Friday, July 5, 2013

Week 42

We’ve been here a while now.  Closing in on a year.  I suppose I can say in full confidence, we’ve learned a thing or two about moving a family abroad.  In the spirit of the popular pastime of glorious summer holidaying, I will say a few words on traveling with children.  

“Traveling with children.”  Sigh.  It’s almost an oxymoron really and mildly comparable to “leaping tall buildings in a single bound.”  Take small, restless, willful, animate, unrelenting and unyielding creature who doesn’t sit still for more than six minutes - strap into seat of selected mode of transportation for six hours with only your(already wearied)selves to distract/engage/entertain and more importantly, with nowhere to escape - arrive at destination, wondering for the zillionth time since you became a parent how on earth sleep deprivation equals boundless energy and how said creature could possibly be hungry after snacking on goldfish crackers and chocolate biscuits at will for the last six hours - somehow manage to lure creature into a blissful, only too brief sleep at the hotel three hours past his normal bedtime, while you and your spouse sit in silence in the dark so as not to disturb this process - start the next day at the crack of dawn (thanks to creature’s inexplicable but at the very least predictable ability to wake up a full hour earlier than usual when put to bed late) with a clear heavily caffeinated head of steam ready to take on the navigation of a new and exciting city full of amazing cafes, pubs, museums, architecture and attractions (or whatever the vibe is of the place to which you have travelled) when all your little creature really wants to do is play with his matchbox cars (which by the way, he never has any interest in playing with at home) in his pajamas on the hotel bed.  Cue meltdown number twenty five since you left home.  It’s a toss up at this point as to who is having the meltdown because somehow in this situation, everyone reverts to their inner child really.  Why did we think this was a good idea exactly?!  Wouldn’t a day out at the community pool at the end of our street have been divine?!  After literally coming face to face with this scenario more than once, here are the things we have learned about the daunting phenomenon of “traveling with children.”

1.  You can never leave home with too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  You may think I have randomly selected this uncomplicated tip as number one on my list, but no.  Seriously.  It is of paramount importance.  I cannot explain it, perhaps Paddington Bear could enlighten us, but peanut butter and jelly always, always, and always brings a smile back to my buddy’s face.  It takes the edge off.  It disguises good protein.  It travels well.  It is good for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner and therefore, comes quite in handy for restaurants in which you know ninety percent of that 8 pound entree on the child’s menu (and therefore ninety percent of your 8 pounds) will end up in the bin.   It is soft, gooey, and warm, it is sweet and savory.  It is sticky, and therefore, keeps little whining mouths glued shut momentarily.  Just saying.      

2.  Happy child = happy parents = happy child = happy parents . . . and so on and so forth.  Check all holier-than-thou parenting ideals regarding television time, nutrition and hygiene, i-phone tinkering, sleep routine, bribery and behaviour at the door you locked behind you as you departed on this journey.  Those intentions are from a past life and can certainly be revisited once returned to the safety (and piety) of your home all in good time.  However, upon making the decision to “travel with children,” you have catapulted your family into a hedonistic life, and who is complaining really, of daily morning cartoons in the hotel, i-phone tinkering in restaurants pretty much upon demand, chocolate croissants for breakfast, ice cream for snack, and dessert after dinner, partying past bedtime on a nightly basis, and completely and conveniently forgetting that the small bathtub in the hotel could in fact manage to wash away the last two days of travel grime from your child’s body, but then again, bedtime has already been delayed by two hours and truly only a mother would notice the dirt beginning to build up behind his ears.  I dramatize just a wee bit, of course, but i-phone tinkering, mandatory pudding partaking, late bedtimes . . . all these things lead to one glorious important scenario.  More time in the pub for Mom and Dad . . . which brings me back to my initial statement, “Happy child = happy parents = happy child = happy parents . . .”  You get my drift.   

