We set off with only basic directions and the instructions ‘turn right, after the bridge’. It was supposed to be a quick 30-45 minute trip. After an hour, we began to question every slight arc of the road. ‘Was that technically a bridge? Did we pass over anything?’ Nope. Nothing. So, we continued on.  I looked over to my left and Mom started looking a bit nervous. And, admittedly, I was also started to feel a bit iffy. What if we go too far and can’t find our way back to Fort William in the dark? But, we both agreed to continue on. For almost 2 hours, we kept wondering when we might need to turn around and give up.(Please note, there was no such thing as google maps back then!)

But, just as I was about to call time of death on this excursion, we drove over – yup, you guessed it – a bridge! All of a car length long, just narrowly wider than our wheels and arched only enough to say it wasn’t flat, this bridge had to be one of the smallest I’d ever seen. But, it was most definitely a bridge since we could see water flowing below. I turned right on the next dirt road and was overwhelmed suddenly by the site of what I knew was a dwelling once occupied by my ancestors. We had come upon Castle Tioram  (pronounced Chee-rum). Sitting out on a very small island, we had inadvertently arrived at a good time (never realizing we’d even need to think of this); the tide was out and we could walk right up to it.

The scene was perfect. Since this castle was not in any tourist books and not even protected by any type of historical society yet, it meant we were all alone. And, the low-lying grey clouds and semi-strong winds blowing in from the water made for a sombre, serene setting. It was stereotypical weather associated with Scotland. But, also, the kind of weather you associate with moments that give you chills. And that’s just what I got. To think, I was standing in the same spot as those over 600 years before. The feeling is one I had never known until that moment and have not exactly known since; a most overwhelming sense of belonging and connection to this place I’d never been before.


Castle Tioram, Scotland (Apr 2005)

And to share it with my mother made it extra special. Even though this was not related to her lineage (my father was the Scottish one), mothers are usually who we seek out to feel a sense of acceptance and belonging when we need it most. And so, the two were so deeply coupled.

The whole trip was actually quite special. This was my mom’s first trip outside of North America and I got to witness the same childlike wonder in her that I had on my first trip to Italy. She was up for anything and she was eager to see and experience everything. Every time I decided to just take a random street to go exploring, she was enthusiastically up for it. (Even if she’d silently reveal a few nerves by gripping the door handle a little harder or letting out a slightly longer exhale before agreeing, thinking I didn’t notice!) She has since taken to travel like a fish to water.

I hold such fond memories of that trip and part of me wants to share every one of those stories. But, another part wants to keep them close so that only 2 of us in the world know exactly what that trip involved. Instead, I will just share a few photos.


But, I feel I should reveal just one more memory since it is one that forever changed how I saw my mother. In the first few days of the trip, in Edinburgh, we had ventured out for dinner and wandered through some quiet side streets in Leith. A tiny little pub on a corner caught our eye and we decided to pop in for a bite. We grabbed a little table at the end of the bar and right by the window. To my surprise, my mother ordered a pint of the local beer on draught. So, I did the same. We sat and talked and watched the world go by. The conversation felt very familiar at first. Mom asked questions that showed curiosity about where I was going with my life but without pushing the subjects too much as to reveal the extent of her motherly anxieties about making sure her baby was ok.

At some point, though – perhaps somewhere into the second pint she’d ordered to my even greater surprise – I found myself talking to a friend. We talked about the relationships we had with our fathers and studying in fields largely dominated by men. We laughed about silly dating stories and embarrassing decisions we’d made along the way. And it hit me in a moment when I caught her laughing as my girlfriends do when we’re being a bit silly, my mother is a person. She had been a young girl with insecurities and crushes, she was smart and determined, she had fallen in love, she had built a career and raised her children in a life I could tell she loved. And, more importantly, she hadn’t figured everything out just yet. She didn’t have all the answers – as we assume parents do.

‘ooh, I think I might be a bit tipsy!’

Ah yes, and we were back to the mom I knew. So, we walked home in the dark having shed new light on our relationship. And the rest of the trip was much the same. The play of switching roles between mother/daughter and friends. It meant outbursts from frustration and exhaustion but also giggling because we talked late into the night and neither of us could sleep.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I want to thank you, Mom, for such a great trip. Especially since today it reminds me not only that I have a pretty awesome mother (whom I not-so-secretly envy for traveling more than me now!). But, that we are also still those friends that still haven’t quite figured it all out yet – and that is awesome too.

Je t’embrasse bien fort. Joyeuse fête des mères! xox


3 thoughts on “Motherland

  1. Maurice says:

    Chère Julie, tu as fait le plus beau cadeau qu’on puisse faire à une mère, la reconnaître comme personne au-delà de son rôle et dans toute sa complexité. Comme ton oncle et parrain, je te remercie de faire ce cadeau à la femme qui est ma soeur et qui tient aussi une place très spéciale dans ma vie. Oncle Maurice


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