There and Back Again

There’s such a big difference between the words “luggage” and “baggage.” “Luggage” puts one in mind of matching suitcases packed with swimming costumes, beach reads, guide books and hiking boots. Whereas “baggage” is the heavy stuff that slows you down and steals your joy.

There’s a difference, too, between the words “holiday” (a refreshing break) and “journey” (something altogether more transformative).

I was reminded of all of these nuances when we headed back to the Motherland recently, for Christmas. Yes, it was a holiday, with lots of luggage. But it was also a journey, and oh boy, was there baggage!

Purely from a practical point of view, getting to and from South Africa is something of an undertaking, involving two trains, three airports and, always, at least one entirely unforeseen circumstance. One thus wants to pack as lightly as possible. And when I say “one,” I mean my husband and I, because the children want no such thing.

For a start, they clearly confuse the phrase “Let’s go on holiday” with the phrase “Let’s stage an emergency evacuation,” because they immediately cast aside a) my helpful packing list and b) all common sense. The older child, for example, was discovered to have stuffed twenty hardcover books into her suitcase. Twenty! We were only going away for three weeks! Her father and I waved our arms around; we wailed things like, “Insanity!” and “Three airports!” and “Baggage allowance!” Also things like, “This is why you have a Kindle,” and “I’m not carrying your suitcase.”

Eventually we persuaded (bribed) her to cut it down to five, and we should have known that something was up when she agreed after only half an hour of lying on the floor hyperventilating. We thought good sense had prevailed. But no. She’d just transferred the other fifteen books to her backpack. This I discovered on the aeroplane, when I tried to stow the backpack in the overhead compartment and almost herniated myself on the spot.

I was pretty sure the smaller child wouldn’t be that much of a problem. She’s repeatedly proven herself completely untrustworthy in the packing department, so I’d done the job for her, and had neatly put together a lovely little capsule wardrobe, a few toiletries and even fitted in one of her favourite soft toys. She was sweetly helpful in taking her bag to the car (a red flag if ever there was one), which is where it burst open and disgorged about two hundred pompoms.

“Where are your clothes?” I asked, adrift in a sea of fluff. “Where is your toothbrush?”

“I took them out to make room for the important stuff.”

Now, South Africa certainly has its issues, but a shortage of crafting pompoms is not one of them. In my desperation, I offered to buy her some once we got to Joburg. No go, though. Apparently, she’d promised the Swiss pompoms a vacation, and she wasn’t about to disappoint them. (They had the holiday of a lifetime, those pompoms, scattering behind her all the way from Joburg to Cape Town and back again, like the brightly-coloured glitter trail of a craft-obsessed unicorn.)

Anyhow, it was on the way back to Switzerland that the holiday became a journey, and my understanding of the luggage/baggage issue was transformed. To be precise, it was when we joined the check-in queue at OR Tambo, and the small child parked her suitcase painfully on my foot.

“What’s in there?” I joked. “Rocks?”

The look on her face told me all I needed to know. Yes, rocks. A collection, to the tune of 21. Again, the waving of the arms, and the wailing of things like “Insanity!” and “Baggage allowance!” and “Swiss Customs will not have it!”

“Why on Earth would you take a bunch of rocks to Switzerland, anyway?” I asked. “We live right across the lake from the Alps!”

“To give to everyone in my class. So they can see where I come from.”

And then I understood. The rocks are South Africa, and she wants to take them home with her. The pompoms are Switzerland, and she doesn’t want to leave them behind when she travels.

The other child, standing next to us and buckling under the weight of her twenty books, sees South Africa as her real home, and suffers an agonising wrench every time we leave it. She uses her beloved books to calm her when the intensity of her feelings gets too much.

The comfort of familiar words, the pleasurable softness of our current life, the weight of our history – that’s what was really in their suitcases. I understand. We all self-soothe as best we can; we all carry our own baggage. But who ends up carrying all the actual luggage? Me. I do. Which is where the transformative nature of my journey comes in, because two trains, three airports and one entirely unforeseen circumstance later, my back will never be the same again.

By Robyn Goss

Robyn is a part-time writer and full-time slave to her two young daughters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she now lives in a little cow-rich village in Switzerland. She spends her free time making To Do lists of things she’ll probably never get around to doing (have the car cleaned; vacuum under the bed; run a half-marathon) and putting the finishing touches to her third novel. To read more of Robyn’s writing, click here and here.

Illustration by Jen Bognar

Jen’s gorgeous illustrations have graced Mothering Matters’ pages since 2013.


2 thoughts on “There and Back Again

  • November 24, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Robyn this is hilarious and very touching at the same time – I’ll try to remember that every gadget has its purpose and maybe you can help me with what I found? Not detrimental to my back but what is the obsession with home-made slime stuffed in balloons that has to be taken along everywhere and not just one but five!? Hope your back recuperates before your next journey 🙂

    • February 5, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      Karin, I’m so unused to getting comments on my column that I’ve only just seen yours now!
      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
      This slime thing is all too familiar. My daughter also carries a collection around with her. Stuffing it into balloons is genius, though, and I think we’ll be doing that in future (instead of stuffing it into pockets, boots and my handbag).


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