3.  Probably, this is a no brainer, but a small bag of belongings that the child has selected that can be thrown in the backpack while walking around will come in handy during down times . . . and times when your concern for junior’s time with Daddy’s phone annoyingly comes sneaking back into your mind.  (Incidentally, mostly I joke about the i-phone, but on occasion, it actually serves valuable purpose while traveling such as functioning as a camera for scavenger hunts or taking pictures of cool things in museums.  We’ve also even encountered museum websites that offer activities your child can do on the phone while visiting the museum)  At any rate, my guy fills his little toy bag up seemingly with no rhyme or reason (at least to my unoriginal and boringly adult imagination) with things I would have never chosen, either on their own or to go together, but I don’t interfere because when the time comes for him to dump this little collection out on the hotel floor or pub table, the unadulterated and focused playtime that ensues is always completely captivating, beautifully creative, and entertaining for him and us no doubt.  The endless plots involving dinosaurs, trucks, Octonauts, and legos is good for at least forty five minutes of peace. Once that has run it’s course, I always try to carry a deck of UNO cards, a travel version of Snakes and Ladders or a sticker book because I have a tough time leaving my reservations about i-phone time at the door.  AND....believe it or not, ultimately, pub time CAN actually be really good family time :)

4.  This was an especially tough pill for the very independent-minded Keegan and me to swallow having travelled so much together sans child, but truly, you cannot go on a trip with your child without allowing him the opportunity to have some say in the decision making process.  When I think of it now, why would you even want to, how is that even fair?!  Yes, I scour over travel books and Keegan scrolls through tripadvisor somewhat exhaustively before departure.  Together, we come up with a good rough outline of the highlights WE think we should hit . . . BUT, we never put ourselves in a stressful situation in which we cannot revise, improvise, eliminate, add, or delete items on the agenda in order to hear Liam’s voice, or to just simply go to the local playground for an hour.  For example, when we were on a day trip to Cambridge, Keegan and I would’ve been very happy to have spent the day walking somewhat aimlessly around the town to get a really good general idea of the layout and in doing so, we felt that a stroll around the Chapel of King’s College would’ve been sufficient, instead of paying the fifteen pound entrance fee.  Liam, however, insisted that we go in.  While touring these kind of sights ad infinitum is not our forte, we yielded.  And SO glad we did too.  All three of us were floored by the majestic interior.  That is the moment I realized he should give input as to how we spend our day touring, because inherently, it will force us to think outside the box and to see things we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t brought him.

5.  And so I come to the last yet most important point.  I joke and poke fun at the meltdowns and sleep deprivation that inevitably come with the territory.  Traveling with children is yes, without argument, exhausting, but at the end of the day, at the end of the journey, as the sun sets and everyone is tucked snuggly into their own comfortable beds, is completely and utterly one hundred percent the most rewarding thing you could ever do as a family.  It doesn’t matter if you travel to a tent in your backyard for the night, the next town over for a weekend, or to a different country for two weeks.  When we are away from our home, Liam has our undivided attention in a way that life at home with computers and jobs and daily routines somehow doesn’t allow.  Exploring, sharing, experiencing all of these amazing new places, people, and things together and then being able to reflect upon it, to laugh about it, to remember it . . . in the end, it doesn’t matter where we went or what we did, but that we went there and we did it together.  As a family.  With children.
Week 107
(I recycled some photographs here . . . Liam in Prague.  This week we had friends with children from California visiting and 4 days straight of end of school events so my camera seems only to be filled with pictures of other people's children this week!)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Week 41

