Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For the Journey

Last Friday, August 13, 2010, my mom celebrated her 90th birthday.  Having been significantly disabled by Parkinson’s disease, she has lived in a St. Peter nursing home for the past few years.  She has often said the activity she misses the most from her old life is going shopping.  To fully appreciate this you would have to know that my mom was a powerhouse bargain shopper.  She didn’t need to buy all that much – it was the thrill of the hunt.

As she became more disabled I became her surrogate shopper, buying birthday cards and presents for children and grandchildren.  Last year she told me she felt badly because she wanted to buy me a present but there was no way she could do it and surprise me.  So instead she showed me a picture of an item in a catalog, told me to buy it for myself and she would pay for it.  My mother was always a very classy dresser and I generally agreed with her taste when selecting clothes or jewelry.  This was no exception. The item in the catalog was a silver bracelet with green beads and silver turtles on it.  My son has loved turtles for as long as I can remember, and because of him, I have become quite fond of them also.  Never being one to turn down a present, I did as I was told and bought the turtle bracelet.

When it arrived the packaging said “The turtle reminds us to go within until our ideas are ready to be expressed.  Turtles bring us groundedness and connection with our original essence.”  It went on to say, “wear this jewelry as a gentle reminder to stay grounded in your true self.”  It arrived at a time when I was feeling exhausted by the caretaking roles in my life.  As a daughter, mother, wife, teacher and, for cripes sake, even dog-owner, someone was always in crisis and needing my time and attention.  I found myself being angry and resentful too much of the time.  In all ways the arrival of my turtle bracelet was timely.  I wore it for a number of weeks and tried to step back from my knee-jerk tendencies to take of everything and everyone.

At some point I took the bracelet off, put it in a safe place and promptly “lost” it.  Preparing to leave on this trip I have been trying to clean out the clutter that has accumulated over the past  - oh . . . twenty years.  Sorting through a dresser drawer I found my turtle bracelet.  I was hugely relieved, as “groundedness,” while perhaps not a real word, was nonetheless exactly what I felt I needed.  As I looked at the original packaging I noticed for the first time that the company that made the bracelet was called For the Journey. 

I still think my mom is a pretty amazing shopper. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Preparing to Jump!

It’s now less than two months until MAD (Middle-Aged Dancer, a.k.a Michele Rusinko) and TAJ (Teen-Aged Juggler, a.k.a Josh Weisenfeld) leave for their trip around the world.  Whatever would possess a not particularly adventurous, small town college dance professor to embark on a eight and a half month journey around the globe with her 13 (soon to be 14) year old son? The simple answer would be “insanity.” A more accurate answer would be a bit longer so I now give you complete permission to scroll to the end of this entry if you don’t want to hear the tale.
In 2006, I was accepted in a Bush grant funded program called Service Learning for Social Justice, that enabled a group of faculty from Gustavus Adolphus College to travel to Namibia for two-weeks.  When I received notification that I was accepted to this program, I rushed home and told my then nine-year old son, “I’m going to Africa for two weeks!”  To which he enthusiastically asked, “Am I going too?”  I explained to him that this was a program just for faculty and, by way of appeasement, said something like “The next time I get to travel outside of the country I will make sure you can come with me.” 
Within one year of the trip to Namibia I proceeded to prove myself a complete liar by going to Italy with my sister-in-law.
So, yes, one reason for this trip is to restore some sense of credibility in my son’s eyes. Yet far more important to me is a heart held dream that my small town Minnesota raised son feel at home in the world.  What exactly that means – I hope to sort out in the next year. 
So Josh and I began fantasizing about spending my next sabbatical out in the world.  I started researching opportunities for guest teaching residencies and began talking to my colleagues who had taught abroad during their sabbaticals.  Little by little this idea evolved from a pipedream to a possibility and then inched its way toward a plan.  Artist Brian Andreas has a card in his StoryPeople line that says “In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.” I think that same angel visited me.  There are a million reasons we should not go on this trip.  However, all of them feel like colossal  “failure(s) of imagination.”  So we are going.  In less than two months.

First we are heading to Sweden, where I taught 14+ years ago.  I was pregnant with Josh when I taught a “May term” at Skeriol Folkhogskola in Mora, Sweden.  I have always wanted to return there and it seems like a comfortable way to begin a year of uncertainties.  We will wind our way down through Eastern Europe, Western Europe and on to Israel.  By February we will have made our way to Zhuhai, China where I will teach the spring semester at the United International College.

As our departure gets closer, and I my anxiety about the trip grows stronger, I find myself turning to my trusted trinity of support: family, friends and books.  A few years back my sister gave me Anthony Boudain’s No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach.  The last few pages he sums up his best advice for travelers:   “No matter how well you plan and research, things will go wrong.  The place you end up will not be the way you imagined or hoped it would be. Your local guide will disappoint.  The restaurant you heard about will have moved, or changed hands, or burned down.  Be prepared to move to Plan B. Even if there is not Plan B. Travel is an amazing privilege and life is short.” 

With those last words as my mantra, my current coping technique is to replace fear with gratitude, breath deeply, bend my knees and prepare to jump.