Home for Christmas

Home for the Holidays

I have come full circle. At the tender age of 17, I fled from my parents house, determined to make my way in the world according to my own rules. Now, 45 years later, I am back home again.

Eight years ago I took a tremendous leap of faith and left my corporate life behind to travel the world and recreate myself as a writer and photographer. I was successful for many reasons. I believe I can do whatever I set out to do, I am fearless, and I have a high tolerance for risk. But undoubtedly what has served me best is the concept of impermanence.

Stuffing ourselves at our Thanksgiving day breakfast. Left to right: my sister Linda; my niece Kelly; nephew-in-law Tony; brother-in-law Dale; niece Gina; and sister Nancy

Stuffing ourselves at our Thanksgiving day breakfast. Left to right: my sister Linda; my niece Kelly; nephew-in-law Tony; brother-in-law Dale; niece Gina; and sister Nancy

I realize that no two seconds are the same. No two experiences are the same. The molecule that touches my skin one second is a different size, shape, and chemical makeup from the next molecule. Sunshine falling across my face changes according to time and weather. I can never step into the same stream twice, as the volume, currents, and eddies of water change from moment to moment. Indeed, change is the only permanent thing in the universe.

And so, I was prepared for the change when it came. Long ago, I promised my father that I would come back home should he ever need me. That time is now. At 88, his health is declining. With the exception of a few brief trips, I have been living with him in the Chicagoland area for most of this year.

My great-nephew, Dominic, made four generations at our Thanksgiving gathering

My great-nephew, Dominic, made four generations at our Thanksgiving gathering

It is a much different existence for me. Rather than traipsing between the world’s most intriguing cities, I am living in a small ranch house on the Kankakee River in rural Illinois. The nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away, and the dearth of decent restaurants has forced me to take up cooking again. The weather is too cold for outdoor activity and I have grown much too sedentary. TV and my father are my constant companions.

Despite these drastic changes, I am grateful that I can be here for my father when he needs me. Many questioned my sanity when I walked away from a high-paying job, sold my house, and gave away most of my material possessions to wander the world. But had I not done so, I never would have had the flexibility to move back home. Everything happens for a reason.

Thanksgiving breakfast, with my nephew-in-law, Tony, making one of his dumb faces in the foreground, and Dad at the head of the table

Thanksgiving breakfast, with my nephew-in-law, Tony, making one of his dumb faces in the foreground, and Dad at the head of the table

I flow with the days, getting to know my father in a way I never would have had I not returned home. We sit together in the living room, he on the sofa and I in my recliner, while he tells me stories about World War II, or about the time he had shingles, or the time he climbed out on an I-beam to help a fellow worker who froze in place from fear of being up so high. After all these years I learned that he worked in the Chicago Stockyards while he was in high school. He says his three girls are his “angels” and laments the fact that he can no longer do the things he used to do. We remind him that he has spent a lifetime taking care of us and tell him it is our turn now.

Dad, with great-grandson, Dominic

Dad, with great-grandson, Dominic

For only the second time in ten years, I spent Thanksgiving with my family. Tomorrow, our family will gather at my niece’s house, as she and her husband (who ruins every photo I take of the family by making dumb faces), bought a new house following the birth of their son, my great-nephew. Our Christmas torch has been passed to the younger generation, but the traditions remain the same. We will eat too much, groan all afternoon, watch football, play games, eat some more, groan some more, and stumble home, barely able to roll into bed.

What matters most in life is the people we love. Rural Illinois is not an exotic or exciting destination, but it is exactly where I need to be at this moment. And I know for certain that this too, will change. In the meantime I am grateful for every day and wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or whatever tradition you follow.

23 Comments on “Home for the Holidays

  1. Hi Barbara,
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos.
    I’d be interested in seeing some you took on Kizhi Island. Have you got any?

  2. Oh Barbara. What a touching story. Thank you for sharing it.

    We were in the same boat as you but ours docked a little too late.

