We are outnumbered on the plane this year: three children, two parents. Although the sink is full of dirty dishes and the dryer is full of unfolded laundry and my to do list still has a couple items not crossed off, we are on the plane.
The first time we flew with Dorothy she was about 6 months old, a little younger than Margeaux is now. We took her to California, and she rode in the baby backpack while we hiked through the redwoods, walked on windswept cliffs so she could see the waves crashing below. We showed her banana slugs creeping slowly along the trails, and tiny ferns sprouting from the trucks of fallen giants. I explained transpiration and fairy rings and clear cut logging to her. She cut her first tooth.
We had no idea how to travel with a baby, and we packed way too much stuff (for reference, we are traveling today with 3 children and approximately half the luggage we brought on that first trip). We expected some tears and some sleepless nights, and we got them. But I would do it all over again.
Our girls have traveled a lot of miles, in planes and in cars. Redwoods, mountains, oceans, beaches, waterparks, the Mall of America. They have put their tiny toes in two oceans. They are, we are, incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities we have had to travel, and we are endlessly grateful to the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents who have read stories and handed out Cheerios and Teddy Grahams and sat poolside while our girls splashed. I don’t know if we would ever have had the courage to pack up and go without families who are as crazy as we are.
And lets be real (it is the Mama Nervosa mantra, after all): my girls are not perfect travelers. I’ve seen those kids in airports, pulling their own carry ons, excited to try unfamiliar local delicacies in restaurants, unfailingly polite. My kids leave a trail of crumbs. We have ordered mac and cheese coast to coast. Lucy may, occasionally, kick the seat in front of her. When my mother in law asked Dorothy if she and Lucy were good on the plane D said honestly, “we were a little bit fighty.” But for every one of those moments when I look around desperately hoping no one knows those are my kids, i have a moment or two when I am lucky enough to hear them giggle in amazement at how bumpy a starfish feels. Last year at the airport I overheard D tell Lucy, “the palm trees have leaves named Ron.
It’s true that they probably won’t remember these trips. But already, they love to look back at the photo albums and slide shows and tell anyone who will listen about how the redwoods went all the way up to the sky and at the aquarium there were baby seahorses and did you know that the ocean tastes salty like French fries?
It’s a big beautiful world, after all, and I want them to know that with all of their senses. I want them to grow up with a little bit of wanderlust, with a sense of adventure, with curiousity and excitement about what’s beyond their backyard.
And there is something to be said for traveling with kids little enough to have their sense of wonder intact, even if it means leaving a trail of Cheerios behind you.