But She Won't Remember It
It's July 2017. That’s right, nearly two years ago!
Our first flight home was delayed in Vienna after an already four hour, early morning drive from Slovenia. It was bound to be a long day. We sat smiling at the people around us in the overcrowded teeny tiny terminal with the busted bathroom. Our smiles said that we, the collective we of everyone sitting with us, we weere going to have a lovely flight with no crying. Not this kid with me. Not this flight. Not today.
A woman next to Brett leaned over and told us Loie was cute. We said thank you. She asked where we were headed after our late night London arrival. Home, eventually, we said.
Loie told her a bit about Slovenia and the crystal clear lake. How she'd swum and swum and swum. And the skulls in Halstatt, did she know about those? A bit more chatting and, as often does when asked, we said a bit about our trips.
Our seat mate then began telling us, over and over, that Loie wouldn't remember any of this trip, let alone that trip we took five years ago.
It felt a bit like someone leaning over to a bride at the reception and saying, "Well then, fifty per cent of marriages end in divorce.
I had a lot of things I wanted to say. But, you know, civility and I'm trying to not take one person's natterings personally and long flight and all that.
Do I think Loie will remember everything she learned, saw or did on this trip? On any trip?
(I don't think I will either, by the by.)
Is that the point of these trips? A to-do, must-learn list that she'll be quizzed on later? A did-she or didn't-she validation of the this thing we do?
When I taught history, I had a similar philosophy about kids remembering dates and things as I do now about our travel.
The exact specifics of any historical event is a trivia question. If I needed to look up the reign on Franz Joseph or Montezuma or Franklin Pierce, I could easily and quickly. Especially with my hand-held supercomputer. Tonight I looked up whether the actress playing Jenny Lind sand her parts in Greatest Showman. She did not.
Instead, I wanted my classroom to be a place where the kids learned the motivations of people, the ways humans work and the ways we change and grow. How we navigate conflict and compromise, how we best communicate and compromise and where we often fail.. The values we hold and the ways beliefs form and how we are all alike on this spinning terrarium and how we are different. That’s what I like to explore. That’s life rife with dialogue and discussion.
That thing about history repeating itself is more than an axiom. The core things about people stay fairly constant, whether using iron tools or the Internet. Our impact and destruction can be much bigger, as are the connections and contact. But the motivations and the machinations? I gotta say, they stay close to the same. We act out of fear and wonder and greed. We explore. We create and destroy. Those in power are generally awful to those not in power. And goddamn I hope that arc bends towards justice.
So I'm less concerned with marching orders on memory and reciting tales of this and that place. I’m more invested in how humanity rises and falls and how individuals and communities make the world go round.
And now, as I've left the classroom and entered the world of parenting, I think too about the lessons and mindsets I'd love to see imparted.
There are three main things I hope Loie learns from traveling as a young person.
Travel is a muscle. You work to earn it and work to keep it. By starting her young, we feel good she'll be a good traveler. She already is.
Long flights. Delays. She mastered sleeping on two chairs and a plastic side table in the Schiphol airport since I also (genetically?) imparted an inability to sleep on planes.
She’s been wildly disappointed with something we thought was open being closed and wildly delighted when something is better than we’d expected.
She’s learned to eat something less than exciting for lunch the third day in a row. And, conversely, she’s gamely trying to learn to eat something a tad too exciting because it's what we've got in front of us. She added animals I did not know existed to her diet in Namibia.
Keeping cool when you're lost. Check. Her more so than me.
Packing smartly because everything you pack, you carry.
Going to the bathroom when you get a chance, especially in Venice because they charge 1.5€.
Creating space for someone else who is tired or cranky or hungry, whether a family member or a person on a bus.
We’re even talking bending the time continuum to a kid. Jet lag is a weird thing for to understand. As she cried into her pasta the night we got home two summers ago, during the 3 pm dinner she asked for, I asked her to trust me that fatigue is a thing we all feel, we'd earned big feelings with our big travel home.
That time change and travel and being pooped provokes certain reactions, and would she believe me that she'd fall asleep if we went to bed while the sun way high (thank you black out curtains)? She did. And 12 hours later at 5 am we were all still a bit loopy. But just fine.
And just like all those harder moments, being a practiced traveler reaps rewards too. When you're lost, what might you find? If you are an open-minded eater, what might you taste?
This year, when she fell so hard we needed an ER visit to confirm she hadn't broken something, she said though some snot "Well, if I have to walk slowly, I'll see more things at the art museum." That's the mindset of a traveler. (Though god I'm relieved we weren't dealing with a cast.)
The logistics and learnings of travel, both what to pack and what to expect about how you feel are things she'll carry with her because they'll be refined and refreshed year after year.
