Picture this: Charlie, Hermione and I emerge from the Trocadero metro stop in Paris
on our first day visiting my birthplace after months of planning, calculating and
confabulating; Charlie looks up at the Eiffel Tower and says, “Hm. I thought it would
be taller.” Really?
And thus was the tone set for the four weeks of my fun-filled, carefully mapped tour
of Europe with my children.
My dad lived in France most of his life and I went over there at least once a year
until his death in 2003 (Hermione went twice by the time she was three.) But it had
been nine years since we’d been back and at least two or three that the children and
I had begun planning this 2012 trip. As our departure approached, the kiddos talked
eagerly of gorging on crepes and pain au chocolat, seeing the Mona Lisa, holding
their fork in their left hand, touring Versailles and walking cobblestone streets.
I had thought that, at ages 12 and eight, Hermione and Charlie were ready for the
sites, pee-pee smell and exhaustion of international travel. And they were, sort of –
except when they weren’t.
To better illustrate my point, let’s go back to the Eiffel Tower. There we are,
standing under this marvel of 19th century engineering and the cultural symbol of
France waiting to climb the hundreds of steps to the second floor; even the almost-
teenage Hermione is stoked. But where’s Charlie? Oh, there he is, by the murky pond
hollering and waving us over. What could be so exciting? “Look at the size of that
carp Mama. It’s huge!” he bellows. “Oh man, I wish I had a rod.” Um. OK. “Let’s go
climb the Eiffel Tower, OK?” I remind him enthusiastically, leading him away from
oversized goldfish. “Oh, whatever,” he grumbles.
Or we could travel to the magical city of Venice where the children painted their
own Carnival masks, took gondola rides, watched a glass-blowing demonstration
and explored the most excellent armory and very spooky prison of the Doge’s
Palace. What do they remember best about this enchanting place?
“Oh!” exclaims Hermione, “My favorite part of Venice was that adorable little brown
lab puppy we saw on the Vaporetto.” Right. Because we never see those on the
streets of Bozeman, right?
Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? Anyone?
I should pause here to say a few things:
1) My kids are country mice. They both hate big cities and so I was expecting some
push-back during our urban exodus.
2) I have some lingering issues with expectation management.
After three days in Paris, Charlie announced that he was ready to go home, back to
Bozeman. Hmmmm . . . Which part of spending a month with family in France and
Switzerland and visiting Venice (which was your idea in the first place!) did you
NOT understand?!? Deep breaths. He’s only eight, after all. I look to Hermione for
support and encouragement. But no. Instead, I get: “Yeah,” she says, “Paris is OK, but
it stinks. We need fresh air.”
Allrighteythen. Onto the French countryside and Switzerland, where we swim in the
Alpine lakes, tour Medieval castles, eat fondue and chocolate. Everybody’s happy
now, right? Sure, but . . . “we’re tired. Can’t we just stay in today and read Harry
Potter or watch a movie?”
A friend once wisely told me, when I was complaining to her about my kids
complaining, “If you think about it, complaining is actually a big part of a kid’s job.”
Can this be true? It must be.
Because, truth be told, I know that Hermione and Charlie really and truly had a
fabulous time in Europe; they saw and did things that they will never forget – even
if they don’t quite realize it yet. And, now that we’re home, I hear them happily
recounting their adventures to their friends. (“We even got a blanket and a free
dinner on the plane!” Charlie boasted to his best friend.) And maybe that’s the
lesson I should take away: Sometimes it really is the small stuff that matters most.
The other thing I know is that I have some priceless, hard-earned advice to share
with you all about travelling with your kids:
1. Know your kids. Don’t take your city mouse backpacking in the Yukon
without expecting some complaints. If you are ready for the whining, then
you can choose your battles and decide how much to let it get you down (this
is where drinking can come in handy).
2. Stay the course. This is your vacation too, remember, and so you shouldn’t let
your kids’ bad attitude dictate the tone and/or the itinerary. Remember, they
should be happy you didn’t leave them home with the cats. (Kidding. Ish.)
3. Keep it simple. Even though I meant what I said above about staying the
course, you need to remember that kids are kids and it’s unrealistic for
them to truly appreciate the stunning restoration of DaVinci’s St. Anne after
walking the Louvre for four hours (I learned this one the hard way, lemme
tell ya). Most of them get tired, hungry, thirsty and they start to expect things
like sleep, food and water. I know it’s weird, but just trust me.
4. Hope desperately that eventually the photographs and misty memories will
render the vacation sweeter over time. If not, try brainwashing.
All that being said, Montana Parents, I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming
family vacations, wherever they may be. Please do check back in and tell us all about