Archives for posts with tag: trip
Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

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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.