This summer when I travel to Europe, it will be, I think, the 21st time I’ve crossed the Atlantic, which boggles my brain. What’s most remarkable, though, isn’t that I’ve been lucky enough to travel so often, it’s the fact that the next trip I will be taking will be with my now 21 year-old son. Oh! And it’s pretty much exactly 21 years since the very first time I took him to Europe.
I was running tonight and thinking about all of the places I’ve seen and all of the things I’ve learned since I began to travel, since I became a parent. For instance, I’ve learned there’s no better way to explore a new place than tying on sneakers and hitting the streets. Being strong and healthy are things I don’t take for granted and life has taught me that muscles, including the heart, need to be used.
The very first time in a new place, for me, is a consistent combination of exciting, overwhelming and mildly annoying. Parenthood can probably be described in a similar fashion. Getting oriented, making connections and finding the means to achieve a sense of competence takes some time. Again, particularly if we’re feeling optimistic, we could probably describe parenthood similarly.
When I went to London in 1988 with my brand new passport, my baggage was the heaviest among all of my friends. The excessive size of my luggage embarrassed me and caused me consider the discomfort of being responsible for a big, heavy bag. I don’t travel like that anymore. I no longer am willing to be responsible for carrying anything that is extraneous.
On our first trip together, Liam was about 5 months old. I remember organizing the transportation to the airport – a shuttle bus that made one stop in Kingston before heading to JFK, and climbing on board with my baby, luggage and breast pump without a moment’s hesitation. We landed in Dublin, got into a rental car and immediately drove west across the country to meet a friend who had decided to join us on our adventure and would be arriving the next day in Shannon. I had no reluctance or fear. It’s a big world and I was (and remain) convinced that my job as a parent was to introduce my children to as much of it as possible.
This summer Liam and I plan to visit 4 cities in 3 countries. It will be his 8th trip to Europe, something I’m kind of proud of considering my own travel abroad experiences didn’t begin until I was older than he is now. I know there will be moments when I feel stressed by the challenges involved with navigating an unknown city or transit system, but Liam has developed a great sense of direction and understanding of maps and he will be a big help. We’ll stretch our legs, figure out how to get to where we want to be, carry with us only what we need and do our best to learn by witnessing how other people live. I’m already getting excited.