For our family, summertime means travel and adventure. Our boys are 5 and 7 years old and since their early years, we have instilled wanderlust as a family value. From Missouri road trips to overseas journeys to eat gelato in Rome, my husband and I have actually done more traveling with our kiddos in tow than the decade we spent together before parenthood.
While traveling with our kids has become a favorite shared hobby, other parents often question our priorities and sanity:
The shocked reaction: “Wow, you guys are brave.”
This comment is often uttered in amazement as if traveling with small kids is a gauntlet run complete with medieval creatures and valiant battle. And for many people, the word “brave” is actually a euphemism for “crazy”. I get lots of head shaking and wide eyes with remarks like, “Good luck with that.” To many parents, the idea of being outside their comfort zone with new beds, new foods, and new schedules is impossible to fathom. As a mostly Type-A, schedule and routine-loving mom, I totally understand that phobia. My husband likes to tease me about the first trip we took with children. At five months, our oldest son had just started taking three predictable naps and had eaten his first serving of pureed green beans. We spent an entire week camping in the Smoky Mountains and I refused to acknowledge our shift to Eastern time zone. We set up a Pack n’ Play in our tent and a portable high chair in the woods. I made sure that eating and sleeping routines carried on precisely as usual just with new mountain sights and sounds to absorb.
The wistful reaction: “Oh I look forward to the days when we can travel…”
For some people, those elusive “days ahead” that travel will be possible might be dictated by getting time off work or garnering more financial resources for vacation expenses. But others envision arriving at a pinnacle of parenthood where child-rearing becomes “easier.” If you talk with enough parents of older children, you learn that this path we are on never becomes smooth and straight. Rather it winds through the mazes of developmental stages, still shadowed by the looming forests of parental self-doubt and forked trails that call upon our survival skills of trial and error. There are no clear signposts ahead nor breadcrumbs to help us find our way back to those seemingly simpler days of toddlerhood. The main difference is that our maturing kiddos are independently skipping ahead of us, no longer holding tight to our hands. I admit that our travels are definitely simpler now that both of our children are out of diapers, done with essential mid-day naps, and able to walk independently. My point is simply that there will always be challenges when you envision a big trip with your kiddos. There is no perfect age for travel, so our philosophy is to just go for it.
And lastly, the question of practicality: “Why take your kids on these trips? They will never remember/appreciate it.”
While I understand that our adventures will not be burned in the long-term memories of my boys, I know that it is shaping their characters. In general, both our boys adapt easily to new experiences. They aren’t bothered by sleeping somewhere new, are always willing to try unfamiliar foods, and return home with new vocabulary and background knowledge. When we returned from Switzerland, our oldest son played “gondola” with spare ropes and toy cars for months. Our younger son will tell anyone who will listen about eating octopus and sea urchins in Spain. And both of our suburbanite boys’ favorite trip to date was staying on a farm where they got to retrieve eggs from the chickens, an experience that can be achieved in rural Missouri. You don’t need to globe trot to seek adventure. These beauties unfold when you take the risk to try on a new lifestyle for a snippet of time. Adventure is about stepping out of the everyday routine, and experiencing both the exhilaration and the anxiety of new situations together. And if as time passes, our children have no recollection of their childhood odysseys, then that is okay too. My husband and I will certainly have enough memories for us all to share. There will be always be photo books to awaken the images and stories told to sustain their appetite for adventure.