Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I travel with my kids

Why do I travel with my kids?  I have been asking myself this question a lot over the past five days. On the surface, the answers are obvious: experiencing the world through their unjaded eyes, encouraging them to seek out new experiences, enjoying the camaraderie of a shared adventure.  Yet, as we wind through our summer tour of the hot and humid states, I'm finding these reasons lacking the inspiration that I need to make it through some of the more challenging moments.

For those times when I find myself dragging a screaming child off the beach, negotiating blanket placement between two kids unaccustomed to bed-sharing, or pulling off the highway for a bathroom break 15 minutes after the previous bathroom break, I have come up with these less obvious, possibly more compelling benefits to travelling with my children.

I am forced to face my fears.

Though I nearly wept a of couple weeks ago when I had to bring Little E to the foul composting toilet at our beach at home, life on the road demands that I put aside my long held belief that every surface in a public bathroom is coated in a microscopic layer of the fecal matter of dirty strangers.  I cannot help but quietly chant my public bathroom mantra: Don't touch anything; don't touch anything.  But when Little E asked at a Delaware rest area whether she could touch the floor with the bottoms of her shoes, I told her okay --and I didn't even attempt to sterilize her Crocs when we got to the hotel.

I learn new things about my children --and myself.

Some of the little foibles that my children have displayed this week are harmless. Little E has decided that she is a dog and bought herself a dog bandanna in the bookstore of my alma mater (and wore said bandanna to dinner). Big E likes to practice figure skating moves as we walk down city sidewalks. These little quirks may not be particularly fashion forward or convenient for fellow pedestrians, but I actually find them kind of endearing.  That the lack of Radio Disney in the rental car brings my daughters to tears and that my choosing to leave on a station with "grown up music" is received as a personal insult, is much more concerning and shall be addressed. That I will endure an entire Bonnie Raitt song despite my own distaste for it simply because I enjoy watching both girls scream angrily and cover their ears? That probably needs some exploration as well.

I gain new (more accurate?) perspectives on myself.

The other day as I attempted to cull some of the 200 shots already on my camera, I came across one of myself sitting by the edge of the children's pool at the beach down the street from my in-laws.  My shoulders were slightly slumped and the bathing suit that had looked so strategic in the mirror at home was not living up to its promise. I just barely stopped myself from wailing to my husband, "I look like someone's mother!" Ludicrous, I know, that this is so upsetting, as I have been someone's mother for over seven years now. As the trip went on, my earth shattering revelation that I do in fact look like someone's mother was further cemented by the fact that I carried a purse stuffed with two handfuls of broken and melting restaurant crayons and a barrel of Wet Ones.  Then, the other day in Richmond Little E recoiled in horror as I dressed for the day. "Not that dress!  Don't put on that dress with the flowers!," she cried mortified. 

I ignored her pleas spent the morning in sensible shoes and a flowered dress with a camera case hanging from my shoulder and a mega pack of wipes in my bag, looking every bit like someone's mother at the campus where I long ago wore tight jeans and cute heels carried no more than a lipstick in my pocket .

I'm hoping that these new insights will see me through the rest of the trip, but there are still six days, one flight, 500 miles in the car and countless public toilets to come.  Wish me luck.

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