About two years ago, my family had so many commitments that during the five or six weeks of summer, ten flights shuttled us back and forth between four different states. If Hubby and I had been traveling as a couple, or if I had been traveling on my own, I wouldn’t have given ten flights and four states much thought. But with a three-year-old and a one-year-old, I looked ahead to all those flights and living out of a suitcase with more dread than excitement. That summer ended up containing more joy and discoveries than we would have experienced had we decided to find an easier escape for our summer weeks away from school, but going into it, all I could think about was meeting the needs of a preschooler and baby during five weeks of complicated travel logistics.
Let’s face it. Life changes when you have children. And for my own family, one of the things that changed dramatically was our travel—our choice of destinations, how often we could go, the activities we were able to do, and how we looked forward to (or dreaded) the travel in the first place.
Now that my children are five and three and are getting easier to travel with, my family decided to venture somewhere new during our recent Christmas break. Though not a very popular vacation destination among other expat families living in Asia, we decided to explore Taiwan.
This was the most enjoyable vacation I have had in years, but at the same time, my husband and I often caught ourselves saying, “We can’t do that. The kids aren’t big enough yet” or “Maybe when the kids are older we’ll be able to try that” or “We have to change our evening plans. The kids are just too wiped out.”
I was having a great time, and yet talking about all these things we couldn’t do because we had two little kids with us made it sound like we weren’t having fun. We were. It was just a different kind of fun than hiking for hours or going on four-by-four tours or staying up late at the night market.
Every parent alive knows that traveling with young children is not easy. It’s hard not to notice the challenges. But I need to take a moment and point out that it’s also wonderful—that it contains joys we wouldn’t experience without toting little ones along with us. Here are five reasons I loved traveling to Taiwan with my young children.
1. They give us an excuse to play.
I know we don’t need to travel in order to play with our kids. Parents do this all the time. My husband enjoys playing with legos as much as my five-year-old. When I take the kids to the playground, I probably enjoy playing on the swings as much as they do. We’re never too old to play, but we usually need our kids to make us feel like we can. I love the beach, but I don’t usually go there to play in the sand. But when I helped my daughter build her castle, I’m not sure which one of us enjoyed it the most.
2. We can have unique insight into what their imaginations can do.
When we’re at home, my daughter’s imaginative play usually involves a princess, queen, and baby doll. It drives me nuts. Give me legos. Give me sand. Give me swings. Give me anything but baby dolls and castles, and I’d be happy to play with her. When we went out and about in Taiwan, she had new environments in which she could imagine a completely different world.
My favorite book as a young child was The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree. I often read the same book to my daughter. I can’t say that she likes it as much as I did, but when we were taking a short hike through the a forest, I pointed out a gnarled old tree covered in shadow and drop roots, “Hey, it’s the spooky old tree from the story. Remember?” For the rest of the hike I followed her lead to look for the “great sleeping bear.” When we found uneven stone steps that had vines and drop roots overhead so thick it was like walking through a tunnel, it became the “twisty old stair.” My little girl and I had a wonderful time imagining our scary escape. It was the most lively and imaginative hike I’ve ever experienced.
3. They have a sense of discovery and fascination that can turn mundane into delightful.
The little bit of hiking we did had to be short trips that we could do very slowly. Part of the slowness came from them not being physically strong enough to keep up. But part of it also came from the distractions that we would have barely taken notice of on our own—like grasshoppers. We saw one of these little guys and spent a great deal of time searching for more. And taking pictures. And trying to catch one. It was great fun—seeing the delight on their faces and listening to Hubby trying to convince them them that grasshoppers are filled with soy sauce. (In my family, when I was little we said that if you picked up a grasshopper it would spit chewing tobacco! In his family, apparently they said it was soy sauce.)
4. Even tourist traps are worthy of celebration.
On one of the tours that we went on, the tour guide pointed to a path and said there was stone at the end that looked like a turtle. It didn’t sound too interesting to me, but when we got to the end and pointed out the turtle, my three-year-old squealed with delight, “Look, Mommy. It’s a turtle. Hooray!” Yes, this giant turtle really did make her exclaim “hooray” and jump up and down. Watching her reaction made me smile so much more than that giant turtle ever could.
5. They provide comic relief.
I’ve always been a beach bum. I love the sound of waves, the gritty sand under my feet, the warmth of the sun while reading a book. I thought that my children would inherit this joy I get from being close to the water, but that’s not exactly the case. My five-year-old has a thing for cleanliness. He doesn’t like dirt on his hands. He doesn’t like to be sticky. He’s quite the city-boy, so it takes him a while, when we get out of the city, to appreciate the beauty of dirt and sand and clean air and quiet. The beach presented a special challenge for him, though. He didn’t like the grit between his toes. He took about five steps onto the beach before declaring his frustration, “Daddy, there’s too much sand.” I didn’t mean to be insensitive toward his distress, but my children always seem to provide a little bit of comic relief at just the right moments.
Yes, we had to be flexible. Hubby and I took turns going to the night market on our own because our kids just couldn’t stay up that late. We had to change our plans on occasions and forego some of the things we would have wanted to do. But all in all, this was one of the best trips I’ve had in several years.
When my husband’s family doesn’t get to do something they wanted to, they say they are “saving something for seed.” I like that idea. We’ll have things to look forward to at a different time, or things to just dream about.
Any yet the past three weeks have reminded me that we can’t let our dreams shadow the sources of joy we already have. We shouldn’t miss the blessings we have in front of us because we are mourning blessings we don’t have.
Let’s look around for our present sources of joy. For me, it’s the joy of having my baby girl grown up into a three-year-old with so much happiness that it bubbles out into a one-legged skip whenever I hold her hand to walk somewhere. The joy of having a five-year-old boy who has such fascination with dinosaurs that he spouts off facts about them at random moments. The joy of watching them discover their likes and dislikes and observing their differences—my son who doesn’t like the sand and my daughter who, always in search of warmth, rolls in it right from the get-go.
The joy of just being—of watching, of listening, of loving my kids.