Archives for posts with tag: travel with children

rockclimbing

Do you remember a time in your life when fear just never entered into the picture? The summer I turned five years old, we visited a friend’s pond; a murky hole in the ground that was teeming with soupy rich greenness. Being upstate NY in July, it was beastly hot and humid, so submersing in more moisture was surely the best answer for finding relief. We were told that the only way we could enter the water was on a float, because it was home to several snapping turtles. (Yeah, looking back upon that concept really colors my childhood in a whole new questionable hue.) Not really understanding what a snapping turtle was, or how that possibly could be a bad thing, I eagerly accepted a ride sitting upon my teenage friend’s back, on the float. (I’m not talking the sturdy water crafts of today that are tied off to docks and boats across upstate NY. This was 1977. Half deflated and covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon emblems, this raft was less floatation device and more flagship for a drunkard’s folly.)

We paddled out towards the middle, leaving behind the oppressive climate of the shore, and the casual concern of our parents.

About 10 feet offshore, the raft tipped over. Looking back upon it now, I’m not sure what is more surprising, the fact that no one anticipated this or that I was in the middle of a snapping turtle infested swamp, practicing Cirque du Soleil-like feats and did not know how to swim.

(Seriously, I need to take a minute here. This is the first real good think I’ve donated towards this memory. Where in the Hell were my parents? I know it is the 70’s and all, and surely I don’t expect a helmet or safety harness, but my God! ¬†Would it have killed them to strap one of those inadequate styrofoam eggs to my back at least?)

As I sank to the bottom, I remember feeling only one thing. The sounds around me went silent and as I looked up towards the green dappled surface, and felt the sweet coolness of the water around me, I felt completely at peace. I wanted to stay there below the surface, bubbled in this womb of nature, but before I knew what was happening, I was being yanked to the surface where heat, blindingly bright light, and shrieks of terror reclaimed me.

As children, our innocence prevents us from being swallowed by our fears. Often times we aren’t afraid because we don’t know any better. Then as we walk through the world, we encounter obstacles that tend to come with the stories, anxieties and failures of others, which then become fears of our own. If only we can remain in that innocence, and simply view each experience, each obstacle, as new and separate from every other moment, fear wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday, I brought the nine year old and the six year old to an indoor rock climbing gym for the first time. Imagine a warehouse sized space with multiple two and a half story high walls built out in various gravity taunting formations, dotted with a series of shaped holds that appear to be made from Play Doh. In the middle of the gym was a structure meant to resemble a boulder, standing 15 feet tall.

As we entered the space, the palms of my hands instantaneously began to perspire. Despite having spent time in the quarries of Massachusetts and the rock formations of New Hampshire climbing in my youth, I could feel my pulse quicken and my breathing shorten.

My daughters, who had never seen such a spectacle, were mesmerized. To them, I couldn’t sign the documents declaring them able to throw themselves to the wolves of gravity fast enough.

Within minutes of donning the equipment, the nine year old had bouldered her way (read: climbing guide rope free and thereby giving her mother another reason to drink on a Thursday afternoon) to the top of the 15 foot structure. The six year old was complaining that she wanted to remove her safety guide line (the belay) because the tension of the automated rope was competing with her tiny sparrow-like frame, and preventing her from being able to get close to the wall.

For them, there was no hesitation, only excitement. For me, there was a litany of emergency room menu items scrolling through my head. I tried my best to keep my anxieties to myself, and gently guide as opposed to aggressively scream. I did see my six year old pause once, as I reminded her when she had bouldered her way three feet above my head, that there was no guide rope and I couldn’t come get her down. She retreated down the wall, only to chalk up her hands, immediately remount and make her way the full five feet above my head so that she could loudly declare me wrong from her perch.

Recently, The Universe was kind enough to call me out on my nightly prayer of wanting to be shown my path. Apparently there is this notion that I should be writing a book. To further back up this cosmic plan, a famous and well documented journalist has been placed in my circle, near enough for me to reach out to, ask for assistance, and firmly solidify this next evolution of Mikko Cook.

My palms are sweating, my pulse is racing and I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

Thanks to the lesson of living in oblivion from my children and my own youth, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ when I see The Universe pop up on my caller id, I’m going to set aside all of my ‘what ifs’ and my ‘remember THATs’ and take the call. I’m going to take this new experience for what it is… new and to be experienced. Sure there is so much that can go horribly wrong (don’t think I haven’t been calculating it all out since I took that initial call), but now what if I pretend that I don’t know otherwise, that humiliation and rejection are like snapping turtles to a 5 year old… something that exists, nothing more.

Guess it is time to dig out my chalk bag and begin my ascent.

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sidebyside
(photo credit: me. And I swear to you that these images are not retouched… except for erasing some water droplets that got on my lens in the Guam shot.)

There was a lovely man, with crazy hair, that proved that time is relative some years ago. I understood this to mean that waiting an hour in traffic when you are late for an appointment was actually akin to doing so in years, and spending an hour catching up with an old friend goes by in the time it takes a hummingbird to dry its wings. You know, the uncomplicated, easily digestible understanding of time. Then I traveled to and from an island in the Pacific to a town in the Northeast, in the winter, with children, and time became an entirely new concept for me.

No matter how much I prepared, how many activities, sleep aids and herbal supplements I packed, I now realize that I was preparing for something that I couldn’t possibly comprehend. Kind of like packing to climb Mt. Everest, and being sent to teach English to a group of small children in a Thai village. Not even English… Swahili.

Going there was taxing, but not insurmountable. We chased the sun as we flew west, and spent 21 hours in daylight. This just tricked us into feeling like we had lived through the longest day ever. Once we boarded our last flight (4 hours long), and the night sky descended upon us, we were toast. We tumbled off of the plane, out into the 86 degree humid air, and into the loving arms of our family. Congratulations, you have now arrived at Bliss State! We spent some short hours celebrating, then off to bed. It was midnight Guam time, 3pm our time.

In the days that followed, I quickly gave up looking at clocks, converting time zones and worrying about sleeplessness. It was easy. When you wake up in Guam at 3:30am, you simply strap the paddle boards to the car and go off in pursuit of some night snorkeling. And as you do so, you are treated to the most symphonic rising of the sun over the ocean that you can imagine. Even the rain, warm rain!, brings you waves of joy. You think to yourself, “Thank goodness that I’m awake and I did not miss this!”. And later, around 4pm when your children are passing out asleep trying to go to the bathroom, you simply scoop them up, kiss them on the cheek, place them into bed and look forward to swimming with the phosphorescent fish in the wee hours of the next day.

I never knew what time it was in Guam, and I didn’t care. When the sun came up, I was there waiting. I ate when I was hungry and went to sleep when I was tired. Our days were so filled with sun and warmth and activity, that we simply dropped when we couldn’t stand anymore. We were exhausted and happy.

I realized that I had put so much time and effort into worrying about my kids and the long flight and the time difference, that I never even gave the actual experience any thought. Perhaps that was a good thing. I can’t even say that our trip exceeded my wildest expectations, because I didn’t have any. But if I’d had… it blew them away.

And perhaps this tactic also backfired on me when I never gave a thought to the trip home. I can’t help now wondering if there was some way I could have steeled us against the jarring affect it would have upon us to return. I doubt it.

To come home, we boarded an early morning flight to Hawaii (7 hours) and crossed the international dateline. The day before we departed it was my youngest’s 6th birthday. Now, in Hawaii at 6:30 at night, it was her birthday once more. For this second birthday, Oahu pulled off a rainbow, right outside of our terminal as we disembarked our incoming flight. The sun was setting and the breeze was magical. My husband and I looked at each other with a flash of panic. Quick! How do we stay? How do we keep the inevitable at bay? My husband actually begged at the airline counter for any solution that would keep us in the Pacific breezes just a little longer.

