays of affection and pushing the liquor limits on an international flight.
From the moment we boarded the plane, it felt necessary to give this couple their privacy and control our stares of disbelief. Not only were they indiscreet, despite their efforts to hide beneath airline blankets, but they were noisy; giggling and chatting between kisses and gropes. Rich and I did our best to rest in our seats, unnoticed. I had plenty of material to read and write, but knowing these eight hours were a unique opportunity, I turned to the in-flight entertainment. I struggled awkwardly with the remote, the seat control, and the food tray, but with the help of my frequent flier husband, I was soon sitting comfortably, scrolling through the movie titles with rapt attention.
On my first time through, I scanned for movies I hadn’t seen, but that was a useless way to organize. I had not seen a single one of these movies. I have only seen a handful of movies in the past year, other than the Lego Movie and Frozen, but PG movies snuggling with pajama-clad children don’t count. Now an entire world of new releases lay before me. What should I pick? What if I make a bad choice? Deep breath. Relax. Don’t pick Aloha. I made a mental list of the ones that sounded interesting, selected my first title and sat back.
Rich worked and slept while I watched four movies. Four movies back to back, four escapes to other worlds and other lives, four worthwhile stories that sparked my imagination and kept me yearning for more. Forgetting the strength of the noise-blocking headphones, I laughed and cried with little concern for my neighbors, assuming my emotional outbursts were not nearly as interesting as what was happening with the couple across the aisle. Somehow, although there were probably fifty titles from which to choose, I landed on films that took me on a journey around the world while giving me a lens through which to consider my own life. I guess that’s what movies are intended to do. I just hadn’t seen one in a while.
In the first film, Big Eyes by Tim Burton, I traveled to San Francisco in the 1960s and learned about Walter and Margaret Keane, artists who somehow escaped my 20th Century American Art History classes in college. The courage in this little-known feminist tale energized and intrigued me. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat. I turned to Rich to see if he wanted to pick the next movie together, hoping he didn’t insist on an action film. Nope. Sound asleep.
With the freedom to pick anything, I landed on Hector and the Search for Happiness. I hesitated because it is based on a novel, and I usually prefer to read the book first. My list of unread books and unwatched films is already too long, and at some point I need to be flexible. I changed my rules a bit and traveled with Hector from London to China, Africa and LA.
My Saint-Tropez travel bug intensified during this movie as I mentally planned vacations, wishing I didn’t have to go home quite yet. I already missed France and the feeling of spontaneity that comes with exploring a new place. I thought of the moment in the village grocery store when we considered the exotic range of yogurt choices. Closing my eyes, I pictured the jellyfish bobbing below the surface of the dark blue Mediterranean water; small, deep red creatures with long, curly tendrils. Even the jellyfish in the south of France were more refined, beautiful and sleek than their mid-Atlantic counterparts. As the movie ended and Hector went home to his true love, tears rolled down my cheeks. It is a gift to be able to see the world, but for now, happiness was sitting on that plane next to my sleeping husband and having the time to daydream.
After a poignant journey, it was time for a laugh, and who better for laughs than Tina Fey and Jason Bateman? That’s how I landed on This is Where I Leave You. There were many, many laughs in this film, but the heart of the story was a touching portrait of family that reminded me of my own. Being one of four siblings in a tight-knit family, I wondered how we would fare living under one roof for a week in our hometown of Malvern, Pennsylvania. We would make it through with less drama than this family, but not without some level of comedy and tension.
I began to think about the people and places that we call home. This summer marked the first one in as long as I could remember when I actually spent at least one night in a house with each of my siblings. My sister, Chrissy, and her family, now living in California after a recent move back from Australia, came to visit us for two days of quality cousin time. A few weeks later, my brothers both made the trip to Stone Harbor, New Jersey where I was visiting my parents at their beach house. While they were probably inspired by the perfect beach weather more than the chaos of sharing a house with three children, they tolerated the bickering, lack of privacy and 7am wakeups as the price for family time.
Days together without rushed holiday dinners or birthday celebrations is rare, and a lot of bonding can happen. Robert, my seven-year-old, has developed a deep passion for snakes and reptiles recently, and believes that his Uncle Sammy is a snake expert based on an adolescent interest in catching garter snakes and keeping them as pets. While Robert and Sammy played snake trivia, Eliza practiced her Sound of Music songs, awaiting the arrival of Kevin and Carrie, my brother and sister-in-law. Once Carrie arrived, Eliza spent much of her time sitting in her aunt’s lap, singing Doe A Deer and pretending to be Gretl von Trapp. When I see how excited my kids are to see their relatives, I realize how much it means to me, also, to share a meal, joke around and watch YouTube videos with my family.
After pausing the movie and typing some notes into my iPhone, I noticed that Rich was awake and had finished his lunch. He filled me in on the mealtime shenanigans of the couple across the aisle. They were denied alcohol partway through their meal, having already polished off a handful of Bloody Marys and a few bottles of wine. Appalled by the unfairness of the Air France staff, the young woman snuck into the other cabin and successfully procured a few small bottles of liquor. He whispered the story so as not to offend them, as if they were aware of anything outside of their love cocoon.
I put my headphones back on and pushed play, expecting more laughs but not expecting what happened next. In an instant, I switched from missing France to longing to be home. The youngest brother, Philip, parked his Porsche outside of a pizza place in the family’s fictional hometown. I did a double-take, paused the movie, grabbed Rich’s half-awake attention and pressed rewind.
The sign said Sunrise Pizza, and I recognized the surrounding stores, but I couldn’t believe my eyes. It is our pizza place in downtown Rye, New York, the one where we took our kids multiple times during our extensive house hunt. It’s where we go after swimming lessons at the Y and will probably be where my kids hang out when they are teenagers. Coincidences work in strange ways, and I wondered what the chances are that of all the airlines and all the movie choices, I landed on the one that had a scene filmed in Rye. This is the town where my kids will grow up and make their memories and where our lives will unfold. This will be our story, and it might not be film-worthy, but it is ours.
After the movie ended and I wiped my damp and tearstained face, I checked the time to my destination. With one hour and fifty minutes remaining, I had just enough time to watch Still Alice. I cried during this movie. A lot. Rich likely thought I was putting myself through some strange form of emotional torture by picking the saddest movies ever. He tapped me on the shoulder after a particularly loud sniffle. “I’m fine, really. It’s a good movie,” I assured him, hoping the last-minute airline announcements wouldn’t prevent me from seeing the end. I made it, with eight minutes to spare. We gathered our belongings as the other couple adjusted their clothing. Three kids, a busy school week and an empty fridge were waiting for me. It was time to go home.