Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The travel bug bites the dust

In the years B.C. (Before Children), my husband and I took every possible opportunity to travel. We used to start salivating whenever Northwest Airlines sent us coupons for reduced-rate fares to Europe. It was one of these coupons that inspired a short trip to Amsterdam in Feburary 2002.

The night before we left, a plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test. Our trip was transformed into a celebration. It was the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.

It was also the end of our carefree wanderings.

We didn’t realize it at the time. As we meandered the narrow streets, shopping for tiny Dutch mittens and pajamas, we imagined strolling along the same streets with a baby in tow. Nothing much would have to change, we reasoned. Our baby would be adaptable.

Then, our baby actually came.

Adaptable though he was not, we continued on with our delusion. He had a passport by 16 months, and we began planning a trip to Austria. I didn’t sleep much those first couple years, and it’s all a little fuzzy, so I don’t remember why we chose Austria, nor do I remember the exact moment we halted those plans.

What I do remember is being five months pregnant with my second child and taking an extremely long flight to Hawaii with an 18-month-old squirming on my lap. I remember that the pool was too cold, the ocean too scary, the sand too sandy, the time change too disruptive, and the sunshine too sunny. I remember thinking how tremendously grateful I was that we didn’t go to Austria after all.

Nowadays, if I’m tempted by a steeply discounted airfare, or a chance to tag along on a business trip with my husband, I try to envision what the plane ride or car ride would be like. Then I think back to some classic travel moments, such as my middle son during the last 30 minutes of our flight to Boston, writhing in his seat, struggling with the seat belt and screaming, “GET! ME! OUT! OF! HERE!” over and over.

That usually does the trick.

However, since so many of our childhood memories are tied to experiences that vary from the routines of everyday life, I don’t want to completely rob my kids of the opportunity to travel. My hope is that gradually, over time, trips will become more fun and less painful.

We have a long way to go.

Earlier this week, we took an overnight trip to Lake Tahoe. We enjoyed the afternoon and evening together, then my husband left early the next morning, with the car, to run appointments for work. The kids and I spent the morning in the hotel room, then checked out, stored our luggage, and immediately headed to the beach with some buckets and shovels. We waded in the lake, dug holes, built sand castles, filled buckets with water, snapped pictures, and watched geese. After about an hour and a half, they announced they were done.

“I’m hungry,” said one.

“Let’s go home,” another chimed in.

“Go,” my daughter added.

I panicked a little right then. Playing at the beach was my plan for the entire day. It was only 1:30.

We ate lunch in the shade, watched a caterpillar crawling across the sand, got harassed by a bee. We walked back to the hotel and bought some overpriced crayons and paper at the gift shop, which they then proceeded to fight over. (I actually threatened them with: “If you don’t get along, we’re going back to the beach!” And, it worked.)

The rest of the day we spent climbing at the playground, pushing buttons in the arcade, running along a hiking path, and making numerous trips to the bathroom for diaper changes and potty breaks. We argued, whined, lost a hat, broke all the crayons, used up all the paper, fell down on the gravel, and closed out the day by dining at a restaurant where my daughter got covered in applesauce and both boys ended up on the floor.

We did have fun. But it was also slightly painful spending seven long hours with no plans, no car, no home base, no naps, and three small children with diverse interests.

At least we are building some of those cherished childhood memories, right?

The next morning, I asked the kids what their favorite part of the trip was.

My 5-year-old quickly replied:

“My favorite part was coming home."


Torrie said...

Great post. We have a wall of our travel pictures and funny enough, there is a big huge gap between the time our first daughter came and the next time we traveled. I have ZERO desire to travel in the foreseeable future now that we have two!!

Anonymous said...

Ruth - you are too funny. When our son was 19 months, we did a total travel trip of about 18 hours to Croatia. That was painful. I know people say bad things about kids watching too much TV, but thank god for DVD players and Barney videos. They saved me. Also, I wish people would not give you dirty looks when you let your child run all over the airport before a flight. I swear that sleep the entire time.

Traveling with 2, I can't even imagine.

A four hour flight to Mexico was such a delight after the 18 hour fiasco.

Leighann said...

ha ha! I live that blog.

"traveling" to Costco (20 minutes from the house) can be that painful also.