My four year old son asked, “Are we up in the air yet?” With the certainty of a frequent flyer his twin sister responded, “No. We have to wait until the plane shivers. Then we can go up in the air.” Double checking their seat belts, I stopped up short and peered quizzically over at my daughter’s sweet confident face.
Then, as if on cue, the plane actually shivered. And just like that, we began our ascent. My toddler, already a seasoned traveler, knew what she was talking about. At four, flying was old hat for her.
While I found myself impressed with my baby girl’s attention to detail, I really shouldn’t have been. Boarding a plane with the both of them (by myself) began when they were just eight months old. Never stopped traveling after that. Flew to Arizona, Florida, Maui, Georgia, NYC, Mexico, South Dakota, the Caribbean, and when they were nine, we got really crazy and ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to take an Adventures by Disney tour of England and France.
From the time my babies were itty bitty infants, I loaded up my double stroller and off we went. Sometimes their dad would join us, but if he couldn’t, the three of us went anyway. Two, three times a year. Always someplace new.
Wanted to show my kids the world.
While I am fiercely patriotic, I longed for my children to be citizens of the world: to appreciate the different faces who inhabit the countries that make up our maps, to experience cultures unlike our own, try food they would never consider eating (snails anyone?), attempt to communicate in unfamiliar tongues (or pretend to have a Scottish accent while on the Disney cruise in the Bahamas!), try to grasp the concept of foreign currency (some countries display royalty on their money. Who knew?); be at home in the world, not just in southern California. My desire was to make their world smaller by going out and seeing how big the real world really is. There is value in the struggle.
Exposure, experience, and understanding breed acceptance, compassion, and concern for others different from us. There is no better teacher than the live classroom of the universe. Get up and go somewhere foreign. Whenever you can. I believe it is important to test yourself. To teach your children to test themselves. To trust in your own ability and their abilities as well, to survive and thrive somewhere other than Pleasant Drive, USA.
While I am positive, moms have taken jaunts on an airplane with their little ones before, I cannot tell you how many gasps of objection were sent my way each time I would arrive at the gate.
“But traveling alone with TWO babies?” or… “Are you sure, honey?” (As if I was daft). “My goodness, YOU ARE BRAVE!” (As if I was clueless).
Either way, I would simply smile in response, tuck my diaper filled carry on underneath the seat in front of me, pray their little ears didn’t hurt during the flight (or a smelly horrifying blowout would not spread throughout the entire plane)–and instead, intentionally force myself to focus on the experiences lying in wait at the other end. One time we were all reduced to tears, but only that once. And we flew a lot. Crap (literally and figuratively), does happen. Don’t let it stop you.
The important take away?
My kids had to learn to live in an adult world; they needed to learn to be still, when the time called for it.
One unexpected reward? Being calm, reverent, quiet when required—these moments provided an opportunity for my children to absorb with their other senses. At four, my daughter was using her ears to listen to the plane shiver. She could feel it too.
My children have seen the obnoxious American abroad. They will mimic one. My kids will pull away first. They get the value of humility and …
Being still allows us to process our surroundings in an unselfish way. It’s healthy. Objective. When you find yourself in a vacant train station at midnight in the tiny poorly-lit town of Granada, Spain with your sleepy youngsters in tow, you have no choice but to stop and listen to the advice of the locals. Appreciate their presence. Sometimes, even count on it. Finding accommodations is not about you anymore. It’s about the kids–and the taxi driver, the hotel clerk—all willing to help, if only allowed. Rather than witnessing the surroundings through the subjective lens of me-me-me, traveling to the foreign and unfamiliar far way destination forces us to discover parts of who we are in a world where others matter first. Ultimately, I realized at a very young age, through the gift of necessity, we all need each other.
First time I traveled alone I was five.
Mama put me on a Greyhound bus across from Disneyland and six hours later my grandmother met me with open arms at the bus station in San Luis Obispo. Only memory I have was one of excitement! Led the way up the steep dull silver steps of the bus in anticipation. Mother boarded the bus with me, lifted me up and sat me down alone, in the front row, directly across from the driver and explained, “He’s going to keep an eye on you, okay?”
Mama’s expression hardened as she wrapped my arms around a coloring book and a half full box of crayons.
“Sit still. This bus is going to stop sometimes but you STAY HERE in your seat. Don’t get off the bus until you see grandma.”
Smelled the exhaust and knew it was time to go. My family rode on busses often. No car. This was old hat for me. Mama planted a kiss goodbye on my lips, and an “I love you” in my ear. Taking my face in her hands she beamed her message into my eyes, “Be a good girl, okay? DON’T MOVE.” There was a moment of hesitation, but her hands were tied. Daddy had disappeared again. Broke. I had to go. Mama seemed to soften a bit when I smiled in earnest and nodded in agreement. Fortunately, I already knew how to be still. And traveling alone? This was adventure!
The bus ride was long. Really, really long. Never moved though. I can still seen my grandmother’s outreached arms, “There’s my girl!”
Got to thinking about all of this today as I finalized the details of my family’s upcoming summer vacation. We are headed east. Never been north of NYC and my father wants to put a check next to the final item on his bucket list:
Sit on the coast of Maine and eat lobster. YUM!
My airline keeps alerting me to a truck load of frequent flyer miles about to expire (another perk of the get up and go) so I booked the trip (making sure we have wheelchair access when necessary). Dad can walk, but his legs get tired at 78 years old. No worries. That is doable.
Dumbfounded he wants to board a plane. Dad will fly out of obligation: weddings, funerals, etc. otherwise, no.
When he expressed this recent desire, I felt grateful. Jumped at the chance to have this special time with him. Won’t be easy. I have no illusions, We will have to adjust to his pace. Things with the elderly, unexpected things, pop up. Again, a good thing. All about growth: his, mine, the twins. Imagine the wonderful conversations; the memories we will make! Gonna remind myself to be still now and again too and witness the northeast through my father’s eyes. Through my teenagers’ eyes.
Gotta pack and prepare well so I can enjoy, and when it is time to board? We will. Because it is important to venture out. Make the world ours. No matter how young, no matter how old.
Just gotta go. I hope you do too.
When you get back? Your own bed, home, street and town will be seen through different eyes. The lens will widen. You will appreciate the whole lot even more. Travel. Be still. Get up and go. Grow. It’s a win-win!
Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved