When I was two years old, my parents took me to India. I drank fresh carrot juice from a roadside stand, met hordes of relatives for the first time and rode an elephant. Or that’s what they tell me; I don’t remember a thing.
Walker, who is just a few months older now than I was then, likely will draw a similar blank years from now when he tries to remember this trip. Harper, who is nearly five, many hang onto a couple of the memories we’re making, but they’ll be foggy. So why, then, are we spending all of this time and treasure taking them around the world?
The best comparison in our minds is this: Travel is like reading. We read our children books from the time they’re born, knowing all the while that they likely won’t remember the plot lines of Guess How Much I Love You or Goodnight Moon. But somehow, we hope, the good stuff gets in them even as they forget the particulars. (As other mothers of four-year-old girls know, this phenomenon is best summarized by Grand Pabbie, the wise, elderly troll in the movie Frozen. As he erases Anna’s memories of Elsa’s magic, he “leaves the fun” of their sisterly experiences intact.)
Our children most likely will forget the sunny day when we all scaled Europe’s largest sand dune. The castles we saw in France and Spain are already fading from their minds. Last night’s tuk tuk ride through Bangkok’s buzzing streets will be lost to them. But if, as adults, they remember that they had a happy, colorful childhood—if they are a bit more adventurous or curious or open-minded—this journey will have done its job.
This trip allows us to experience some of the amazing things the world has to offer. But just as importantly, it also gives us the time to explore the universe that is our little family. We have time to be more present for each other, to really listen. We have more time for fun and for silliness. So often at home, I notice myself promising Harper for days on end that we’ll do a requested activity, but never finding time for it. Last week, she asked to have a dance party in our Madrid apartment. We did it that afternoon.
We’ve now been on the road for nearly a month and a half. In that time, we’ve gotten to know our children in a new and deeper way—an acknowledgement that is upsetting in its very true implication that we didn’t know them as well as we could have before we left. Although sometimes hard on our patience, being with them every day, all day is making us better parents. The kids, in their own way, have gotten to know Derek and me better, too. And they’ve become so close as siblings that one will not accept a treat unless the other is also receiving it.
We have many adventures still ahead of us on this trip. Tomorrow, we’ll explore Bangkok by boat. In Tokyo, we’re looking forward to eating sushi at the world’s largest fish market. Bhutan holds wonders we can’t begin to imagine. But what we’re learned on this trip is that where we go is far less important than the simple fact that we’ll go there together.