International travel with children: It's in the Journey - City MIG on Travel

International travel with children:  It's in the Journey - City MIG on Travel
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. - Maya Angelou

 

                My husband and I were walking by a children’s park in the Eixample quarter of Barcelona when we realized that we were ready to start a family.  Seeing the beautiful Barcelonians – cosmopolitan, confident, and youthful—pushing Bugaboos past Gaudi’s modernist Casa BotllÓ, we saw a sampling of what it could be like for us.  Two and a half years into our marriage, we were city people and travel lovers.  We had planned on waiting a year before starting a family, maybe visiting India first.  But seeing those parents in Barcelona— so open, so urban and yet, with children, we decided – why wait?  We came back to Chicago in October of 2005 and a month later, two lines on a pregnancy test told us we would soon be pram pushers as well. 

                As we planned for the new responsibilities, we realized that we would need to decide how we wanted to raise this little peanut.  Like most parents, we wanted to give our child the world and make sure he or she knew that everything was open to them.  We had a will drawn up and added special instructions to our trustee – while our child’s trust would be responsibly controlled until he or she was 25, any request they had for funds to support travel were to be obliged.  We figured, if for any reason we were gone, we still wanted to give our baby the world. 

                Vivien was born the next August and we continued our lives in the city.  As often as we could afford with time off from our jobs and expense, we kept our traveling going.  Vivien’s first passport picture was of an apple-headed 8-month-old in a purple fur-collared sweater.  An island getaway to Jamaica provided her first blue stamp and with that, our new family was ready to explore.  Vivien was a champion traveler from the start:  sleeping on the plane, splashing in the ocean, napping as we took in the view on the terrace.  She loved being adored by the staff and we loved having her with us.  Seeing the world through another, brand new set of eyes, we found ourselves opening up.  We still relaxed and swam and shopped and had seaside dinners, but now, we added in stops at the baby swings in the children’s area and walks past the once irrelevant equestrian center and dolphin cove.  We pointed these things out to her as she stared in awe at the horses and giggled with glee in seeing the dolphins kiss guests.  We found ourselves more open and talkative with the locals, other guests and staff.  Our new little traveler was the catalyst of creating these new interactions. 

                After that trip, we had no problem filling up that darling little passport.  Vivien accompanied us to trips all over – both domestic and abroad.  From New York, San Francisco and Orlando to Argentina, Uruguay, Italy and Germany, Vivien was our travel sidekick.  She had crawled for the first time across a blanket at the Helmsley Hotel across from New York’s Central Park, she had selected a silver princess dress at a shop in the trendy Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires—which she wore nearly every day we were there.  After long days of exploring, shopping, visiting museums, parks and cafes, Vivien would fall asleep next to us in her stroller at restaurants or to the buzz of the television cartoons in French, Italian or Spanish. 

                While this clearly felt like perfection and normalcy to us, we discovered that many people – family, friends and acquaintances who found out we took her with us on these trips were utterly confused.  “Why would you take her there now,” they would ask.  “She’ll never remember it”.  The comment stopped me the first few times I heard it.  I was satisfied and happy with the way we were living.  I felt blessed that we could explore these different countries and cultures and continue to live our dreams even with a child in tow.  Vivien was happy and thriving.  I wondered how to respond and felt a little defensive.  As I thought about it, even for myself, I really couldn’t recall all the details of each of our trips.  I couldn’t specify every place we had seen, what the significance of the monuments were or even where all we had been.  Then why did we love to go so much?  If you can’t remember your trips, could it be argued that it’s pointless to go?

                I put the question to the back of my mind and we continued to live to our own liking.  We visited South America and Vivien reveled at Tango dancers in Buenos Aires and shopped for chunky square crayons in tiny shops in Colonia, Uruguay.  We scrimped and scrounged United frequent-flier miles and hotel points however we could and flew to visit friends in Germany and family in Lake Como and Venice, Italy.  I watched my little girl maneuver rides at Chriskindlmarkt in Frankfurt and giggle at 80-year-old aunts in Italy who indulged her in chocolates.  When her little best friend moved to London, we took her there to visit and they danced around the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, on the site of Princess Diana’s beloved home.  And I’ll never forget her face when, through the November fog turning around out of the Paris Metro, she saw the Eiffel Tower emerge before her eyes, more alive and real than when she first admired it watching the Disney movie, “Ratatouille.”

                Now, when I ponder that question of memory, I don’t even try to answer it for myself or anyone else.  But I certainly don’t get defensive.  Because, perhaps, the magic isn’t in the memories at all.  I believe it’s entirely possible that our children grow on their own, inspired by and reacting to whatever it is they are used to experiencing.  What they grow up knowing and feeling comfortable with.  For Vivien, it’s not about remembering the moment she ran down the temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok or the virgin strawberry daiquiris in Mexico.  She may indeed entirely forget hurrying to the bathroom at the Ladurée tea salon in Paris necessitating her first time speaking French in France because emergency called for it.  The feeling of being embraced by far-off relatives or riding into the mountainside with a translator to visit the area where her ancestors lost their lives in World War II will surely be lost on her.  If you quiz her, she probably won’t tell you about how she was nicknamed “Vivi” by the staff at Half Moon in Montego Bay or that she lost her favorite patent leather shoes going through airport security in Munich.  But what I know is that this child is as comfortable hanging out in restaurants around the world late at night as she is eating at our dining room table in Chicago.  That she is patient in dealing with queues and flexible in her thinking.  That she is comfortable being uncomfortable, and that she sees as many differences between her and the people in Vietnam as she sees between her and me.  Not everyone looks the same, that’s no surprise!  

                Her passport expires at the end of this year.  It’s now filled with the stamps of the 13 countries that she has visited in her five years on earth.  If her travels leave absolutely no memories, I’d be surprised.  She regularly stuns my husband and me with little remembrances out of the blue—and if we are looking through photo books, she usually can recount way more than either my husband or I can.  And while the memories are, in fact, treasures, I have no doubt that what has left an imprint on my daughter’s mind is not so much in the photos or the memories, but in the process of the travels themselves.  She is ultimately—as indeed we all are—a product of the journey.

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