Saturday, October 5, 2019

Things I Learned From Travelling with my Children

Our trip to Europe last year taught me a lot that I needed to know about parenting. It's never too late to learn these things, and I've been able to put them into practice a little since we returned. Here they are, to help me remember, and to encourage anybody contemplating travelling with children. Going to Europe, of course, is not the point - that's just what we did because we have family there. I now see retrospectively that some cheap local camping trips we've done with my brother or parents have been just as important. Nevertheless, here is the list compiled from our trip to Europe:

We need more unimpeded family time away from home. No technology, no house to look after, no employment or community functions. Just time to remember why we love each other. This is the best and most important, and it's really that simple.

Our kids have talents we might not see. Maybe we need to give them space or opportunity to shine; maybe we need to get our own eyes away from the static of home just to look at our dear ones from another angle. Travelling has allowed me to see amazing things about my children that I didn't fully appreciate before. My daughter sees my heart when I don't even notice she's looking. Away from the frustrations of daily life I saw through the sheen of teenage angst and recognised the delightful, deeply compassionate daughter I have always known. My son is also a ridiculously amazing photographer. Here we were with two cameras, mine a fancy one and his a cheap rugged fully automatic thing, and he usually made more amazing photos than I did, by sheer instinct, as well as lots of practice while I apparently haven't been looking. Maybe at home we don't look at our children enough.

It's easier to learn new things while travelling than in our own backyard. I am pretty sure I've said the opposite, before, so let me explain. It takes skill and practice to keep seeing new and more deeply into the things we are familiar with. It takes a deep commitment to finding new angles and seeing through the known to discover the unknown. We do practice this, and I still think it's incredibly important to do so. However travel just makes it so easy. Every single day of our trip was filled with new experiences, from discovering religion through great cathedrals and family members' beliefs and practices, to the intricacies of European urban norms like learning to hand-wash laundry, identify unfamiliar plants and use all kinds of unfamiliar tools and appliances. Never mind language. We experienced so much in these four weeks of travel that I believe it will take years to process it all.

Family is really important. Our own nuclear family had time to renew our bond, but we also had time to visit no less than 60 family members from Switzerland through Germany to the Netherlands, and to see the things that we share. My kids got to spend time with cousins they've never met before and discover that amazing feeling of knowing someone intrinsically.

Graves. Family history. It matters. When I was a teenager my grandmother took me to see her father's grave. I thought it was weird. I never knew him. I remember more about the many strange gravestones in the ancient graveyard she took me to than I do about his actual grave. Since then I have grown up, had various deaths of close family members, and gained a new understanding of the importance of memorials. Even when the person we grieve the loss of is not buried in a particular place, a grave or other memorial gives us a place to ground our hearts. Three of our grandmothers have died since the last time I went to Europe. Two of my husband's and one of my own. So we made certain to visit each of their graves while we were there, knowing that our children might find it odd. This time, though, it was a wholly different experience for me than it was when I was a teenager. My own grandmother's ashes are now buried in the ancient graveyard she once showed me, nestled under the stone beside the remains of her father. I felt very strange and comforted to know that I had been there before; that I have known this place since I was a teenager, and that she has come to rest somewhere familiar to me. So we sat around that old grave, eating lunch and listening to my grandmother's laughter, since I happened to have a recording of it available via my phone.

We need to go home again. After all the wonder and intensity of travelling, there is truly no place like home: the arms of friends and family (and pets!) who are still here when we return, the garden needing our attention, and even the ever-failing house and the lumpy bed that has nevertheless held so many of our dreams and that now waits to gather us up again. We need a place to come home to. We need a refuge in which to process all those other wonderful things we learned while travelling.

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