When I was in college, I found a dreamy study abroad program. Sadly, my college budget didn’t support a trip to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Munich even if I stretched my ramen noodle rations. However, a couple of decades later, I was finally going to see the cities I had longed to see. And, even better, I was going to get to see them with my 13-year-old daughter.
Airfare booked, train tickets purchased, housing secured, guidebooks read, and it was finally happening. We had arrived!
I watched her sleep across a couple of grimy seats as we rolled through the Czech Republic on a train. She was hunched over her backpack using it as a hard pillow with her long legs splayed out into the aisle. Neither of us could sleep on the plane the night before when we desperately needed to. I was too revved up and excited. She was simply a teenaged night owl. Even so, I could hardly wait for the adventure that lie ahead.
I woke her up just before the train arrived in Prague. “We’re here,” I whispered. She gathered her things and sleepily walked down the aisle and off the train with me. As we walked away, I looked around and realized we had gotten off at the wrong stop. There was no one around and no actual train station. We were clearly not in downtown Prague.
“Crap!” I laughed. “We got off on the wrong stop. Run, sweetie! We have to get back on that train!” We ran as fast as our tired bodies could run and got on a random car just as the train began to move. A muzzled dog growled viciously and lunged at us as we stepped on. Two agitated owners pulled the dog back and stared at us. There were no seats on this car, just bikes lined up on racks, luggage, and our sweet greeters speaking in a language I couldn’t understand. I began laughing again. “Can you believe we made it back on? We’re so lucky!”
“Are we really lucky?” my daughter snarked while glaring through tired eyes at the dog owners and their muzzled protector.
I knew this trip wasn’t my daughter’s dream vacation. Especially now when the siren song of social media calls to her every moment of every waking hour. And, here she stood without a connection to her virtual world or her friends. I remembered being her age and never tiring of my friends…and rarely enjoying my family. However, I was confident that once she got a full night’s sleep, saw some amazing places, tasted new and exciting foods, and interacted with locals, she would realize this was a dream vacation. I was sure of it. How could she not? She didn’t.
As I danced with Hari Krishnas parading through the cobblestoned streets of Prague with their finger symbols chiming to the rhythm of their songs, my daughter asked, “Can we go now? I wanna try to find something decent to eat.”
As I dipped my toes into the soothing waters of the Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest, I admired the neo-Baroque architecture of the buildings and said, “Can you believe people have been swimming in this beautiful place for almost 150 years?” My daughter sized up the pools with her arms crossed over her chest and decided she was more concerned about the number of people who had peed in the soothing waters for almost 150 years.
When it down poured rain in Munich, and we suddenly dodged into an Andy Warhol and Cadillac car exhibit to get dry, the scowl on her face embarrassed me. I recognized it was not the outdoor park experience we had planned, but when was the last time we got to sit in a car that sells for €159,000 or create Andy Warhol style photographs of ourselves? Cool, right? She didn’t agree. She couldn’t get past her disappointment or get warm in her rain saturated clothes.
I tried with all my might to shift her perspective and show her how fun this vacation could be if she would just be a little more optimistic. Mostly, she would not succumb to my efforts. However, when we witnessed a little old lady with a walker set-off a security alarm as she walked by a sex toy store near our bus stop in Vienna, she did belly laugh when I quietly asked, “What do you think she was doing in there to trip those alarms?”
Since feeling frustrated and disappointed wasn’t helping me have a good vacation, I decided to shift my thinking from how can I help her be more optimistic, to how can her pessimism help me grow? This way of thinking was all I had going for me. I was depleted and seriously hot in Budapest. I didn’t know how it could be done, but I decided to try to meld our outlooks instead of only trying to change hers. Perhaps looking through her lens could help me come down from the clouds and keep my feet firmly planted on the ground? Perhaps my upbeat personality could help her seize a bit more adventure and laughter?
I took an honest look down our vacation memory lane. I recognized that when I celebrated the fact that I could negotiate with a very young non-English speaking man to move to another bunk in a different sleeping cabin on our overnight train using only hand gestures so that my daughter and I could sleep in the same car, maybe there was more stress involved in that interaction than I allowed myself to recognize. As the train porter yelled at me for “getting wrong ticket,” my daughter did have her hand on my back trying to stay safe and close. Yes, my negotiation skills were spot on and I owned that train car for a moment, but it was not all glorious. It was not all fun. Most of our late-night ordeal was quite scary.
When our German-speaking taxi driver’s phone rang in Vienna, and we realized his ringtone was Bohemian Rhapsody, we laughed and sang along with him like we all knew each other and spoke the same language. There was an honest connection in our taxi that crossed cultures and continents. When that same taxi driver charged me an insane rate for our short ride, his smile got a little creepier, our laughter faded, and I realized I’d been duped in the language of our beloved Freddy Mercury.
Our vacation encompassed intricately designed cathedrals and buildings still crumbling from previous wars. Breathtaking palaces and concentration camps. But, isn’t that how life goes? Perhaps if I could have seen these things before removing my rose-colored glasses, we would have enjoyed each other more.
I’m learning a lot from my girl. And, I think she’s learning from me, too.
“It was amazing!” she exclaimed as she talked to her friends from the back seat of my car upon our return. I cringed when I heard her words. Was she kidding? Then I realized that it was amazing. Not perfect. Not always lovely. Not exactly the trip I’d envisioned in college, but absolutely an amazing adventure.