In the last couple weeks my husband and I have been slogging through holiday plans. This means looking ahead at the next year, and considering what to do now and what to do later, what we want to do, what we can afford to do.
I always thought I’d be one of those moms who just dragged her children around the world on my whims. I was inspired by the Irish writer Dervla Murphy, who traveled through India with her daughter on a donkey. I was ready to be a daring alternative parent, and my children would be world citizens, open-minded and flexible.
And as with all fantasies, real life intervened. India became out of the question. We did do some international travel with them as little ones because of important family events. I learned several important things.
One: I was and am too old to manage two infants on airplanes, through time zones, seat belts and other country’s car rental procedures. It was worthwhile in retrospect, but I’m not sure it was fun.
Two: they were too young. B never understood seat belts, and unlike my youth, when I was allowed all over the plane including under the seats, the airline staff were not sympathetic. L. got nervous every time we traveled, couldn’t stand sand all over her body, spend the bulk of the trip missing home and then when we left, spent the following week missing wherever we had been.
Three: Money spent on travel before they have concrete memory is wasted, if what you are trying to give them is memories and a sense of the world. Both girls have actually seen the culturally-vital Track 9 ¾. Do they remember? Not even slightly. Duh, I guess in retrospect, but eager, restless parent that I was, I did it anyway.
It’s been clear that the last few years have become an ideal time to travel for our family – they entertain themselves better, they are interested, they’ll remember and they’ll behave up to a point. And that coincided nicely with our loss of travel funds.
How to handle this? Travel, to me, organically feels like a fundamental parenting obligation (and if I pull it off, a total pleasure). I don’t think my parents had a priority on travel, and neither did their parents. One set of grandparents were grateful to visit the other side of the state, and endlessly marveled as their son grew up to have a globe-trotting business career. The other set traveled widely because my grandfather was in the military and because they loved it. But in terms of kids, they seemed to put more emphasis on believing that all girls should stand correctly, cook well, and learn French.
My parents loved travel, but we didn’t too much, unless it was related to my father’s work or based on going to see family, which was far-flung. But when I was a young woman, they supported me in lots of travel, as I tried to experimented with different ways of living abroad – none of which worked, but I had a good time trying.
And maybe that’s it – travel was so liberating to me. I learned a lot about independence, saw and did amazing (and stupid) things, and found how Americans are both loved and hated in the world.
So I want to start that wanderlust for them. It feels like I don’t have that many more years before they fly the nest, and I think, if we can, it will make a big difference in their lives. There’s no plan yet because there is no budget, and we may just finally get started with expanding their view of our own country. Our National Parks are treasure enough.
But I am interested in hearing from other parents about this. Do you believe travel is something today’s kids “need” to be good world citizen tomorrow? We’ve got so many obligations to manage – should travel be added to the cart?