Innocents abroad

Lily (1) and Katya (3) waiting for a plane at JFK. Photo by Lara McCoy

Lily (1) and Katya (3) waiting for a plane at JFK. Photo by Lara McCoy

Is traveling with children more trouble than it’s worth? It all depends on your perspective.

Recently I was sitting around a table at that all-American of events, the church picnic, when an acquaintance asked about my summer plans. I said that we would leave at the beginning of July for three weeks in Spain. 

I’ve been planning this trip since January and every time I’ve mentioned it to people, the reaction has always been something along the lines of  “Oh, that sounds great!” or “I wish I could join you!”  This time, however, my acquaintance responded with:  “And what do you expect your children to get out of it?” 

Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me. I guess I expect them to get the same things out of it I expect to get – the chance to visit new cities, try new foods, see monuments of art and architecture, in short, I expect them to get life experience. 

Do people who haven’t raised children abroad feel differently? 

Apparently they do, even in our well-traveled and affluent corner of northwest DC. A typical conversation about summer vacation involves comments like “my husband and I used to travel a lot, then we had kids and now we haven’t been anywhere in five years.” For my peers here, the decision whether or not to take a vacation overseas isn’t so much an issue of money as the preponderance of the perspective my acquaintance shared – “my kids won’t appreciate anything and I won’t be able to visit El Bulli if I take them along, so why bother?”

Of course my daughter K, at four, didn’t appreciate the Vatican museums in the same way my church historian husband did – mostly she noticed that the statues were all naked, but she appreciated the gelato around the corner from St. Peter’s Square. And talking about her with the lady who ran the grocery in the small Amalfi coast town where we stayed improved my Italian and reminded me once again that grandmothers are the same everywhere. 

And in Paris, we didn’t manage to get to the Louvre or Versailles, but we did go to the National Natural History Museum at the insistence of future paleontologist L. It was an experience I will never forget – from the elegant building designed for the World’s Fair to the skeleton of the blue whale, not to mention the dinosaurs. And later, when it served as the meeting place for Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky in the eponymous film, I had a sense of how they must have felt standing there. 

I started traveling with my children because it wasn’t a choice – we moved abroad when K was two months old. But I continue to take them places because I want them to experience the world as an interconnected whole of people who may speak different languages, but are more or less the same. I don’t want them to grow up thinking that other cultures, other countries, are strange, exotic places we visit to see things different from ourselves – the world as a giant human zoo. I want them to be global citizens who think nothing of calculating temperature in Farenheit or Celsius, who dig in their purses for change for a meter and come out with five rubles or a handful of euro cents. 

And as I show them the world and how to find their place in it, they will continue to show me things I would otherwise have missed.

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