Our kids had an extra long summer this year because of construction at their school. The summer previous had been a disaster of togetherness—we had just moved and the boxes and lack of neighborhood friends or area activities combined to make me practically shove them on the bus on the first day at their new school. “Have fun, make friends, and don’t come back for at least 7 hours!” we yelled as their bus pulled away. This year, anticipating this constant proximity and the storm it could create, I got them enrolled in morning activities all summer long. Plus, neighbors and friends were just a bike ride away. We enjoyed each other a lot more the times we were together because we weren’t together all the time.

Even so, the extra long nature of summer had me concerned—no camps run in August, the pool closes, and by the time we started thinking of supply shopping, everyone else was already in school for weeks, and Target had no more paper. I took one look at those many empty squares on the August calendar and slated five for vacation—we were getting the heck out of dodge.

We didn’t take many vacations when the kids were little. At a certain point with babies and toddlers, going anywhere sounds like way more work than it’s worth—all the diapers and portable sleeping and crying and snacks and sound machines and and and…

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Why see Central Park when you can hang out with Wolverine in your living room? Plus, the Eiffel Tower doesn’t sound as romantic when anyone could have to go poopies at any moment, and the view from the top of Sentinel Dome loses some of its glory when you are trying to prevent your toddler from stepping off the edge. The grocery store parking lot is risk enough for someone dying when you’ve got little ones in tow—so the general thinking was that we would keep our distance from unfamiliar cities for the time being, thank you very much. Not to mention the waste of going on a trip that would be lost on them, and that they would never remember.

Actually, let me revise: we didn’t plan any of our own trips or take any actual and real vacations apart from the one getaway between kids Wally and I snuck in—an awesome getaway to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Then, for over 5 years, we forgot to travel as a family. (I am discounting some very important trips here with incredible memories—namely, trips we took with our families to Silver Lake, Michigan or to the North Carolina beach. Here, we lived our usual lives—napping, bedtime, changing diaps, doing Yoga, pitching tantrums, having family dance parties, relaxing, or, as Wally Ben dubbed it, “jacuzzin'”—but closer to a body of water. These are amazing trips and we loved them, but I consider them to be “trips” more than “travel”—going somewhere new and unexplored. Trying out the local food, and seeing how people in this place live. Giving ourselves the chance to say to more and more places, I’ve been there.)

IMG_7552I remember a time in my life when travel felt inevitable. My family had a ton of great travel experiences growing up, and then in college I did a study abroad program in Latin America—Peru, Brazil, and Mexico. And as we were in hammocks traveling down the Amazon, or hiking to Machu Picchu, or sleeping under mosquito nets in the rain forrest, I don’t remember thinking, “I will not be back here.” I didn’t know at the time that travel was a privilege—of time, money, freedom from responsibility. The world felt small. The trip felt like one of many global adventures I would have. I had no idea when I renewed my passport after that trip that the next time I took out my passport it would be nearing expiration with no stamps. I am almost 40 and have never seen the Eiffel Tower. Something about that feels deeply tragic.

I remember how sad I was when I went to the airport for the first time after that dry spell and calculated how many years in a row I did not leave the Midwest. Over time, the four states surrounding Lake Michigan started to take on a claustrophobic, heavy air, and as my plane lifted up out of them for that first time I could breathe again. People do this every day? I thought, as I felt life reaching to me from the horizon.

I feel like I have to step in here and say one thing: of course I do not regret my children, or in any way resent them for keeping me tied down.I am simply naming a sacrifice of parenting for us—a happy one. And I acknowledge that some people are much braver than me, and are willing to take their kids with them like the adaptable little humans they are. I was always deeply overwhelmed by baby and toddlerhood, and love to suck the marrow out of travel, so we didn’t even think about it. It felt like something we should do when we were ready.

ChristmasAnd, as they do, the kids got older, and we were finally to the point where we could imagine leaving them with someone without being too much of a burden. Hence, Italy. And then they became so entertaining that vacation actually could be vacation with them, hence, Disney. And now we are getting into those years where we remember being their ages. I remember, vividly, parts of a trip to California when I was Wally Ben’s age. I remember my baby cousin rolling around on the floor of her living room. I don’t remember most of Disneyland, but I remember my sister falling asleep in her food at Denny’s after the incredible day was over.

In adulthood, I found my journal from this 4th grade California trip. In it, I mention going to a cafe. My entry goes something like: “Today we went to the cafe. Joey and Liz ordered root beer. I ordered hot chocolate. Next time, I will order root beer.” After reading it, my brain pulled that memory file to the forefront. I remembered the beautiful glass brown bottles their root beer arrived in, and my deep and intense regret that couldn’t be soothed with my dumb mug of dumb hot chocolate. How glorious were those smooth, cool bottles! How fun and somehow grown-up to hold and tip back. How refreshing it must feel to their lips! I remember what it felt like to be in 4th grade and to have this matter and feel devastating in a huge way. (I am just now realizing that this, perhaps, led to my lifelong fear of ordering wrong in every restaurant ever, which I try to remedy by doing extensive menu and review research before going anywhere or forcing my husband to either pick for me or choose 2 to share, which he is incredibly resistant to do, perhaps because he happens to be an excellent orderer and would like to consume the entirety of whatever delicious thing he chose and not share with this chump, who likely no matter what happens will spend the entirety of the meal and a good portion of the hour after debating whether or not any regrets linger about said order.)

And now I wanted to give my kids the chance to order wrong at a restaurant somewhere far away so they can regret it forever.


But really, now we are at a family phase where travel is fun for all of us—we can experience new places the way we would want to experience them, whether or not the kids are there. It sounds horrible to say it that way, like they are some how getting in the way by being small and needing things like food and water and sleep and somewhere to go poopies. But in a way, when they are small, they sort of are. Imagine any vacation with a toddler, and then imagine it without. Everything is better without. So now, with the kids growing up and being able to adjust and understand how to manage basic needs demands, travel feels possible and enjoyable in the way we all want it to be. We can travel together, as a family, for everyone.

Husband Wally and I made a list of all the places in the US and the world we want to visit. Then we calculated out how many years we have until Wally Ben graduates high school. The list became incredibly urgent

So we are doing it. We are committing to taking family trips when we can. Also, we decided a while ago, during the dry spell, that one of us is taking the kids on trips when they are 8 and 14. Wally already took Wally Ben on a trip to New Orleans when he turned 8.

IMG_8600IMG_8748Next year, Vivvi and I are up with a trip when she turns 8. Then we’ll swap kids for the 14-year-old trip. We are doing this to prioritize travel, and to see slices of the world we otherwise might not see. We are doing it because we live with these small humans who are getting busy and have lives of their own, and who will one day move away. We love the idea of getting to know them better through the shared experience of a one-on-one adventure.

I feel incredible freedom to have come this far in parenting—past babyhood, past the toddler years. Every year the kids have gotten better and better. Every year since babyhood they were my new favorite age. They continue to be my new favorite age. And this is likely because, despite my complaints, they are my favorite human beings. At the same time, though, I sense these may be the glory years. We are post-physical needs, pre-emotional needs. They have yet to slam the door in our faces to tell us they hate us and that we’re ruining their lives. We are in a wonderful in between. Wally Ben still wants me to tuck him in—an inconvenience when I’m already settled in for the evening, but a request I always say yes to because I know it has an expiration date.

All of this points me to one happy fact. It’s time to shake the dust of this crummy little town off our feet and see the world!