Because we haven’t had a trip “in a while,” because I’ve been feeling like I’d rather live on a farm lately, because I’ve been feeling particularly sensitive to and unforgiving of city living lately, and simply because we can and we should, Keegan, Liam and I packed up and headed out to the lovely villages in the countryside of England, the Cotswolds, just an hour and a half drive from London.  Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills, endless prolific farmland, and wildflower meadows splattered with God’s very own paint palette of the most brilliant yellows I have ever seen, the warm limestone storybook villages nestled themselves into these hills as if they had been there since the beginning of time.  It was indeed the perfect, regenerating weekend of which I was, in fact perhaps we all were, in dire need.  Saturday we spent the entire day, aside from a two hour lunch at the village pub, hiking through fields, working farms, wildflowers, along streams, ancient stone cottages, gracious English Manors and stately cows at pasture.  The weather threw just about everything it could at us just short of snow really . . . rain, sun, gale force winds, but we forged ahead, somehow feeling that no matter what, we could not turn our back on something quite this special.  I’ll stop now, because the images speak louder than I ever could.  Can’t wait to go back.  Trying to figure out how we could spend an entire summer at our charming little Honey Cottage and send Daddy off to work as needed ;)

This is literally the hike, from start to finish, as we saw it.
Heading out of town:
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Sound of Music anyone?
Random soccer ball to pass some time . . . 
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Arriving at halfway point, the Lower Slaughters, for lunch . . .
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Heading through town . . . 
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And back on the return path . . .
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This was Liam's longest hike ever at right around five miles I think.  He complained a lot about the distance, and rightly so, but in the end, I think he was giggling and thoroughly occupied with the surroundings 90 percent of the time....
Going home with the cows . . .
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This promptly went all over Daddy . . .
Keegan and I heavily rewarded ourselves that evening with local cheese.  There may have been some wine and chocolate involved as well . . . 
Week 40&418

Next day, Liam all tuckered out, we had a driving tour of some of the other well-known villages:
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Week 40

I’ve neglected my blog.  The truth is, when I sat down to write it last week, I felt completely deflated.  I felt flat.  The weather was flat, my photos were flat, my thoughts were flat, even my hair was a bit flat actually.  Every week in London can’t be epic or exciting or awe-inspiring, although I think I often have that expectation because we are living a dream after all.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the homesickness sneaks back around, I get tired of feeling like it’s still the beginning of spring, or worst yet, not quite the end of winter, the schlepping back and forth to school on foot in a very urban setting gets oh-so-old, routine is synonymous with monotonous, and not feeling settled into anything of my own really other than taking care of Liam and making our flat pretty feels just a bit lonely when he’s off doing amazing things at school, Keegan is making things happen at work, and I’m left to my own devices.  Inevitably, I was starting to take my surroundings for granted.  When we first moved here and the weather was still nice tolerable, Liam and I embraced the adventure of exploring a new city.  But as the year continues, Liam finds less and less joy in hopping on and off trains and busses and darting through masses of people on his scooter and more and more interest in playing with his friends.  As such, I have been quite busy arranging and rearranging his social life and realized I was not finding time for much else.  But this week, as I was struggling with finding ways to rise above my bad attitude, that summer day for which we have all been waiting . . . dawned.  And not a moment too soon.  Layers of clothes were shed, we walked to school with a bounce in our step, I spent the morning figuring out something fabulous to do after I picked Liam up (it was all I could do to keep myself from pulling him out early), and we embraced the day like it was the only summer day we would ever have here (and, incidentally, it may very well be)!  We hit Hyde Park, took a stroll along the warm pollen-laden path, played in the cascading, swirling pools of the Diana Memorial Fountain, had an early alfresco dinner on the Serpentine Lake complete with wine and sparkling raspberry lemonade, took a paddle boat out for a spin, and concluding the evening with a walk back to the tube with a huge bubble maker I bought Liam at the gift shop.  We were surrounded by masses of giddy families doing just the same.  Since the sun doesn’t set until 9pm or so, we didn’t leave the park until 8pm, the time Liam would have been regularly scheduled to be fast asleep in his bed.  It didn’t matter.  That day could’ve lasted forever.  It was perfect.  

(P.s...if you're sick of seeing photos of my son {i.e....because you aren't family}, stay tuned for my next post of our weekend trip to the lovely Cotswolds...)

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