“I’m sorry,” sympathized the agent. “Unless one of your children is either severely injured or desperately sick, which would prevent them from flying, there is nothing that I can do. You will have to board your flight.”

Our children will never be able to question our love for them. We thanked the man and left Oahu, Hawaii for Newark, NJ in February.

Hawaii to NJ was 9.5 hours, most of it filled with fitful sleep and repeated movies. Immediately following was a final 1 hour flight to our hometown, complete with no onboard bathroom, a 6 year old’s bladder, and a spilled carrot ginger drink. We arrived home at 2:30pm, miraculously collected all of our bags (I’m always thrilled and amazed when all of my luggage ends up where it is supposed to be. For this very reason, I will forever believe in Santa Claus.), and stumbled out into the NY afternoon… grey, brown, raining, snowing, cold.

The days that followed… well, I’d like to give you an honest recap of the days that followed, but frankly this must be what it is like at the beginning stages of rehab for a meth habit. Sleep became an elusive drug that was never available when we needed it. We try to go to bed at a decent hour, only to be wide awake to start our day in the middle of the night once more. However this time, there was no symphonic sunrise or gentle tradewinds to greet us – just darkness and snow and ice. So we’d toss and turn and cry. Sleep is like a lover who has moved on; the harder you to try to embrace her, the farther away she gets.

Nights felt like days, and days felt like Hell. That first morning I dragged myself out of bed, after 4 hours of sleep, at 11am terrified that I’d be left behind in the Guam time zone. Grocery shopping seemed like the most reasonable and less demanding activity, however it just intensified our feeling of culture shock. I craved to find myself once again in a sea of happy, vacationing, polite Japanese tourists, hearing nothing but their giggles and soft voices. Instead I was met with angrily knit brows, ashen flesh and the bitter sentiment that we’d all been orphaned in this godforsaken frozen wasteland and it was every man for themselves.

By the second full day home, I was desperate for a solution. Experts say that spending as much time as you can in direct sunlight will increase your melatonin and speed your recovery from jet lag. Yeah, great, I live where the light is like weak tea with a strong shot of whole milk. These grey skies did nothing for us. So, I thought perhaps we just needed some re-orienting to something familiar, warm and exhausting, and I made us swim at the local Y for 3 hours.

It was great and worked like a charm for the children – they slept for 12 hours straight. I don’t know if that would have worked for me. I got a call 15 minutes before midnight from my sister who was going into labor and I was the birth coach. Two days back and time to help deliver a baby. Most definitely the crowning achievement out of all of my beyond-my-bloody-mind moments.

After 3 days and nights with 3-4 hours of sleep, sporadic at best, and dangerously high levels of caffeine in my system (in my dreams, I would be lost and confused, and go searching for coffee to help me re-orient) I found myself dreaming while I was awake. My husband would be trying to hold a conversation with me, and I’d throw something in there about it raining macaroni, and quickly realize that despite the time on the clock, I needed to go to bed.

Perhaps it is only when we are so far out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone and the cushion of what we’ve come to expect, that we are able to perceive our situation and the reality around us in a new and never-before-considered light.

That first night, at 2:17am, in a pathetic bit of parenting, I turned on what would hopefully be an incredibly boring television show for my children to help them fall asleep.

[image of snow laden forest]
“Do you hate the cold? Are you tired of being stuck inside all winter? Why not live where it is warm and you can swim, snorkel and surf all year round? You don’t have to be rich to live in Hawaii, you just have to want it.”

I looked around to find the hidden camera, and in my delirious state, wondered how Alan Funt could hide in my closet.

“You know what Mom? I could live in Hawaii, as long as we brought all of our pets.”

