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CO-AUTHORING WITH YOUR SISTER
By Deborah Serra
When my sister and I found our nests were emptying at the same time we decided to run away from home. We planned an adventure together. We did not set out to write this book, we set out to let go of all the responsibilities that had governed every day of our lives for so many years. It wasn’t until we returned home that we decided we had an amusing story to tell and perhaps a point to make to other women facing that empty nest. It is hard to watch your children leave home – hard to become a visitor in their world – hard to realize being together at the dinner table was no longer the default, but something that needed to be planned. It was hard and heartbreaking. We wanted to runaway.
As soon as we returned home, we put the idea of a book together: sharing our favorite travel moments, suggesting which ones were worth telling, reviewing what we learned and what it meant to face this daunting childless transition. We had chosen a road trip around Ireland because our mother’s grandmother (who lived to 90 and so we vaguely remembered her) had runaway from Ireland as a young girl fleeing an arranged marriage with a much older man. Evidently, we had Ireland and running away in our genes.
Our journey would have been a more elegant experience if we would have planned it with the same thoroughness we planned our kids’ lunch boxes, but then it wouldn’t have been half as funny. There was something to be said for the questionable hotels, the fly-ridden cooking school, the crying ghosts, and driving 100 kph on the wrong side of the road in the land of faeries and leprechauns.
It was impulsive to take this trip together, to leave our husbands, homes, dogs, and responsibilities behind for just a little while. It was a lark to decide to write 2 Broads Abroad: Moms Fly the Coop together. I don’t know how many grown sisters take off on a trip like this, or write a book together, but we highly recommend it. Hitting the road together and then writing this tale was an uncommonly wonderful sister experience. We are looking for another opportunity – perhaps a camel ride in Morocco? Our Facebook page is taking suggestions!
In this witty warm-hearted adventure, they experienced some of Ireland’s quirkier history while sharing universally relatable stories of maniacal school coaches, neurotic neighbors, and tiger moms. Having kicked that empty nest into their rearview mirror, the sisters took off careening down the wrong side of the road, making questionable choices, getting trapped in a medieval tower, sneaking Chinese take-out into a famous cooking school, drinking way too much, and gaining a changed perspective on their lives ahead.
“Your youngest is leaving for college? Aw, empty nest?” Then, sappy eyes followed by a plaintive grin and, “What will you do?”
Before my sister and I decided to run away from home we were bothered by that question. There was something minimizing about it, minimizing and not completely untrue. Motherhood had been so deceptive, the greatest paradox in life: every single bleary-eyed day felt a month long, and the years went by in an instant. They flashed by like lightning and left a desiccated scorch mark wearing my clothes. It was disagreeable to imagine what life would be like childless: there would be the family tree, and there would be the mom who’s the center of the family tree, standing leafless, bare (and it has been a while since I looked good bare). There was some solace as I glanced around me to see my younger sister, Nancy, would be standing there bare as well. We were embarking on this progeny-shedding calamity simultaneously as both of our youngest daughters, Nicole and Olivia, were leaving for college the same week.
I knew that Nancy hadn’t really focused on it yet. And then, we met at Fashion Island in Newport Beach near her home to get a birthday gift for our mom. We ran into two of Nancy’s neighbors, Vicki and Susan.
“Nancy,” Vicki asked, “doesn’t Nicole graduate from Corona Del Mar High School this June?”
“Yes,” Nancy said. “She’s going to the University of Washington.”
“Oh,” Susan lifted her eyebrows, “you must be devastated.”
“What?” Nancy looked confused. “No, actually I was happy for her. She worked really hard. It was her first choice school.”
“But so far away!” Susan added in that annoying singsong tone.
Nancy shifted her feet, a move I knew well as her sister. It was something she always did when she was being told something she did not like to hear.
“It’s not that far.” Nancy said.
“It’s a plane ride. You need an airplane to see your daughter.” Susan said loudly.
“Yeah.” Nancy turned to me in an effort to change the subject. “You remember my sister, Deborah?”
“Of course.” Vicki smiled. And we exchanged hellos. Vicki seemed normal, but I had an inkling that I might have to slap Susan.
Susan continued on with her one thought. “With your son gone already, and soon Nicole, well, Nancy, I guess you’re all alone now.”
Nancy shifted her feet again. “I’m still married, Susan.”
“Sure. Sure. Right. So that’s better than nothing, huh?”
Nancy and I both froze. Did she just say that?
“You know,” Vicki tried to cut off Susan, “when Terrie’s youngest left she bought a Chihuahua puppy. Cutest thing you’ve ever seen. And the Walkers gave a room to an exchange student from Sweden,” she explained happily.
Nancy nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.”
Susan opened her mouth to speak again and I wasn’t sure whether I should just smack her now and be done with it, or let her continue. I made the wrong choice.
“Remember Pam Winthrop?” Susan leaned in. “When her son left she started eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day until she put on 60 pounds. Sad, really, tragic. Even her kneecaps were fat.” Then Susan turned to me, “So, Deborah, isn’t your youngest graduating, too?”
“I’m leaving the country,” I said.
Susan cocked her head. “What?”
“I’m leaving the country,” I repeated matter-of-factly.
“So am I,” Nancy said. I looked at her. I saw the decision in her eyes. “I’m going with Deborah. We’re taking a long trip together – a sisters trip.”
“You are?” Susan sounded a little thwarted, which Nancy found gratifying.
“Yup, in the planning stages.” Nancy smiled at Susan who was clearly disappointed that we were not miserable as anticipated. “Nice to see you though, Susan, Vicki. Got to go. In the middle of booking flights and stuff. So much to do!”
We turned away and strode with purpose toward the door.
I whispered, “Susan’s a real gem.”
“She did me a favor.”
“I’ve been so busy I just wasn’t thinking about it.”
“And I haven’t been able to think about anything else,” I said. “When I’m awake in the middle of the night it runs over and over in my mind.”
Nancy said, “When I heard that crap Susan was dealing, all of a sudden I realized, there’s no way am I plodding into that sunset with fat kneecaps carrying a Chihuahua.”
Nancy is a graduate of San Diego State University. She worked in medical sales before stepping away to raise her two children, at which point she became: Team Mom, Snack Mom, PTA member, Assistance League Volunteer, and the list is never-ending. Nancy was the editor and publisher of the Buffalo Hills Echo newsletter with a circulation of 1400. She also designed and managed her community website.
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