03/03/2014 04:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Travel Teaches There Is No Place Like Home


Most people think that if you take a year off to travel the world, every day is full of the best kind of adventures. Kelly Corrigan shares in her memoir, Glitter and Glue, how she learned life lessons on the other side of the planet that made her realize how special her mother is. Almost like Dorothy waking up at home in the Wizard of Oz, Corrigan finds that sharing her love with a family in Sydney allows her to let in the love of her own.

Corrigan and her young charge, Milly, are at odds in their early moments and Corrigan muses:

Guess what, Milly Tanner? I don't want to be here, either. I didn't save for a year and fly halfway across the world to stir-fry kangaroo meat and pick up your "skivvies" off the bathroom floor. This was supposed to be my trip of a lifetime, my Technicolor dream.

Before leaving she tells her own mother,

I'm not going to magically become interesting sitting on the sofa. I'm not going to learn anything -- my values, or purpose, or point of view -- at home. Things happen when you leave, when you walk out the door, up the driveway, and into the world.

But she ends up walking into a motherless house and realizing what a family needs is both glitter and glue.

Corrigan managed to make Milly's day several times, and recounts: "Milly said "mmm." I made Milly Tanner a tiny bit happy." She makes a difference in the lives of this family whose mother has died and learns about her own mother in the process.

"[Mothers] agonize over all the wrong things, cycling through one inane idea after another: seat belts, flossing, the golden rule. The living mother-daughter relationship, you learn over and over again, is a constant choice between adaptation or acceptance. "

Being involved with the Tanners is complicated as there are many family members of all ages with tangled involvements. Corrigan realizes:

"For better or worse, I've latched on to Milly's ecosystem. What happens to her happens -- in some weird refracted way that seems slightly dangerous -- to me, too. And it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mother was so exhausted all the time wasn't because she was doing so much but because she was feeling so much."

She cares deeply for the family she is working for and it allows her to reflect on her relationship with her own mother. "I probably should have figured this out sooner, but what child can see the women inside her mom, what with all that Motherness blocking out everything else?"

When Milly seeks Corrigan's praise on a paper, she remembers her own experience with her own mother:

"Every now and then, when I had a really good paper, I'd ask my mom to read it. I did not ask because I valued her feedback. I asked because I wanted praise--her praise in particular, which was hard to come by. But it never worked. ... She always bypassed artistic merit and centered on everything I considered small-minded and beside the point: spelling, grammar, punctuation. Milly's Tasmania paper is one sentence with a dozen conjunctions. "It's excellent!" I lie to Milly, thinking, How hard was that, Mom?"

Mother-daughter relationships can be so challenging. Maybe we are all seeking a bit more praise, a bit less punctuation. Corrigan's tale reminds us to celebrate our relationships and enjoy them, while we can. As Milly knows, mothers are not here forever.

"What is it about a living mother that makes her so hard to see, to feel, to want, to love, to like? How is it that we can only fully appreciate certain riches--clean clothes, hot showers, good health, mothers--in their absence?"

Corrigan's memoir is a daughter's love letter to her mother sharing that "I have learned the difference between pampering and love, adventure and life experience" and the value of all her efforts to raise a wise and wonderful daughter. Reading this book will inspire you to call your own mother and say thank you!

About this Review: Lisa Niver Rajna has been traveling the world since July 2012. Explore her journey at We Said Go Travel and her memoir, Traveling in Sin.