Travelling adventures with mum

One of my biggest assignments since I moved to London for studies landed in my lap last month. The task: to take my mother on a two-week trip around Europe.

I termed it a big assignment because I had impressed upon myself that this trip was of monumental importance.

After all, this was the furthest my mum had ever travelled from home. It was the first time she was seeing Europe. And, considering her age and general dislike for flying, it could be her only time here.

The trip was important for me as well because I saw it as a chance to assuage a long-held guilt of mine. For someone who has travelled extensively, I have always felt bad about seeing so much more of the world than a person who brought me up and gave me the means to travel in the first place.

Indeed, I'm constantly thankful that Singaporeans my age can make plans to visit exotic destinations, when a generation earlier many couldn't even travel beyond South-east Asia.

So, this had to be a holiday to remember. Except, it turned out, it wasn't really a holiday.

For one, I had to spend a lot of time researching. I regularly backpack and read up on travel destinations, so a typical trip for myself doesn't take more than two days to plan.

With mum in tow, however, I had to consider convenience, diet and her interests too. Should we take more trains or flights? Do we stay in a nicer hotel further from the town centre or a shabbier one that is nearer? Some cities have a reputation for petty crime - should we avoid those? If we go, can I ensure her safety?

Cost was another factor because Europe is expensive and I couldn't exactly splash money around since I am not working.

All these made planning tedious. Even while we were travelling, my nights were occupied working out the next day's schedule. I was tired from lack of sleep and having to carry two suitcases everywhere.

I didn't really mind though. This would all be worth it if my mother had a superb time.

But she was at times busy being, well, a mother. When she arrived in London, the first thing that happened was The Inquisition.

Why is your room so messy? What is that smell in your kitchen? How can you cook your meals with that dirty pot? (It's not messy what/I can't smell anything/I haven't had diarrhoea so far.)

Indeed, while I consider us fairly close, I had forgotten that it has been a while since I have been in such constant close contact with her.

In the last few years, I have spent long periods away from Singapore, either for work or studies. So whenever I'm back home, spending time with her and my family was always a treat.

But as you might know, the amount of time mothers spend with their kids is proportional to the level of nagging they inflict.

So, at times on this trip I felt like a teenager again, except I had no room to lock myself in, since we were constantly sharing the same space.

More disappointing for me, however, was that her level of enthusiasm ebbed and flowed, which I interpreted as my failure to organise an interesting trip.

While there were several sights that excited her (Tower Bridge in London, Arc de Triomphe in Paris), numerous others bored her (British Museum, Versailles Palace). And although I planned scenic train rides through Austria and Switzerland, she ended up sleeping through most of them.

To my bewilderment, she was often more interested in admiring flowers and fruit. We skipped souvenir shops and spent more time in supermarkets buying strawberries.

Part of this was my fault. In my enthusiasm to ace this self-imposed assignment, I had become inflexible with the itinerary and stuffed it full of sights I thought would impress her. Every snub only seemed to fuel my enthusiasm to show her even more things, which was probably not the best idea for a 64-year-old.

The effort I put in meant that I took criticism rather unkindly. Once, when she questioned if I knew my way around Paris, I responded by not talking to her for 15 minutes and smirking when we reached our destination.

At the end of the trip, I suspect we both enjoyed it in parts, but were also relieved that it was over.

Coincidentally, two other friends also shared with me their tales of travelling with their families at the same time. Like me, they had been excited about taking their parents sightseeing, but found the experience exhausting.

Unlike my friends though, I wasn't going home with my mother.

So as I accompanied her to the airport for her flight back to Singapore, I felt a bit sad that this wasn't the ultimate trip I hoped she would have. But perhaps this was a bit naive. Short-sighted even.

With families, I realise, what we sometimes forget to celebrate is our journey together.

As my mother walked through the airport gate, I think my only real regret was not buying her strawberries for her flight home.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

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