Thank you Universe. I’m reading you loud and clear.

dharma
We have stumbled upon a secret government project to create a race of super humans here upon the island. Everyone here is extremely fit and is either training for (or just completed) a marathon, triathlon or Iron Man. 5ks are for fun or for the children. You can recognize the specimens because they are all clothed in race t-shirts and say things like, “Oh, you can do this, it’s a short triathlon.” Our first few days here, my sister-in-law ran a half marathon rather unwillingly since she hurt her back the day before. She won, of course. Her medal was a beer bottle opener and a plastic carabao bank. She is excited to run their international marathon in a few weeks. What human would be excited to run a marathon with a toy as a prize? A bionic human designed for world domination, that’s who.

Brian lost 10 lbs. in our first 4 days. I can now fit into my sister-in-law’s Speedo. We’re tan, fit and exhausted. We may just move here.

aganabay
After several days of feeling like a pebble in a washing machine, we’re just beginning to get acclimated to the time, temperature and sun. We’ve spent several mornings waking hours before daylight was even a consideration, which gave us the opportunity to night snorkel, learn to paddle board in the dark and watch the sun rise. Brian and I are in the middle of dive certification. Between the 15 hour time difference, and sitting under 20 feet of water for the last few days, I’m no longer actually in my body. I think I’m floating somewhere about 3 feet above and to the left.

I now believe in ozone depletion. 50+ SPF is the starting point of sunblock here, with re-application every 30 min. Even with 50, 70 and 110 SPF on, everyone is getting burned. Today is a day of hiding.

Guam is exceptionally beautiful. The skies are pink and fluffy and the breeze feels like a slow kiss from a new lover. The sea is teeming with life, fireworks under the water. It is so easy to just exist in gratitude when every waking hour isn’t filled with fighting the cold. Reconnecting with our family after 2 years is like finding a favorite lost sweater – warm, cozy, familiar. The children move together like swarms of bees, eat like lions and drop into bed with smiles on their faces. We are truly blessed.

winterforestWe are a few days and several hours in the countdown until departure to Guam. I have chores and errands that shoot randomly across the screen of my mind, like passing cars on a busy highway. ————- water the plants —————

———- mail out kid’s thanks yous ——————– pack Benadryl ———–

I try to catch them and stuff them somewhere safe, like catching fireflies in jars, but they are fast and I’m easily distracted. This morning, as we were getting children ready for the bus, I found myself digging out sun hats and considering sunglasses options for a 5 year old. Luckily, the girls made the bus with their more appropriate winter woolens instead.

There is a deeper, darker thought that surfaces these days, one that overtakes my usual neurosis about losing camera bags and blizzards delaying our flight. What if I don’t want to come back? What if, when standing in the warm sun, looking out over a sparkling azure ocean filled with a rainbow of fish, surrounded by a lush green landscape, my spirit breaks free and I crack and out oozes my resolve and my strength and I am unable to climb onboard that plane that carries me back to a land frozen under ice and snow and obligation?

————— clean out the fridge ————————————————

——————————————- call the plow guy ———————-

I guess we’ll just wait and see.

This morning, well after the girls were on the bus and I was on my way through my doctor prescribed cup of coffee, I wandered into the living room to find my 5 year old’s underpants on the couch. There they sat, full of pink flowers and monkeys, balled up and forgotten, like a neglected child whose mother forgot to pick up after Girl Scouts. As I looked at this tiny, fashion requirement, I wondered two things:

1. If here were her underpants, what was she wearing to school?
2. How in the Hell am I going to get these children across the international date line and back in one piece?

The first question is a no brainer. The only reason that I know she is currently wearing underwear is because, if she is anything like her mother, the unbridled freedom of not wearing underwear after practically being pushed out of the uterine canal with a diaper on is unsettling and just a little too much carefreeness for one girl, thank you very much. It is the other that has become a looming concern in my brain, stomping its way into the forefront of my sanity.

I kind of understand the lack of thinking that is too often exhibited by the youngest. She’s little, and to be fair, coddled a bit more than her sister ever was because she is the baby. She has a tendency to run out of the house without a jacket (like all of December) or appear at a restaurant without shoes (happened twice), all because she is used to someone thinking for her. I blame myself. I will try to be more diligent about giving her space to be independent. Just know that I will continue to have a hard time letting her pour ANYTHING out of a full carton or jug, shampoo her own hair or feed the fish by herself. That’s just reckless parenting.

