Ireland by Horseback
Erika talking on the phone: "Who did you see at the football game on Friday? Oh... Julie. So did you talk to Julie or did you just look at her?"
Erika is talking on the phone in her bedroom, which is a kind of collapsed-time capsule. Her shelves are lined with horse shows ribbons and dolls and music boxes.
Erika talking on phone: "So who's this girl Chyna? Like, um, Frank kept talking about this girl Chyna who is so hot and everything. Hold on, I have another call."
Clothes are strewn everywhere as if she had fled in the night. And mixed in this mess are three long-stemmed velvet red roses from a secret admirer. At least it's a secret to me.
Erika talking on phone: "Rebecca, are you OK? Okay, so you are spending the night at Daniel's house and he comes over at one o'clock in the morning? And her parents just let him in. Oh yeah, he can come in."
She is fourteen and on the border. She is about a mile from sitting barefoot on the front stoop asking me about what it feels like to fall in love... and six degrees from a first date. So when my friend Beverly suggested a mother-daughter trip, a weeklong, 100-mile ride through the Ring of Kerry in Ireland with castles, and bogs and forests and runs along the beach, I knew I had to act fast.
Beverly and her 16-year-old daughter Ali joined Erika and me for some pub hopping in Kilarney. It's a friendly town in Southwest Ireland. As luck would have it, the first place we settle into, the band is playing a bawdy song called the "Association of Virgins" of which there are four members... including sheep.
While I'm at the bar waiting for drinks, I watch my tall, slim, dark-haired girl tapping her foot to the music. This is good. Then I see some young guys glancing at her. I walk back over and hand her a Coke and turn around to look at them to establish my maternal turf. Erika takes the Coke... and then moves two steps away. . . from me.
We are galloping on Irish draft horses, massive animals with hairy legs and oversized, convex faces. Positively prehistoric looking. We are hauling through farmland dotted with cottages, some with only the ribs of roofs remaining, long ago abandoned. In the distance, we can see the small, picturesque seaside town of Waterville. We cover about 22 miles a day.
By the end of the day, we settle into a sense of fatigued ease. And here Ali's confession begins. What she's done doesn't seem that bad, at least by my high school standards. Just some thrill seeking. I know Beverly can't really react too much unless she wants her daughter to clam up. Ali is grinning and looking directly into her mother's eyes. Beverly has this pleasant look frozen on her face.
The next day, beside a river, Beverly and I talk about 'the confession.' Why now?
Beverly: "She feels more relaxed and she's around a lot of teenage girls. And everybody is letting loose and kind of divulging their secrets. Yeah, I've learned more than I wanted to know."
Today is billed as the highlight of the trip, galloping along the beach and in the surf. For three months, I fantasized about this moment of freedom. Instead, we canter one behind the other, which means you eat whatever the horses in front of you kick up. Naturally, you don't want to be last. As we jockey for position, my daughter orders me to the back.
Erika: "Gulliver, oooh."
It's our last day. After eight days in the saddle... here is the truth: Erika and I made this trip for different reasons.
Erika: "When we decided to go on this trip, at first I was really excited but then all of sudden worries started to set in. I remembered the troubles I had with my own horse on the trails when she used to get scared... and how panicky I used to get. I decided the trip should be something where I could prove to myself that I could ride it. It was basically to build my self-confidence in my riding abilities and myself. And proving to myself that I had the abilities that everyone else said I did."
When she realized I had other expectations, she dug a little deeper.
Erika: "I think my relationship with you is pretty close, especially at this point in my life. And I think that mainly what I learned to appreciate... your spunk. Because normally it's like, uh, 'There goes mom', you know... doing this and doing that. But I learned to enjoy it and kind of just go with the flow more."
After taking this trip together, I've noticed that she is no longer falling in step with my timeline and my plans. She's got her own. And I'm learning to go with her flow.
In Kilarney, Ireland, I'm Karen Lowe for The Savvy Traveler.
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