By Cara Danielle Brown
May 07, 2019
Mother and Daughter
Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

A few years ago, my mom phoned to tell me she wanted us to go to Texas — unusual given I live in California and my mom lives in Florida and we knew no one who lived in Texas. Also unusual because we only spoke a couple times a year. Let me explain.

As a child, my mom was my hero: a business owner, an activist, and a Madonna superfan. And no bedtime ritual was complete without our nightly “I love you more” battles. But due to circumstances largely outside her control, my mom wasn’t always able to be present. Back then, I didn’t understand her emotional struggles – I only wished for her to get out of bed long enough to play Barbies with me. So when my parents divorced and I chose to live with my dad, the traumatic fallout (on both ends) resulted in our being virtually absent from each other's lives for 13 years. Until the day my mom suggested we take annual trips together to get to re-know one another and work on our relationship.

I was nervous for 10-day stretches with my estranged mother. Would my therapist need to be on standby? Probably. But I was excited to start this new chapter. Because I missed us.

Here’s how traveling around the world together is helping mend our relationship.

San Antonio: Where we learned to appreciate simply being together.

Our first trip felt like a first date as we spent our days politely strolling along The Riverwalk — a series of walkways along the San Antonio River lined with vibrant boutiques and Tex Mex deliciousness. And since we still weren’t that natural around each other, we found a cantina, ordered "Effen Good Cucumber Martinis" (literally their name), and spent the night gabbing like semi-sloshed school girls. The next day, we wandered into art shops where we gazed upon watercolor paintings and bought hand-made, leather jewelry. Yes, we had baggage. But we were learning to lose ourselves in the simple joy of being together.

The famous Champs Elysees avenue in Paris
Credit: @ Didier Marti/Getty Images

Paris: Where we learned to stop walking on eggshells.

Paris may be called the City of Light, but make no mistake: people can be dark. Cab drivers dumped us out, waiters refused dietary accommodations, and patrons spontaneously forgot mid conversation how to speak our language! After a few days, the city started to rub off. We were set to see a show at The Lido on the famous Champs Elysees when my mom realized she got our showtime wrong. “I'm someone who likes structure and we can’t just keep changing our plans!” I fired off. “Well maybe the anxiety of planning everything makes me forgetful and I need to actually get back as much as I’m giving!” she replied. Well. We weren’t walking on eggshells. We were revealing ourselves to each other. For maybe the first time. Thanks, Paris... you city of dark, you.

Amsterdam: Where we learned we’re more comfortable with freaky stuff than big emotions.

Arriving to The Netherlands’ infamous Red Light District – an old quarter embracing legal prostitution, soft drugs, and pornography — was DOPE. But I definitely expected taking The Erotic Walking Tour with the woman who planned my Bat Mitzvah would be awkward. So you can imagine my surprise when we took turns posing with flogs, bought souvenir handcuffs, and chatted up the owner of The Magic Mushroom. (My photo library will never be the same). The following day, however, things took an uncomfortable turn when we narrowly skirted a terrorist attack at Amsterdam Central Station. I was terrified. But instead of expressing fear, I calmly sat down outside the sectioned-off perimeter while my mom excused herself. It was there that I understood why our rift began years ago – not because we didn't care or feel deeply, but because we weren't always good at showing it to each other.

North Vancouver ferry and container port. Vancouver, British Columbia
Credit: Barrett & MacKay/Getty Images

British Columbia: Where we learned it’s OK we have opposite personalities.

On an early morning ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, my mom, an extrovert, wanted to talk about all the scenic gulf islands in real time. I, an introvert, preferred to methodically process the blue waters and soft breeze by dipping out for a while and coming back. This was travel day 7 and the time bomb was ticking: "I love you but sometimes I need space," I said. "I'm like this with everybody." She said OK. And we held hands instead.

Bruges: Where we learned chocolate heals everything.

Belgium means all the chocolate things everywhere: designer chocolate, hot chocolate, waffles with molten chocolate, and even chocolate museums. Chocolate is a universal bonding experience. To chocolate!

Monet's garden at Giverny, France.
Credit: Cherry Lynn Young / 500px/Getty Images

Giverny and the Normandy Beaches: Where we learned to stay positive.

As my mom and I walked through stunning patches of yellow roses in Claude Monet’s restored gardens, we were informed by our tour guide that the famous painter was repeatedly rejected from almost all classical exhibitions for creating fake art… referred to as “impressions” of art. Monet nearly didn’t make it? We were stunned. Similarly, while standing on the beaches of Normandy, we looked out at the sea together and recounted how outnumbered the American soldiers were by Hitler’s army and, yet, went on to win the war. The two of us got emotional experiencing places where, historically, everyone beat the odds. Because if they did it... maybe after 13 years, we could, too. When we got back on the bus, my mom rested her feet in my lap. Then I put my head on her shoulder. And we fell asleep on the ride back to our hotel.

The two of us are already planning next year’s itinerary. Where should we go? Madrid? Tokyo? And what will we learn about each other next? The options are endless. And sure there have been bumps along the way but the process has been transformative. So thanks for this great suggestion, mom. And in case you were wondering… I still love you more.