When my two oldest kids were 4 years and 22 months old, I had the chance to accompany my husband to Vancouver. He had a week-long conference, and convinced me to go with him.
I’d assumed that he’d be done with the conference by 1 PM every afternoon, and that we could take the kids exploring in the city together afterward.
As it turned out, he was away from the hotel 10-12 hours a day. I was stuck with two kids: one who couldn’t adjust to the time change, and the other who woke every hour at night. I got maybe 4 hours of broken sleep in a twenty-four hour period.
What did I do?
I rented a minivan, a car I’d never driven before, in a city I’d never visited before, and drove all over the city, hitting every sight I could. I got lost with two crying toddlers in the back seat. I got peed on. I had trouble finding food the kids would eat. We all froze because we didn’t bring enough warm clothing.
But I saw Vancouver, damn it. And though I was unshowered, sweaty, nervous, and stressed out, Vancouver saw me.
That trip to Vancouver served an important purpose in my life. Because it quashed any hesitation I’ve ever had when it comes to traveling with kids.
A little over a year ago, we traveled all over India in a two-week period, with three kids ages 9, 6 & 3. In April, we took them to Seattle and San Francisco. And yesterday, we got back from 4 nights in Paris, and 5 in Amsterdam.
As I posted some of my photos of our European excursion to Facebook over the past 9 days, I worried that I might be painting an untruthful picture of what it’s like to travel, particularly internationally, with young children. Because traveling with young kids isn’t a vacation. It’s an experience. If you go into it knowing that disaster lurks around every corner, you’ll have a much better time all around.
Here’s what the seemingly peaceful photos of my trip don’t show–
1.) My 4-year old, who is going through one of the most difficult phases ever, threw 4-6 incredible temper tantrums a day.
2.) Paris doesn’t have ramps or elevators, so we spent as much time carrying the stroller up and down steps as we did actually wheeling it around.
3.) At every moment during the trip, 1 of my 3 kids was either crying or complaining about something.
4.) At every moment during the trip, 1 of my 3 kids was asking for a souvenir.
5.) Day 3 in Amsterdam, 3/5 of us got a stomach virus. I was thrown up on no less than 4 times, including once as the plane’s wheels left the ground in Amsterdam, en route back to Atlanta.
6.) I yelled at the kids. They yelled at me.
7.) I cursed way too much. The kids heard it all.
8.) All three girls were put in time out in both countries.
9.) All three girls were being complete brats at least twice a day, usually at different times, but sometimes at the same time.
10.) Paris doesn’t have bathrooms. Someone was always whining that they had to pee.
Despite the difficulties, there is something so magnificent about my trips with my girls that I can’t quite put my finger on. There are moments from our travel that change who I am forever.
Perhaps, this time around, it was the moment we reached the second story of the Eiffel Tower, a 669 step journey that all three girls made without any help, without a single complaint. When the wind tussled their hair just so as they looked out over their conquered domain, the height that they’d mastered, the city that their feet had already traversed for miles that day– I found myself almost speechless with pride, with love so limitless I felt dizzy.
Perhaps it was in the three minutes we had to run from the ticket counter at the Paris Nord train station, to our train on the verge leaving for Amsterdam. As I sprinted with my 4 year old in the stroller, my backpack smacking the top of my head, my 8 year-old’s long, lean legs stretching out so far along the platform like an athlete at a track meet, my 10 year-old managing a giant suitcase all on her own, my husband bringing up the rear, double-checking that we had the kids we came with– I felt like we’d never been more whole as a family. Despite the fact that missing the train would mean we’d miss spending the few hours we had with my cousin’s family in Amsterdam, I spent those sweaty, panicked minutes marveling at how strong and fast my girls had become. How big they’d grown. How, in a moment of impending disaster, they’d pulled it together enough to make it on the train ten seconds before the door closed behind us.
Or perhaps it was in the middle of a night when, in the dead of sleep, I felt my 4 year old (who’d kicked me in the ribs most of the night) roll over and plant a sweet, wet kiss on each of my cheeks. When I cracked my eye to see what was going on, she was already snoring again, eyes closed, as if one of us, or perhaps both of us, had imagined it.
The world is an amazing place to visit. And perhaps it’s even more amazing because I get to see it with my crazy family. We are, for sure, a head trip. And I’m already planning the next trip in my head.