“The bridge must be just over there, I can hear the water!” I said to my Mum, motioning past the thicket of bush just to our right.
“Yes” she answered cheerily, “I’m fine!” a smile glossing over her face as she kept her eyes cast downward, concentrating on the sloping shingle pathway as it snaked through the undergrowth.
We were on another of our road trips – the second during this trip home – and once again, she’d taken her hearing aids out without telling me.
My mum is in her mid-70’s, though you wouldn’t know it to look at her – she has a glimmer in her eye and a lightness to her step which belies her actual age. And did I mention there’s nary a wrinkle to be seen on her face? Please please please pass me on some of those genes, OK, Mum? Cool. That’d be great.
Over the past few days we have scrambled over tree trunks, stood on wild wind-swept beaches, and consumed about one million cups of coffee. She’s sat and waited patiently for hours under the shade of a tree whilst I frolicked under a waterfall. She’s accompanied me to a store I just *had* to hunt down and visit after seeing it on Instagram, tolerated my poor map-reading skills, and has patiently put up with the lamp in our shared motel room being on well into the early hours of the morning, as I attempt to read myself to sleep (insomnia is no one’s friend).
So, in the grand scheme of things, I can forgive the fact that she can’t hear me. The real kicker is that she will also never tell me that she can’t hear me. She’ll just smile and nod and agree, even if the question demands more than a yes or no answer.
Me: “So, what do you think? Move back home or give it a go in another country, Mum?”
Her: “Yes dear.”
Somewhere in amongst the dreams of a road trip, the idealization of sunny weather and perfect photographs, reality sets in. And it’s how we rolled with reality and dealt with hiccups along the way that has helped us become most excellent road trip buddies.
So, tips on how to deal with traveling with your mother? Here we go:
1. “Mum, can you hear me?”
Five words, five syllables, about five seconds to utter, and life becomes instantly easier. I learned on our last road trip that her hearing aids become uncomfortable after too many hours of constant wear, and that she’s prone to taking them out without warning. Which is fine, and of course, totally understandable. Until you are asking her questions about which life direction you should take (or which left turn to take) and she just responds with an enthusiastic “Yes” and a really big smile.
I quickly learned that the best thing to do before asking for advice (of the life-changing or direction-changing variety) is to first utter those five magic words: “Mum, can you hear me?”
An answer in the affirmative means it’s safe to proceed. No answer at all, and you better reach deep and increase the volume of your voice. Quickly, before you miss that left turn.
2. A closed road opens new doors
So far, on this trip home, Mum and I have gone on two road trips together. And both times we’ve hit the wee snafu of major roads being closed. Sure it’s frustrating, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that it’s how you deal with the little obstacles that will define your entire trip.
Case in point: Though I’d heard that there’d been flood damage along the River Road in Whanganui 5 months ago, I hadn’t quite realised the extent of it – so here we were in Grunty (my mum’s 25-year-old car which goes like the clappers and is as reliable as a German tank) ready to embark on the most scenic drive in NZ – and the way was closed. In the words of the great Gandalf the Grey, we were not to pass.
Apparently the road was in such a bad state that only locals who knew it well or those with four wheel drives should attempt to traverse it. So that pretty much counted us out.
Ever-adaptable, we simply switched plans. We couldn’t drive the road anymore? OK. How could we still get on it? Cue an amazing little tour company which takes you along on the rural mail delivery run, right along the river. Not only did we have so much more fun than we would have alone, we learned a ton about what life is like for the locals, and got to be part of the lifeline connecting them to the town by delivering mail and medicine (and the odd loaf of bread) to those whose lives are lived along the riverbanks.
Second case in point? On our recent trip to Napier, we arrived in Taupo only to find that the only State Highway connecting us to Napier was closed due to a bad accident. People had been waiting up to 6 hours in the queue of cars, in 30 degree temperatures – not much fun.
We saw the road was shut, turned around, found a cheap motel, dumped our stuff, and within fifteen minutes I had flung myself into Lake Taupo (deliberately, happily, with a bathing suit on). Result!
Happily for us, Taupo is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and we got to spend an entire day and night in this dream of a place – unplanned, yes. But we sure weren’t mad about it. Aaaaaand a made a new bird friend (see video below).
3. Set your priorities
Going into both of our road trips, we’ve both been really clear on the things we wanted to see or do which were priorities for us. In Whanganui, travelling along the River Road was key for me. And we were both dying to visit Jerusalem – the historic convent which is located in a beautiful nook of the river, where the poet James K Baxter started his own commune.
Anything else that we could do on the trip was gravy – but we knew that those two things were our priorities.
Likewise, for Napier, Mum was really keen on doing a walking tour of the Art Deco buildings, and I knew that I wanted to see the sun set from Te Mata Peak. By each of us saying the thing that we really, really wanted to do, we knew which things we could compromise on, and which things were absolutes.
Set your priorities, let your travel buddy know what are absolutes and what are things you’d like to see/do but aren’t totally necessary, and your trip will go that much smoother, I promise.
4. You’ve got to give and take
So you know that thing I just said about prioritising the things we really wanted to do? Sometimes, I’ve realised, you also just have to let go.
I was so excited about seeing the sunset from Te Mata Peak. I’d figured out when golden hour was, mapped the route, and had us in the general area for the afternoon so we wouldn’t have too far to travel. But things happen, plans change, and my mum was just plain exhausted from our full day of driving and sightseeing. As much as I only wanted to stay on the mountain to watch the sun dip below the mountains, I also knew that her energy was flagging and that I needed to look after her.
So we popped up the peak at 4pm – knowing that sunset was at least another 4 hours away – marveled at its beauty, and started the drive back to our Motel.
Sure, I wish I could have seen that sunset. But I’m happy I got to see that place at all. I don’t need the photo to prove how beautiful it was – I have it imprinted on my eyeballs. And Mum got a really good sleep that night.