We did the thing. The great adventure. Lived the dream for 13 days straight.
All seven of us.
The mustard seed of hope, the one where I would share my second favorite place in the whole wide world with my family—ever single one of them- it’s been dormant in the soil of my story for decades until the idea germinated last August.
“How about if I save my paychecks and take us all to Scotland next summer.” I queried. “Here’s the thing,” I appealed, “Dad and I aren’t getting any younger and hiking the West Highland Way won’t get easier either. It’s now or never guys!” That’s my Enneagram seven wing talking.
“Would you go?” I asked sheepishly. It felt like a no-brainer to me, but you can’t assume anything once your kids grow up and live their own complicated lives.
One by one, they agreed. Some more reluctantly than others.
I bought the plane tickets in singles, then reserved hostels and airbnbs as I picked up shifts at the hospital and deposited my paychecks. Finally, I started ordering train and bus tickets for people moving our tribe from place to place.
It sounds easy enough in print but sometimes it’s best if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into until there’s no turning back.
I got introduced to Scotland the summer of 1985, returned with husband in 1992, a couple of littles in tow and one in the oven the summer of 2000 and then back again in 2017 celebrating the college graduation of my firstborn. “Don’t wait another 17 years or you’ll be 68.” That’s what my Scottish friend said as I boarded the plane in Glasgow that trip. So I didn’t. Last month we piled our suitcases into the van and drove to Chicago, bantering most of the way about the merits of frog tattoos. Then, we boarded a double decker Dreamliner, popped a few Xanax and 12 hours later, we landed with a thud on a cloud covered, misty afternoon in Scotland.
Our friends were there to meet us. First there were waves, then hugs, after that, party-time at their house. A smorgasbord of local favorites baked by our very own Great British Baking Show ought-to-be. Harry Potter featured on the tele. Impassioned conversation about the latest political headline. People napping on the floor. Laughter intermingled with tears because some dreams, when they come true are worth crying about.
The next day we boarded a train, carrying our backpacks with raincoats inside and headed due north—my favorite direction. The plan, to hike the West Highland Way together. The seats were arranged in tables, some passengers looking back and others peering forward. Life is so like that. One direction Auld Lang Syne and the other, the unturned page on the calendar. This trip an amalgamation of both.
Over the next couple of weeks we exercised our freedom to roam through one sheep pasture after another. We hiked the Devil’s Staircase, climbed the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, rode on the Hogwart’s Express, e-biked through the Yorkshire Dales and worshipped at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Two weeks of breathing and eating and sleeping together one day on top of the next.
I was eighteen years old when I first caught a glimpse of the grandeur of Edinburgh Castle alit on a rock cliff against the backdrop of darkness. It was love at first sight and my attraction to that beloved country has never diminished. I didn’t know if it would be like that for the kids but I hoped they’d love it too. Going into the trip, I held a handful of wishes like a dandelion, ready to be blown into the wind.
I told them:
“When you get back from our great adventure, I hope that you see the world as bigger, more interesting and diverse than you knew when you left.
I hope that your souls are refreshed by the color palette of greens and the bleating of the sheep wandering amongst us on the moors, the hills and the mountains.
I hope that you’ll value the gift of a few good friends to share the journey of life with.
And, I hope that we will be present for each other with care and kindness, not perfectly, but the best we are able.”
And with those words, off we went….
I can’t quantify my favorite memories and the mercies were too generous to count. But when I sit quiet, remembering,
I hear boys voices volleying across the ridges,
“Can I get a hi-yaaaa?” one calls.
Another responds, “Hi-yaaaaa!” in return.
And as I stand on a plateau surrounded by vast green wilderness with the one who was most anxious about coming, she says, “It’s so peaceful here!”
I see hundreds and thousands of sheep meandering around grassy hills contentedly chewing their cud.
And four determined climbers making their final approach to the finish line after hiking to the top of Ben Nevis and celebrating with a flask of whisky and a corporate reading of Psalm 121 at the tip-tip top.
I smell the scent of 8 hour pot roast wafting through the hostel in the Dales, the one with the dope Spotify playlist and the bleating of sheep, our nightly lullaby.
And, inhale the fresh, clean breeze of the Scottish Highlands.
I taste mammoth plates of fish and chips being devoured by hungry hikers.
And savor delicate cakes and flaky pastries from the bakery on the main street of the town I lived in just shy of 40 years ago.
I feel misty drizzle mixing with sweat as I climb a steep and rocky hill and chilly wind bite my cheeks as we bike on paths between stone fences through tiny hamlets with pristine English gardens.
My kids talk about their take-aways and fresh ideas they want to carry back to their ordinary American lives.
“I’m going to have a rose arch in my yard someday.”
“I’d like to name my own little cottage.”
“I plan to be more intentional about caring for the environment.”
We all made new discoveries about how to navigate family togetherness.
Like eating at a restaurant is generally more of a stressor than a treat unless our weight-lifting dude gets hangry. That’s the time for mapping the closest McDonald’s to refuel with a couple of cheeseburgers. Otherwise, a grocery store and accommodations with a kitchen are our gig.
Big cities and crowds are not.
We all move at our own pace. Some forging a path to get us where we’re going, oblivious to the others who are stopping to pet the puppies and smell the roses.
Animals make us happy. All of us. But some happier than others.
And the snorers in the group need to unite and bunk together going forward.
There were plenty of “those moments”— the ones where where you start to feel annoyed, exasperated and slightly self-justified. But mostly we chose benevolence, generosity and self-sacrifice instead. Not always, but family love trumped rugged individualism for the win.
Friendships expanded cross generationally through shared experiences and a rousing evening of Name that Tune with a room full of Brits and Americans singing Veggie Tales, I Love My Lips as the grand finale.
Those wishes I blew into the wind, they landed in gentle places and came true.
This trip, it was worth all my pennies. The kids caught my love for Scotland like a contagion. Some of them want to relocate there. Others are scheming a plan for a return expedition. What happens next in their story is theirs to write but what happened this summer, we wrote together. Sometimes there are titillating tastes of heaven right here in this broken beautiful world. Sometimes the brilliant dreams we dare to imagine jump out of our heads and take on time and space, flesh and blood. First, we get to savor them in the moment. And then, we get to muse about them through the rear view mirror. Fresh mercies. New every morning. Supremely grateful.