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“Ok children we are at DEFCON 3! This means you will wash your hands – WITH SOAP! – not only every time before you eat, but everytime you touch anything in the classroom. You will not put your hands near your face, stay away from the water fountains and if you suspect any child of being sick, you go to the opposite side of the room from them! For the next month there will be no ice skating and you will stay off of the monkey bars. It is my job to keep you healthy and out of the emergency room. If you fail to follow instructions and end up sick or hurt – you will be left behind!”

I know what you’re thinking. It is a rather harsh mandate for children, and to be totally honest, rather dramatic on my part. Let me explain myself. Before halfway through January of last year, I had already visited the ER twice and had 2 kids in casts. In 2012 alone, we battled lice, Coxsackie Virus, the flu and chronic athlete’s foot, not to mention countless colds and stomach viruses. Not again and especially not this year. Particularly this year! Because in one month we are flying to Guam.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. You are first wondering if we’ve lost our minds taking a 9 year old and a 6 year old on a trip of such magnitude. Then you’re thinking, “Wait. Where in the Hell IS Guam?”

Guam is a United States territory, a Micronesian island, on the other side of the international date line. It is 3,957.12 miles from Hawaii and 1,550.40 miles from the Phillippines. Guam is not in the forefront of global thinking and often overlooked by many geography classes. Which explains why my friend thought it was an imaginary island made up by Rainbow Brite until she was 16 years old.

To break it down in parenting terms, it will take us 23 hours to get there – and that only allots for 2 hours of layover. Washington D.C. to Tokyo is a 15 hour flight with a 45 minute turnaround to the final flight to Guam – another 4.5 hours.

When I mention it to other parents, their eyes glaze over as they calculate the travel hours [multiplied by] children’s ages [divided by] trips to the bathroom [subtract] the large amounts of sanity. Inevitably their jaw drops, and a slight trickle of drool forms, as they politely as possible ask if I’ve lost my mind. I don’t think so and here’s why…

My children love to travel. I attribute this to how driven my husband can be with his military precision organization, as well as the fact that my oldest daughter was a completely exhausting baby. When she was born we were living in a four room Brooklyn apartment. She cried every hour of every day for the first four months of her life. So I took her out constantly, we went anywhere and everywhere because sitting still meant crying, usually for both of us.

Now she is 9 years old and after next month, she will have traveled to 3 continents, 4 countries and 4 islands, not to mention road tripping across half of the United States. My kids are not only veterans at traveling, they are battle scarred. When the oldest was 5 and the youngest 2, we were in a wedding in the southeast region of France. After a three hour car ride, we embarked on a six hour overnight flight, followed by two hours stuck in Paris traffic and then a ten hour drive to our final destination. Due to some technical difficulties we only had two 30 minute children’s videos and four coloring books as entertainment. Twenty-one straight hours of travel and not one meltdown. (Well, maybe I might have lost it in a rest area bathroom or two.)

Last year we drove to Oklahoma to visit my in-laws and became trapped on a highway in Indiana for four hours due to an oil spill. No big deal, my girls dragged their Playmobiles out into the median to play, and we found a lovely tractor trailer driver who was kind enough to let my little one pee behind his tires. (I could not be so bold and therefore suffered worse than the children.)

I have found that the key to traveling with kids – and really this applies to adults too – is preparation. I just don’t mean packing tons of toys and clothing and trying to concieve of every last hiccup, I mean mental preparations. Yes, there needs to be accoutrements to make any journey easier, but ultimately it is our perception of our comfort and journey that will make or break it for us. This is why getting to the destination is so much more exciting then leaving it.

So, starting this week we start talking about how far away Guam is, what the island is like, what things we will do when we get there. We call our family who lives there to get excited about the trip. We talk about activities we can do on the flights and start looking for projects we want to embark upon. And we start measuring time in travel hours. “This is how long it takes to fly to D.C.” or “When you wake up, it wouldn’t be until after breakfast and onto lunch that we’d be in Tokyo.” I believe that traveling is all about letting go of our expectations and attachments. Expectation is married to disappointment, so if we rigidly hold onto what we believe is going to happen, we are destined to get smacked upside the head with the reality of the situation, and ultimately miss the glory in the journey itself. While it is ideal for adults to be able to grasp the concept of freedom from attachment, though terrifically difficult, I believe that children need context in order to feel safe. Or at least they need to feel like those caring for them understand and are able to navigate within the context of the situation. Therefore I try to spend time not only giving them some idea of what will be happening when we travel, but also helping them to be able to picture how they fit in, by explaining what will be expected of them.

And to help us all get better adjusted, my husband and myself need to be sure that what we expect of them is realistic. For the next few weeks I’ll be paying closer attention to see how they are sleeping and eating to make sure they are getting all that they need for the marathon flights, time change and climate adjustment that we’ll all need to go through. I’ll be sure to notice what they are currently into so that I can incorporate some relevant surprises for our flight to engage their attention and alleviate boredom. And, most importantly, we will start spending more up close and personal time with each of them so that we will have some special things to share on our trip together, rather that me just being the adult that leads them around their adventure.

For myself, I will practice being more aware and flexible. These are the two biggest tools in my belt. I want to be able to adjust on the fly – whether it is delays in flights or loss of a toy – so that I can bounce back and stabilize within the moment. This will help my kids feel safe and that all is okay, no matter the crisis at hand. Not only does letting go of my expectations and readjusting in the moment allow all of us to be free from the endless worry that can bog down and ruin a trip, but also it will open me up to the wonder and joy that comes by the truckload when experiencing new lands and ideas with children.

Is it possible that my children will come home sick with the latest virus right before we are boarding the plane to this adventure of a lifetime? Oh it isn’t possible, it is probable. But if I work within a setting that has malleable walls and surrender to what will be, then trip or not, it will make walking through our lives that much easier.

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