Last week, the 9 year old lost a tooth, her 11th, while at school. Before the day was out she had misplaced it twice, the second time for good. She stumbled off of the bus, worried that she had ruined any shot of seeing the Tooth Fairy. (Yes, the Tooth Fairy is still a very big part of our family, and frankly needs to get off of her deadbeat ass and start making some decisions about what to do with all of these nasty teeth, as well as get herself some part-time paying work.) I consoled her that all would be well, and it was as the TF left her a lovely little ring (that used to live in the basement, but found its way under her pillow) that evening. The next day, she promptly lost the ring.

I know I wrote about letting go of expectations and being free from the panic of over planning, but I’m starting to get really concerned that if my children don’t start plugging into their surroundings and pay attention to what is going on around them, they might get accidentally left behind in a Japanese bathroom stall. Yesterday I awoke to find the rear car window all the way down, after my oldest had opened it in the rain… in January!… IN UPSTATE NY! At this rate, I’m only slightly comforted by the idea that I’ll be the only one that makes it across the Guam finish line, when I consider that my DNA will be lost, scattered like seeds in the wind, across the globe.

My husband is all about giving them more responsibility and more independence. He is a big proponent of pointing to various locations within the house and grunting when they request things like food or supplies. He also makes a habit of calling me in to watch every docudrama that features Thai children that paddle two hours to school each day (I pointed out that one was eaten by a killer croc!) or children that have to scale the ice covered walls of raging riverbeds in the Himalayas to even get the privilege of going to school. Yeah, I get it. I fold their underwear and remind them to brush their teeth. It will be all my fault when they drop out of college and consider collecting coins from under couch cushions as paying rent. But, if I want them to one day takeover multi-national corporations, or just make it to a meal in public fully dressed, I have to start somewhere and that somewhere is now.

To begin, I will ask them all sorts of critical thinking questions, “If you get hot walking around the grocery store, and we’re not pushing a cart, what do you do with your jacket?” or “You want to draw on the plane, so you pull out your notebook and 10 pens, but the table is sloped and the pens are rolling about, what do you do?” or “Dad says ‘Get in the car!’ but you have no pants on, what do you do?” Hopefully they’ll think of this like a game and get excited to problem solve their little selves into better awareness.

Then, we can create one of those sticker charts that rewards them for accomplishing certain goals, like remembering to bring their snow pants home from school, not losing their lunchbox on the bus and cleaning the car once a week. Ok, we might have to work up to that last one. I’ve heard some parents make remarkable progress with these charts. We had one that somehow required me to continue to purchase stickers, even though many of the jobs went unchecked.

I realize that the majority of my apprehension is tied up in expecting a crisis free trip (I told you last post I was working on that), but it is also about letting go of the control I exert over my children. It is easy to sit here and complain that my kids don’t do their part, but it is my attachment to keeping them little, to making things smoother and easier and doing it for them, to not wanting the headache of spilled orange juice and dirty hair to complicate my life. I realize that by stepping in and doing the work for them in the short term, things move along in a speedy and tidy manner. But in the long run, my children are incapable of caring for themselves in my absence.

I also recognize that I have to have realistic expectations about what they can accomplish. A 5 year old can probably wash her hair by herself. A 9 year old will lose things.

Again, as I am finding in parenting over and over, it is I who has to do the hardest work by remaining flexible, letting go of control and giving my kids the space to accomplish goals on their own. Only then will they understand pride of accomplishment and begin to truly become independent. It might make me crazy in the short term, but it will build strong women with a lot of sanity in the long run.

But mark my words, if these tried and true parenting techniques fail, there is one other stand-by I won’t hesitate to employ. Nothing says mental reminder like a Sharpie marker list on the forehead.

Hey, I don’t have a lot of time here. We leave in under 2 weeks.

medianplay

“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.