The family vacation. It conjures up images of long, hot car rides; overlooks in national parks; building sand castles at the beach; visiting historic sites; and Chevy Chase’s quest to get to Wally World! I loved our family vacations as a child and as a teenager. But, my favorite family vacation occurred 5 years ago. I was the parent and my parents became the children as I took them to Ireland for their first trip abroad.
My friend, an Irish girl that recently moved to the States, was getting married to an American in summer 2010 – in Kilkenny, Ireland, her hometown. I knew I would be traveling to Ireland for the third time for her wedding. I put out an open invite to anyone who might like to join me.
As I sat in the back of the car on the way to my folks’ house from the airport at the end of 2009 (I was visiting Cincinnati for the holidays), my dad said to me, “We’re thinking of going to Ireland with you next year.” I really wish someone had had a video camera on me at that moment. I’m pretty sure I had a look of excitement, surprise, fear and dread all at once. Were they serious?
At that point I wasn’t 100% sure. My brother-in-law commented later during my stay, “You’ll never get your dad on a plane for that long.” He had a point. Mom loved to fly. Dad – not so much. I had my doubts this was going to come to fruition. But, I encouraged them, telling them the first step was to get passports. They had never been out of the country (maybe Canada in their younger years), so they didn’t even own passports.
So, in February 2010, at the ages of 77 and 79, they applied for passports for the first time. I was loving it! The planning began in earnest.
I really wanted the trip to be about them. It was important to me that they see the sites and towns in Ireland they wanted to see. I had been there twice and knew I would go back. With a good friend, Aedín, living in Dublin, Ireland was always on my list of “must go to” countries. I had fallen in love with this incredible country on my first trip in 2007. I was so excited to share it with my parents.
Since I was living in the Denver area and my folks were in Cincinnati, I arranged our flights so that we would meet in one of the New York airports and travel the international flight together. We met in Newark and the first thing my dad said to me was, “Your mom hates her backpack.” Huh? She wasn’t used to using a backpack (he was) so it was simply too much weight for Little Mama. But, live and learn. I asked if she tried it out before leaving and her reply was of course, “No.” Note to self – be more explicit! This was the first of many lessons I learned on this journey – lessons of aging parents.
From the time we landed in Dublin through the wedding in Kilkenny we had a fabulous time. Aedín and her husband, Padraic, were wonderful with my folks, making them feel at home the moment we arrived. In three weeks we covered a lot of ground – Westport, Connemara, County Clare, Kenmare, the Beara Peninsula, Schull, Kinsale, the interior of County Waterford and Kilkenny as we ended back in Dublin.
For me it was the little moments I remember most. Funny moments like the time we all had to pee so bad that our eyeballs were floating. We finally found an outhouse type place outside a shop along the road in County Clare. Listening to our B&B hostess whom we called Shirley McLain (she reminded us so much of the actress) telling us stories of the old bog road in Connemara near the town of Roundstone. Watching my folks’ eyes grow wide in awe of the bazillion shades of green in the Irish landscape. Eating fresh-off-the-boat sea scallops in Roundstone. Seeing my dad fret in the backseat of the car (I did all the driving) as we tried to pass another vehicle on a small, rural Irish road outside of Kinsale. I pulled the rearview mirror in and we passed without a scratch. Observing my mom as she gazed about the pub looking at all the Irish folks singing every word to a traditional Irish song. “They know every word to every song,” she commented. This impressed her. Sitting at the breakfast table at the manor home we stayed in near Graiguenamanagh enjoying fresh eggs. “These eggs are the yellowest eggs I’ve ever seen!” exclaimed Mom. Of course, her favorite color. And, they were the tastiest and freshest eggs I think I had ever eaten.
One funny moment really stands out to me – a time of realizing that my folks were older and their brains didn’t operate as they once had. We had stopped at a petrol station to fill up. Mom and Dad went into the little shop. I finished fueling up and parked to call Margaret at Riverville B&B in Kenmare to let her know our arrival time. The parentals returned to the car. “Did you go the bathroom?” I asked. They looked at each other and at me and said, “No, we didn’t think about it.” I became a parent at that point. “Get back in there and try to go to the bathroom!! Remember what happened last time we couldn’t find a bathroom!” They promptly went back into the shop to use the bathroom while I sat in the car rolling my eyes and laughing.
I wouldn’t change a thing about our Ireland excursion. It was such an incredible three weeks – three weeks of me watching my parents become children as they looked in awe at the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the rocky cliffs of the west coast of Ireland, of smiling as they chatted with the bartenders in the pub, of witnessing their intrigue and interest in the history of Newgrange and Charles Fort in Kinsale, of relishing in Dad’s joy of tasting fresh Jameson whiskey, and of loving Mom’s child-like wonderment of the Irish’s ability to sing every word of a traditional Irish song. With my mom no longer with us, I cherish this last family vacation with my whole heart. I wish I could have one more…