Are we nuts? I scowled at my husband, as we boarded the plane and crammed ourselves and three little kids into the economy seats of a plane bound for London. We had put our farther-flung travels on hold for the toddler years, but now it was time to load everybody up and start seeing the world through fresh young eyes.
We soon found we had nothing to fear. From takeoff that summer day, we discovered our kids were born to travel. They entertained themselves or slept the entire flight, they stayed up all the next day until bedtime, and they believed me when I said there was no such thing as jet lag, spending all of day two on their feet, in the tube, in the parks and museums and churches and shops, and they topped it off with a night at the theater. They were 5, 8 and 10 years old; I have to say I was pretty impressed.
We stayed with friends in London and started some great travel memories, the kind of recollections kids have of their trips, not necessarily the kind adults and travel bloggers write about. They remember minding the gap as we rode back and forth into the city, gawking at the torture devices in the Tower of London, snuggling a new Paddington Bear toy, and the sheer magnitude of choices at the food court at Harrods. They remember the crushing crowds at the theater, but not much about the play. They recall it being scorching hot outside Big Ben and Parliament, but nothing about the places themselves.
Paris was next, via the Eurostar train through the chunnel, a ride that is still remembered for the orange juice that was spilled on my daughter’s white sweater rather than for the transportation wonder that it was. Strongest memory of the Eiffel Tower? The awful pizza – who puts weird mushrooms on pizza, they cried! (Who eats in the Eiffel Tower, we should have been asking.) Continental toilets were the subject of many a journal entry; my oldest was intrigued with the different flushing mechanisms, the water flow, the seats – you name it; he cataloged it.
Notre Dame is remembered for its roof and the winding stairs that got them there; back then you could go the whole way up, and we spent well over an hour looking out over the rooftops, but no one has any memory of going inside. Parisian cuisine? They ordered steak frites or jambon et fromage sandwiches at every single restaurant for every single meal (except for that sad Eiffel Tower pizza). We rented a spacious apartment decades before AirBnb, and they remember … the lobby.
The French countryside brought new delights. What kid would not love Mont St Michel and the idea that we could be stranded there when the tide came in? Forget the abbey; that natural moat was the cool part. Dinard was a charming beach town, but here they had the coziest, whitest beds, all three crammed together in a toile-covered room, and that Grand Hotel may still be their favorite hotel in the world. Monet’s garden delighted my daughter, perhaps in part for its flowers and green benches, but mostly because she remembered she had gotten out of a day of preschool to attend the Monet exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago with me years before. And, to them, the D-Day beaches represented the end of a different kind of World War: a huge fight between mom and dad over asking for directions! (To be honest, that hours-long argument and the driving in circles all over Normandy are my strongest memories of that historic place as well.)
Belgium brought panic and a three-way police lookout when we sailed through a toll area without paying the toll (by accident) and the kids were certain we would be arrested, but it also brought one of the most relaxing afternoons we had, meandering though Bruges, eating chocolates and posing on every little stone bridge we crossed.
Our final destination, the Netherlands, where my brother was living with his family, is somewhat properly remembered for our visit to Anne Frank’s house, an evening canal cruise, and the pannenkoeken houses, but what they would say really sticks in their minds is the stone their cousin threw at our youngest’s head in their backyard. Or the porn movie that came on as my brother tried to change the TV channel. Or the girls in the windows in the red light district, which they struggled to comprehend. Or the topless beach near Scheveningen.
Ahem, there is a theme developing there, but it was a different kind of lust that was growing in the kids on that first big trip. Today, those little tykes have a wanderlust that matches their mother’s, and I think all those mundane memories of other countries were the spark. All three kids spent some portion of their college lives overseas, continued to travel with us for many years, have worked overseas in Israel, Ireland, South Africa, Ghana and Malawi, and now take their own road and train and bus trips, wrangling their friends and significant others to step away from home to create more silly, random memories.