    Do we have regrets? No. Not really. Not for Peter’s mom, anyway. She was loved and she wasn’t alone at the end. We can’t wish her a different ending to serve ourselves. But there is always that wistful “if only she could’ve waited just a little longer” hanging like a mist overhead.

    • Hi Tracy: I read your story about missing Peter’s mom by 12 days and it tugged at my heartstrings. My Dad is troubled by the fact that I have given up traveling for the moment to help him during his remaining time, but I tell him this is what I want to do, even though it’s hard to be in one place.

  3. I read this with interest and some envy. I raised my sons in Chicago and then left to live in Central America for six years, once the youngest finished high school. More recently we left Nicaragua with 2 small bags each and have been living nomadically in Asia for 15 months. An amazing adventure of life in the moment. Now my parents are older. I desperately want to be there for them and have this time woth thrm. While we manage financially as nomads, living in the US again after seven years is financially a huge challenge. I would give up (temporarily ) the freedom and adventure just to be there. Freezing winters ( scary! After tropical climate with NO winter) and all! Trying to make it happen. Well done!

    • Hi Peta: It’s a difficult decision, and, as you say, the cost of living in the USA is absoluetly terrifying. I’m fortunate that I have the time and resources to help my Dad at this pint in his life. As I tell him, all the places I want to visit aren’t going anywhere.

  4. I am also visiting home for the holidays, the first time in 3 years. Like you I have found it is exactly where I need to be at this moment. Although, I am eager to get on back on the road. Next time we have dinner…. I’m buying 🙂

  5. You are so right to treasure each moment. I spent so long either living in the past or worrying about the future. Happy New Year to you too

    • Hi Natalie: Best advice I ever received was from a friend just before I started traveling, who told me to stay in the present moment. I try to do that to the best of my ability and it’s made my life so much better. Happy New Year and wishes for a wonderful 2015.

    • Thank you so much, Heather. The same to you and looking forward to catching up with you sometime soon.

  6. That really resonated with me Barbara and I think many will understand how you feel. I moved to Jersey a couple of months before my dad died unexpectedly and, although I managed to get to his bedside just before he died, I regret missing out on his final weeks when he was poorly.

    We need to cherish those moments and enjoy learning more about those we love; I’m sure you will be able to reflect fondly on this time you have with him x

    • Hi Linda: Even though being grounded is hard to get used to, and Chicago weather in the winter stinks, I know that I will never regret being here during is remaining time. Wishing you a very Happy New Year and a great 2015. Here’s hoping we will see each other again sometime, somewhere xoxo

  7. That really hits home Barbara, it really is super that your lifestyle allows you to be there. One of the reasons we are travelling now is because our ageing parents are healthy also. There’s a time and reason for everything.

    • Hi Jo: You are so right about there being a time and place for everything. I think acceptance is a huge key to life and I try to practice it at all times. Wishing you and your family a wonderful 2015.

  8. I’m so happy for you that you are able to be there for your dad! I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season with your family!

    • Hi Ali: So good to hear from you. Wishing you and Andy a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2015. xoxo

  9. This post is so lovely. I really like the way you describe your father and that you are not miserable because you are stuck at home, taking care of him, but you are grateful for the moments you two can share together.
    I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas with your dad and family.

    • Thank you Jo! It was a tough one to write, but screaming to get out of me.

      • I can believe that it was difficult to write, Barbara, but thank you so much for trusting us to understand and empathize.

        For those of us who grew up with Christmastime being a special time, it is difficult when it is otherwise. There is no “revisiting”,but there IS “visiting again”, thank goodness. On-the-road is freeing, but also very loose. Sometimes I feel like a small cork in a huge ocean, but most often I feel happy to go where I want, when I want, and how I want. Not how I expected this time of travel to be, but it is fine as it is.

        Best Wishes for the End of the Old Year, and for Good Times in 2015.

        In Peace,


        • Hi Irene: It’s the same for me. I am so grateful that I can go where I want, when I want, without having to consider anyone else. As I’ve told my father repeatedly, the places I want to visit in the future aren’t going anywhere. For now, I’m just happy to be here helping him.

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