Given that I don’t own a vehicle and have a full-time, 9-to-5 job that includes almost no travel — unless you count walking down Main Street to the post office occasionally — I’ve gotten around a decent amount in the past few years. Regarding exploring our part of New England, one friend says to me periodically, “Geez, for a person without a car, you’ve seen a lot more of this area than I have!” Then there’s my long-haul exploring: Six trips to Argentina (and 4 side trips to Uruguay) in the past 5½ years. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the culture and making new friends, but I’m certain I won’t be returning this year, something I have mixed feelings about. At this point, Buenos Aires feels like my home away from home, and I’ll miss it.
But I’ve reached that age at which I have to start caring for my aging relatives. Counting my parents, stepparents, and my ex’s family members, who unofficially adopted me 15 years ago, I have six parents and one 89-year-old grandmother who need varying degrees of help in managing health problems. Even given the living wage and extremely generous (for the USA) vacation, personal time, and family leave time at my job, this year I can’t afford another South American vacation while also helping my mother after the surgery for which she’s scheduled later this month.
I’m still emotionally recuperating from my Christmas-time visits, which included discussing with my father and stepmother their 2-year plan to sell or give away the majority of their belongings, sell their 10-room house, and move in with my stepsiblings in the Midwest; keeping an eye on Grandma for a day while my friend/ex’s stepfather was in the hospital having heart bypass surgery, an 11-hour undertaking; visiting Stepdad in the intensive care unit the following day and remaining patient while Adoptive Mom had a few mini freak-outs in the hospital parking garage; and doing the same with my own mother’s freaking over her severe pain and upcoming operation and rehab (not for her heart, thank the god/desses).
Whenever I’ve bought an airline ticket to Argentina or Uruguay, I’ve held my breath before calling my mother to tell her my vacation plans. She’s concerned about my traveling so far by myself — I can’t count the number of times she’s told me, “Well, you know I worry about your going off to these foreign countries.” For my family members, particularly the more working-class ones, Montevideo might as well be the moon. And although driving or riding in a car is far more dangerous than flying, she always has to mention plane crashes just before I board. Before the last couple of trips, I’ve struggled with guilt — how could I have the time and money to go to the Southern Cone again when I can’t manage to go see my own parents in the state next door?
I came clean with Mom a few weeks ago, telling her what I’d already said to friends and colleagues: I kept visiting because I knew that my days of wandering Buenos Aires were numbered, that very soon I’d have at least one parent who’d need care and I’d be tethered to the northeastern U.S. for years, perhaps decades, to come. I knew it would be my responsibility, as my only sibling lives in North Carolina and has a job with much less liberal vacation benefits. I certainly can’t complain, as I’ve had decades to play and explore. Even in the past 14 months, I’ve attended two fascinating academic conferences, one in Boston and one in Chicago, related to my interest in Latin American memory studies and post-dictatorship culture; spent a week in Austin and Houston, vacationing, visiting a friend and her family, and meeting the author of the book I translated into English; and puttered around Montevideo and Buenos Aires for 2½ weeks at the end of August, having meals with friends, visiting museums I hadn’t seen before, and buying the souvenirs I’d avoided on the previous five trips because I was too lefty or “sophisticated” for such kitsch.
So I’ve had my fun, and now it’s time to be a responsible offspring. The Río de la Plata will be there in its enormous, silty, polluted splendor when I can visit again; in a few weeks I’ll be off to the southern shores of the Great Lakes, ready to do household chores and try to soothe worries, or let them roll off my back. Perhaps I’ll even have a few hours on the train to work on the book introduction, or label those thousands of digital photos of Piriápolis, the Evita Museum, the San Telmo antiques market…