03/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Journey to Remember

I learned soon after I became a mother 16 years ago that parenthood is a series of losses, some of which are more painful than others. In the infant and toddler years, I would recall fondly a time when the space between my daughter and me was literally and figuratively nonexistent. As much as I yearned for her to achieve every developmental benchmark, I was also sad the day she began saying "yellow" instead of "lellow" or the day she pushed my hand away and said proudly, "Me do it."

Each loss heralded a new discovery, a new skill mastered, a new step toward independence and adulthood. Now a high school sophomore, Hannah's reliance on me is less and less physical or emotional, and mostly financial. The occasional cuddle or joyous retelling of a sleepover is cause for me to relive it over again before placing it like a treasure into my memory.

But my child's increasing self-reliance has given me the time to reflect on my parents' lives. In a month, my father will celebrate his 80th birthday. My mother's 78th arrives soon thereafter. I've always been grateful to have arrived at midlife with two vital, physically active parents who live nearby. They still ride their tandem bike on a daily basis, do water aerobics together and attend the opera at the Kennedy Center. While there are the occasional lapses -- my mother's inability to use a cell phone is the stuff of legend -- they are role models for aging well.

They are also a couple who have spent much of their later years enjoying those things that are important to them, particularly travel. They've gone swimming with manatees in Florida, snorkeled in Jamaica, wandered among aborigines in New Zealand, sailed near Easter Island. They've driven across the U.S. countless times and joined my daughter and me when we rent a place in Maine, my dad's kayak strapped to the top of their car.

A few weeks before Christmas, I took them out to dinner to discuss an upcoming trip Hannah and I were taking to Rome for the holidays. When they asked what other places I'd like to visit, I mentioned Krakow, Poland. Much to my surprise, tears ran down my dad's cheeks. He quickly explained that he had always wanted to visit the city, home to some of his ancestors. Why hadn't he ever been there, I wondered, if it meant so much to him? What I said was, "When shall we go?"

So the week before Easter, that's where my parents, my teenage daughter and I will be. Taking elderly parents to Europe requires a different set of requirements than going with a child. A journey that by its very nature is filled with discomfort and obstacles must be planned to ensure as much ease and comfort as possible. I have begun thinking of myself as a tour guide, researching the nearest cafes and tram stops to the apartment I've rented in Krakow.

Losses? Most of the losses I've experienced have involved letting go with grace of things that have been dear to me. The upcoming trip to Krakow is less of a loss and more of a last-minute reprieve. At a time when most of my friends' parents are either gone or no longer mobile, I have a joyful opportunity to recapture something I only thought I lost -- exploring a new adventure with my parents and my daughter. I may desperately need some grace by the end of the week in Krakow, but I will treasure the gift of time with those I love.