Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fear Not, Young Padawan: Encouraging Kids to Travel

Tonight at bedtime I had an opportunity for some one-on-one conversation with Connor. He's a quiet guy who keeps emotions bottled up, and we need to watch him for signs of trouble so we can carefully extract from him the cause of his woes. Today was a beautiful day and I had summer on my mind, so I innocently asked him if he's getting excited for summer break. My kids live for summer break, so I was expecting an enthusiastic answer. I was surprised when I didn't get it.

Instead I got an "eh, kind of."

WHAT? How can you not be excited for summer break, right? Especially when you're 9 years old and summer time seems to stretch on forever, like an endless horizon filled with melting popsicles, mosquito bites, and skinned knees.

So then I had to spend some time delicately poking and prodding to get to the root of the issue. As it turns out, Connor is not looking forward to our big road trip this summer. Like, at all. He is worrying about it, bless his little ginger heart. I had to ask lots of questions and do some more pushing and probing to finally figure out what is specifically on his mind.

There's a lot on his mind, actually.

He doesn't like that there is a volcano in Washington. I'm hoping he doesn't Google it, like I just did, and learn that there are actually 5 active volcanos in Washington. I tried to dispel this fear by telling him that there are scientists who devote themselves to tracking volcanic activity, and that they can predict when one will erupt so that people have plenty of time to get far away. I have actually no idea if any of that is true, strictly speaking. I more or less based my argument on what I want to be true, what I assume to be true, and what I've seen in movies.

He's going to miss Daddy. I reassured him that we could call Daddy every single day. I think my counter point fell on deaf ears.

He just knows that his sisters are going to give him a headache in the van with all their screaming and whining. This is actually a very valid concern, and one that I have thought much of as well. I told him we would have strict rules about respecting one another and not being too loud in the van. I didn't even remotely convince myself, much less Connor. But later when I talked to Chris about it, I had a brainstorm, and that brainstorm is called ear plugs. I will get him (and me) some ear plugs for the ride, and he can use them if his sisters start blasting his ear drums. Which will happen, no question.

He doesn't want to be that far from home because, in his own words, he's "not used to it." I gave him a pep talk about how sometimes we have to go far from home to see and experience awesome things. It may have sunk in ever so slightly.

I started to feel guilty.  Is this trip just for me, I asked myself, to satisfy my sense of wanderlust and help me to feel less stagnant? Should I see if there is some way that Connor can stay home if he truly does not want to go? Do I have to wait until all of my kids are grown before I can do any cool stuff that I want to do? The self doubt started creeping in.


How much do we have to cater to our kids, anyway? They go through all kinds of phases, and they're moody little buggers too. Sometimes they're bored of everything. Sometimes they're only happy if they're with friends. Sometimes they're restless. Sometimes they do nothing but complain about every suggestion we make. Other times they are joyful little sponges, soaking up and loving everything we excitedly expose them to. Sometimes they are carefree and adventurous. Other times they are scared and apprehensive about every little thing. I have four of these volatile little creatures, so it follows that it is purely impossible to please all of them in all ways, at all times. Or at any given time, for that matter.

As parents, we have veto power; not the other way around. We make the decisions and do what we deem best. Yes, we should listen to our kids, of course we should. But listening to them does not mean bending to their will and becoming slaves to their happiness. Sometimes they need to come around and see things our way. And sometimes they hate us until they're 30 years old, when they maybe have a sudden revelation that it was really spectacular that their mother took them on a 4000 mile road trip of epic proportions. I hope in this case it's the former.

I do believe that taking this huge trip is a good thing for our kids. Better than good, even. For lots of reasons. The trip in itself is one thing. Seeing so much of our country. Visiting different states and seeing things none of us has ever seen. Being together in a crowded minivan for hours and days, and being forced to choose between being miserable or enjoying our company. Learning patience in a whole new context. I also want them to look back on this trip and remember that going the extra mile (or several thousand) for friendship is a worthwhile effort. That visiting family is important. That relationships are vital, and protecting them is a priority. That we live in a BIG world and sometimes we need to do BIG things. We don't have to hover where it's safe and familiar; we can spread our wings and go, even when it feels uncomfortable and frightening at first. That, in fact, plowing through that discomfort and fear is more rewarding than we could possibly imagine as we sit on our family room couch.

Later, when Connor was sleeping, it occurred to me that it's been awhile since we've been on a trip really far away, and the kids have never been this far from home. Maybe it's totally normal for one or all of them to feel wary about traveling thousands of miles from their comfort zone. When I put it that way, it seems obvious that of course it's normal. But I have faith that our trip is going to be absolutely amazing, even if it does take my kids a little while to realize that and appreciate it.


Diane and Chad said...

Our family always took road trips...only 2 boys, but still! Make sure you plan ahead with silly songs, toys that are not electronic, games that involve looking out the window to find things. Maybe have maps and let them find small magnets of the states they travel through....let them take some photos along the way. Just some ideas for you! It will be great for them and you...relax that guilt:))

alyaia75 said...

Thanks for the tips, I appreciate it! I have been collecting games and books, like kid atlases and stuff like that. I'm also going to make sure they each have their own camera and that they write in journals.