Peanut M&Ms and sports trivia used to be our currency of choice when trying to get our boys, one boy in particular, to soldier on for family hikes (see above.) I was remembering those years of vociferous reluctance and bribery during our recent 7 day hiking trip to Slovenia.
My position on family hikes has always been the caboose, in part because I like taking pictures and because in those early years one parent needed to fence in any attempted escape back to the car. In Slovenia however, I pulled up the rear because try as I might, I couldn’t keep up. After years of hiking exposure, that boy in particular is now the young man who bounds ahead and waits for the rest of us. And this time it was me not them that needed cajoling to carry on.
It’s a funny thing, those inversion moments with your children, where they are the ones whispering in your ear: “You can do it” when you’re sure you can’t. Twice I found myself crouched on a mountain paralyzed by my overbearing fear of heights and twice my children came to my rescue, not with peanut M&Ms, but with an unwavering confidence in me. I, not gracefully or without tears, did eventually do it. They then hovered around me until they knew I was comfortable again before they raced ahead to the next climb.
My boys have now traveled to 29 countries. A lot of those first trips, like our early hikes, were hard because they were young and not entirely flexible. None of our trips were a waste but some were sacrificial. When we set out on this commitment 5 years ago to spend our time and money on travel, we hoped that the exposure to new cultures and experiences would make them more adaptable and curious about the world. I admit that personality, and maybe even parenting, plays a large role in how travel experiences are ingested but the mere experience of seeing a new part of the world is enough to crack open children's natural curiosities.
It seems unlikely that without that unwavering commitment they would have passed the hours hiking in Slovenia by quizzing each other -- without parental involvement -- not only on NBA stats but mostly on African capitals of the world. Or that they would start to genuinely love it when we, no longer embarrassing parents, stopped to talk to a local and asked bare (North London slang for "very") questions. Or that they would be willing to eat whatever was on the chef’s menu, even if that menu wasn’t in English or the ingredients weren’t recognizable. And in Slovenia, they eat bear ... thank goodness we got the venison.
I’ve noticed in these 5 years that as they have become more flexible travelers, I have become a more finicky one. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve digressed while they’ve expanded -- maybe it has something to do with expectations? More often than not when we travel, it is them urging me to be patient when service is slow, or when we get lost, or when we’re stuck in a standstill for 1.5 hours on a two lane road when it's late and we’re starving. Whatever the reason for my backslide, it is pure pleasure to pull up your mental accounting of a trip and for there to be a legitimate zero under “kid complaints.”
Family travel is a muscle that requires exercise and like hiking, there is a point at which you as the parent will lag behind because they have become fitter than you. Enjoy the view while you still have them in sight.
I leave you with this beautiful quote from the book I'm reading now, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng:
“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person; your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.”