Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travelling with My Children: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Take a Nap

The daughters riding the subway through New York City.

I remember the exact moment when I realized my family had hit an important turning point. It was during a camping trip several years ago. My youngest daughter was about four years old. Up until that point, our family camping trips consisted mainly of my wife and me running about like pinballs bouncing from child to child trying to keep our three lovely daughters from eating dirt, jumping into rivers, sitting in the middle of the street, swinging from the tent poles, etc. You get the picture. 

These “relaxing” trips into the wilds were mostly work. Instead of passing the hot part of the day swinging in my hammock with a good book until I dropped off into an afternoon coma, I would watch my small children in the hopes that we would not go home with a smaller number of progeny than we started with.

However, that all changed one day. I don’t remember where we were camping exactly, but I remember making camp in the afternoon, telling the kids not to do anything stupid, and then sitting back to play goalie on the street side of camp while Michelle guarded the river behind camp. Instead of immediately trying to drown themselves, the kids simply started to play within the boundaries we had set. We kept watching, sure they were just trying to lure us into a sense of complacency so that once we had let down our guard sufficiently they could do cartwheels in the street while eating scorpions. But they just kept doing what they were told. My wife and I were astounded. We got to sit next to each other and talk (since we had brought neither hammock nor book, assuming trying to nap or read was simply a fool’s errand). 

That was the turning point. We had always loved camping and road tripping, and we had continued to engage in both activities even after we had kids. But our trips with little ones had always been far more work than fun. But not anymore. Now our kids were young enough to get really, really excited when they saw things like the geysers of Yellowstone, a bear in the Sierras, or a rock in the middle of the trail, but they were old enough that we could trust them to make (mostly) good decisions to keep themselves safe. Travelling with the kids had suddenly become more fun than work!

And that is not all. As they have grown, my kids have shown themselves to be fantastic travelers. They can pass an entire day in the car without blinking an eye (thank you books on tape/cd/ipod). They will go for days on end living in the dirt without whining about needing a shower (thank you wet wipes). Two of the three will eat absolutely anything you set in front of them (thank you Food TV). And they have begun to mock travelers who do not pack super light (thank goodness!). 

On our most recent month-long road trip across the eastern part of the mainland, each of the kids was told she could have one grumpy day. On that day, the child was allowed to have a bad attitude and would not get reprimanded for it. All you had to do was say, “I am using my grumpy day!” and we would just let that child trail behind us, grumbling to her heart’s content. Despite a grueling schedule of walking across cities and through museums, not a single one of my girls used her grumpy day. At one point in Washington DC my oldest child’s feet hurt so bad we joked about her walking like a grandma. She was clearly in a great deal of pain and fell flat on her face at one point. Her reaction: she laughed. She laughed as she limped. She laughed as she stumbled. She even laughed as we made fun of her.

So here is me being grateful that a travel-bug-bitten guy like myself was blessed with compatible children.  The next several posts will be about our trip this summer. And if you still have small children that require a lot of work, just remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there.

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