When we’re kids, we’re experts at taking things for granted. Like home-cooking. And parents who give a damn.
In most cases, family travel makes the list, too.
This is precisely what I enjoyed so much about Lisa Belkin’s recent essay for HuffPost Travel. Her essay—which is short, sweet and to-the-point—tells the story of how motherhood made her appreciate all of the trips she took with her own family as a child. Over the course of the piece, she takes readers from the Tetons of Wyoming to the Swiss Alps, from the back-seat of her family’s rental car to tiny hotel rooms all over the world.
In the interest of full disclosure, Belkin is a friend and former editor (we worked together on this piece and others for The New York Times). She’s also the kind of person who inspires me to be a better parent AND writer. My favorite passage:
- “We were never more a family than when we were away from home. Every day in the back of a rental car, every night negotiating who got the cot, my brother, sister and I became a unit, relying on each other for entertainment (heck, the TV spoke a different language). Back home we had separate orbits -- different friends, teachers, activities, bedrooms. Away, we were in sync. In each other's way a lot, yes. Grunting some of the time, true. But also dissolving in what we thought were silent giggles between those grunts up the mountain, delighted at our private joke.”
Granted, because I grew up as an only child, I didn’t have siblings with whom to negotiate cots. But the essay got me thinking about random trips I never appreciated from my own childhood.
There was the visit to Colonial Williamsburg during which I complained about every interaction with period costume and food; the tour of Atlanta I fixated on the traffic instead of what I learned at Stone Mountain and The Martin Luther King Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Then there was that summer mom and dad plucked me from the high-school girlfriend to spend ten days exploring the beaches of Cape May, N.J. I spent the entire trip sulking or glued to a payphone (this was in 1991; before cell phones, people) near the hotel. Even after my folks bought me pet hermit crabs, I just wanted to go home.
Of course Belkin’s piece also got me thinking about my own kids. My wife and I are gearing up to relocate to London for the fall. We’re over-the-moon excited. But we also need to prepare ourselves for the girls reacting in ways we don’t expect.
(At times, I guess, they might even hate it.)
In an ideal reality, all of the schlepping and planning we parents put into a connected string of new experiences has a transformative effect on our kids in real-time. In most cases, however, the real value plays out on delay, sometimes going years—or even decades—before making itself evident.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter if our kids appreciate the trips we take with them. But if you expose them to new places repeatedly, unconditionally and passionately, they likely will.