Traveling as an American from Chicago was a thing last year and this year. Between Trump ravaging a country we love and the gun violence ravaging a city we love, I didn't love having to say where we were from.
But I loved everywhere we went. From that first post of our first trip the goal has been to see the There Out There. To seek commonality and appreciate difference. To ask, answer, understand, learn.
Whether it was discussing why so many people in Vienna smoked to why their public transportation was so good, it opened up conversations about our own lives and the bigger world. I totally appreciate that these aren't PhD-level conversations about sociology and ethnography and cultural studies. But in the same way we had her saying Please and Thank You before she knew what manners were or why they mattered, these early conversations matter and will help form her understanding of the world and her place in it.
This year we dug into racism and apartheid. It's both a history lesson and a lesson on our current world. We drove past townships and talked about why there is barbed wire, three gates, two locks and two alarms on our apartment. We explained why there are street kids here and talked about how she wants her Girl Scout troop to do something when she gets home to support kids here.
She calls Mandela mandala. Her timelines are a bit blurry. But she's engaged in the early work of building understanding, of building empathy and of building a desire to be someone who works to improve the world. We knew this trip would be one in which the conversations were hard, done of the fly and that we'd screw up a lot. But we have to start somewhere.
And I'll be honest, I do think she'll remember some something, even if it’s colored in the memories of a kid. If you've watched the Jimmy Kimmel street interviews the bar for Americans understanding American history is woefully low. I think she'll remember that Sisi had very, very, very long hair. And if she then starts jibbering about Rapunzel? So be it!
In Italy, Lo used a squatty potty. I don't think she'll forget that. And when she's traveling abroad as a teen she can be a voice of let's-not-make-a-joke in the bathroom that is ill informed and insensitive. She may also be the kid who always has a couple napkins in her backpack in case there's no toilet paper. Global citizen + consummate traveler powers, activated.
She may not be able to perfectly define global citizen but she sure hears me say it all the dang time. In time, I trust that it'll be integral to her identity in that atmospheric way kids absorb things.
Loie is not a Third Culture Kid, though I sometimes envy that and wish I could give it to her. A college roommate grew up as a diplomat's child, living so many cool places. I moved around a ton but always in the US. I want her to have roots and want her to be expansive. This seems like the best path we can plow.
More Than Where We Are
One thing we've been stressing is that everyone's stories matter. In part, we don't want her to be the jerk who comes home and dominates conversations with her pals whether talking about a safari or a soccer game. And, in part, we want her to get a chance to learn from people of all walks. The boat taxi driver and the empress.
The parallel to the power of people's stories is that the trips are about more than where we are. They're a chance for us to all spend way more time together than we usually do.
They're a chance to talk with her about why her dad and I work for ourselves. Teach little and big life lessons (tonight's included taking skinny jeans off at the ankle first). A chance to spend a morning reading in bed, wherever that bed is. To build family lore and legend and inside jokes and stories. The kind of family magic that happens when you break out of your habits and patterns, find the mystery and also revel in the mundane. We choose to do it by hopping countries or continents. I think it could happen in a backyard tent or at a family cabin, too.
If not now, when?
Beyond for Loie, there's for us. I don't want to wait to see things. I want to go now, go frequently, go far. And the best way for us to do that is to take her with us.
We could probably leave her at home for a week or so at a time with my mom. We've done trips without her. But for these summer trips and for ANY parent who wants to travel with their kids and can, go.
Sure, the added expense of an extra plane, extra bedroom, so much schnitzel (who knew?) are things we could put to the new bed I daydreamed of.
In many of the places we've been there are significant discounts for kids under 5 or 6 or whatever. I fully get that saving 5€ on a museum entry doesn't even begin to eat away how expensive travel is. For us, this is a priority. We save and plan so we can go.
For us, too, we travel with Lo because we want to travel together. Life is fleeting and fickle. I have a partner I adore who wants to see the world as much and in many of the same ways I do.
Checkmate, Seat mate: It's Working
While less than The Moth worthy, we're having more and more stories told from Loie's perspective. It's often swimming and ice cream, and sometimes her unexpected love of churches. But it's there. Her storytelling is not rooted in one place.
The other night we were musing about if it would ever be feasible to put a second story on our garage. I made an offhand remark to Brett that it would be nice to have an office outside of the house. Lo, from across the room, yelled "NO!" When we pressed she said "If you work at an office it means we can't take our trips because you said our trips were possible because you can work anywhere."
At back to school night the kiddos each picked three traits to describe themselves. Loie's were: I'm active. I love to swim. I love to travel.
The trips matter. She sees it as a part of herself, as a party of our family.
Will we always be able to do them? I dunno. Will she always want to go? I dunno. She'll be a teenager eventually no matter what I do.
But to the woman seated next to us, I do feel good that Lo will, more and more, remember things. But more, she'll know she's a traveler.