Saturday, November 3, 2007

Traveling with Kids

The first time I mentioned our travel plans to somebody, the immediate reaction was to say that my kids were very lucky. "I wish that my parents had done something like this when I was young." I suppose I would have liked that too. But kids aren't always so conveniently grateful. Even though they often tell you 'I'm bored', the fact is that they're not particularly adventurous. They like stability and predictability - in fact they need it. One of the chief dangers of becoming a parent is that of losing your own sense of spontaneity after years of catering to the kids' compulsive need for sameness.

"They are going to thank you so much" is another often-heard reaction. My usual response is "they may be 40 before they do, and at that point they may be thanking my gravestone". But that's OK. I'm not expecting them to be grateful, I'm not even expecting them to be happy about the trip. Not at first. I know for a fact that one of my girls will miss her friends very much, and moreover does not trust her parents to further her education sufficiently while we're away. She'd just as happily stay at home, thanks very much.

So what can you do? Well, my wife and I have been so busy planning this trip (and things have been getting pretty intensive of late) that we've forgotten that there are four travellers here - not just two. We've taken the kids as a major consideration with regards to destinations and activities, but we haven't really taken their personally offered opinions into account. A 6- and 8-year-old typically don't have very strong opinions on what they want to see and do, but a recent conversation with my eldest went like this:

Me: "What is it that you'd like to see in Beijing?"

Nina: "Well, you know the way that in Paris you see the Eiffel Tower? I'd like to see Beijing's Eiffel Tower".

Me: "OK - so in Beijing, that means going to see the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and of know what?"

Nina: "What?"

Me: "The Great Wall. You've heard of that, right? You need to do some research about what other things you'd like to see".

Nina: "Yeah. Oh and I'd like to see the giant Buddha*. In fact, I can look at my book about the religions of the world, and see what other things there are to see around the world."

A promising start. With Nina, if you engage her and encourage her to make something her own responsibility, then she runs with it.

Now Sara, on the other hand, is a bit harder:

"I'd like to go to Spain, 'cos my friend Rachel says that you can buy some really cool stuff there."

Hmmm. Bit more work to do there, I think.

* In Leshan, Sichuan.


Letizia said...

As the other active part in generating the two little pests I say: ungrateful brats!

dathai said...

2 words:
Boarding School

Brendan Lawlor said...

Another two words:

Knee jerk


Brendan McKenna said...

I think that at least part of what you're doing with the kids is establishing a baseline for their expectations. I don't know whether or not they're old enough yet to appreciate the "one-offness" of a trip like this. Who knows, they may come to expect these sorts of trips in the future, if they're enjoying it now.

I was thinking about this in a different context the other day (in relation to the gifts kids get and how the parents always think that they don't appreciate them). Kids don't have anything to 'refer to' other than their own lives and what you do for/with them. To a certain extent, their expectations later in life are going to be conditioned by what you do now....

Oh, and you're missing the Terracotta Warriors in Xian from your China list, too...

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hey Brendan,
Don't worry - Xi'an is firmly on the list. If you click the Itinerary link on the right of the blog's main page you'll see where we've planned to visit (sometimes Google maps drops a city or two from China, but the list to the left includes everything).

Setting expectations: it's a minefield. On one hand, one of the reasons for the trip is to broaden the girls' horizons beyond those afforded by a rain-sodden suburban hoodie. But as you point out, as did Joni Mitchell before you, you don't know what you got till it's gone. Corollary: if you never had it, you never miss it.

I think it's true that a lot of middle-class angst has, at its heart, unrealised impossible expectations of life. But on the other hand, what we're doing is, by definition, possible. I'd like the kids to learn the difference between what's ambitious and what's fantastical.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you from personal experience that I would have rather gone to Disneyland than to visit my grandma in Germany when I was a kid.

But now as a Family Flight Expert and world traveler 30 some years later, I can tell you that I thank my parents quite often for broadening my horizons and helping me to see that there was a whole world out there!

Kids are not always grateful - even at Disneyland - but they ARE learning more than a book could ever teach.

We are taking our 3 year old on an Italian curise next week and then to Germany after that to visit that very same grandma - (now she is 97).

True - he won't remember everything - but I can tell you that he already does not blink when someone speaks a foreign language around him and his goodbye is, "Tschuss, Bis Dann, Ciao, Arrivederci" (German and Italian)

Travel is the best gift you can give kids - if only to open their minds that it is ok to be different and there is more than one way to do things!

And you as a parent may not receive thanks verbally- but know that you are providing an education that is priceless. I can tell you that my travel experience helped me decades later when I could relate to my patients who came from around the world to the Mayo Clinic for treatment.

Have a safe and fun Holiday Travel Season!

(sorry for the long comment - this topic is my passion!)

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hi Anya (or Gruess Gott, perhaps?)

Thanks for that feedback. I'm going to treat that as a thanks-by-proxy for what may never come from my own daughters' mouths.

As you mention it, I remember a lot of stroppy kids in Disneyland. :-)

I'll keep you posted on how we get on...