Recently we were back “home” in Toronto, visiting family. We’d all gotten sick, and spent several days in bed. When we finally made it out to actually do something, we visited Casa Loma much to our young daughter’s excitement. Not many 3-year-old girls wouldn’t be excited to see a real live castle, right? But what about our 1-year-old? Several times during our time there, my mother mentioned that he wasn’t getting much out of it. After all, at one, he hardly cares if he’s in a castle or at the park. In fact, he might very well have enjoyed a trip to the park more! And my mother’s not the only one. We’ve been asked many times if it’s really worth it, since our kids won’t remember the trips we’re taking. Yes, he was comfortably installed in the Ergo, touring around in style, but there was no question that having him there made it harder to navigate the narrow metal spiral staircase up to the uppermost viewing spot. So, was there a point in having him along for the ride?
We would argue – yes! Of course it’s worth it! Why? Well, for starters, travel is what we do. Just like taking walks, our favorite restaurant or my obsession with roses – we did all these things well before kids and don’t see why we should stop now. Travel makes us happy, and surely that’s as good a reason as any to continue to do it?
Ok, so we love to travel – but why do it now if our kids can’t even tell the difference between a museum and a trip to the mall and won’t remember any of it anyways? Sure, our kids may not be getting out of it what we are, but does that make the experience worthless? After all, we’ve enjoyed touring ruins from Rome to Jerusalem, but we hardly get out of these ancient sites what someone with a PhD in ancient history would. Neither of us is an expert in religious studies, but we’ve felt privileged to have visited holy sites from many of the world’s religions. From Muslim mosques in Morocco and Turkey, Jewish synagogues in Israel, Bahai temples in Israel and India, Sikh temples in India, Catholic cathedrals in France, Buddhist temples in Thailand and Malaysia, a church in Jerusalem shared by several different Christian faiths and a holy site that is both a mosque and a synagogue – we’ve sought out spiritual places all over the world. While we hardly take away from the experience what a devout follower of those religions or a scholar of them would, it’s still worth it to us to experience them. There is always someone who would find whatever you’re doing more meaningful than you do – that doesn’t make it worthless for you to have seen it. We feel the same way about our children seeing the world. Sure, they don’t “get” the whole story of Casa Loma or many of the other places we’ve taken them, but for us that doesn’t make the experience not worth bothering with.
We hope travel will be a part of who they are. It may well be possible, but it is difficult to travel without realizing that they way you do things isn’t the only way. Or even the best. At the very least, you learn that there are different ways to approach the same problems that we all face. And different ways to see the world. You learn that the world is a big place – with loads and loads of people – most of whom aren’t nearly as lucky as we are. You learn that not everyone’s taps have clean water running out of them. That most of the world has never heard of “toddler food” or “kid friendly” meals. And that what we consider “cutting back” is most people’s dream of luxury. We hope it will help to encourage our children to be flexible, and to instill in them a sense of gratitude for all the many blessings in their lives.
“But they won’t remember it anyway!” Well, true. Even at three, it’s doubtful that our daughter will remember the travel she’s doing right now. Even a year or two from now, it’s quite possible that she won’t remember these experiences later – at least not so far as being able to talk about them; remember them as discrete experiences. But then how many of us remember being held as a baby? How many of us remember being picked up and held when we fell learning to walk? How many of us remember learning to walk? Learning to tie you’re your shoes? Learning to read, even?
While we may not consciously remember these experiences, they are without a doubt woven into who we are. They may not be stories we can tell, but they have left an indelible mark on the people we are today. And that is what we hope travel will become for our children – an integral part of who they are and what they do. As natural and effortless as putting on their shoes, or walking, or talking.