Photo: I took this picture yesterday by accident, but there is something about it that I love. I think it’s the way that the light is hitting his face. I just love the highlight of the joy that he is feeling in this moment as he’s playfully defying me (he was refusing to go upstairs and get dressed). Joy is elusive, yet here it is, captured on my son’s face.
The T is having a Customer Appreciation Day today to make up for their mega non-awesomeness during the Great Massachusetts Winter of 2015. Every service on the system is free and there are a few discounts and freebies to be had around the city as well. I woke up this morning with the grand idea of walking the boys down to the commuter rail station and ride the train into town, maybe have some lunch, and then ride back.
All I could think about was how easily things could go sideways. And by “sideways,” I mean, “preschooler.” I could see it all:
“But I wanted to sit on the Double-Decker car! Why isn’t there a Double-Decker car?”
“I want to walk around! I don’t want to sit and look!”
“I don’t want to get off the train! I just want to stay here!”
Without the benefit of the stroller, I can’t restrain the little bears and push them if need be. Without the benefit of The Husband, I can’t guarantee that I can keep them both under control and under supervision. We’d leave the house and I’d have control for about 30 minutes before chaos would find me and take over. This is a scary thought when you add in train platforms, moving vehicles, and lots of people in public places.
So, I chickened out.
We played in our sandbox, chased bubbles, played with our motorcycles, went to the park… It was a great day.
But I couldn’t help but wonder about the missed opportunity.
Matter of fact, I’e been thinking about that all week.
My Quiet Thoughts have been intensely focused on this important first opportunity to expand the boundaries of what the “world” is for my two little boys right now. It started with my jealousy over some of the sunny destinations that some of the other preschool families are currently visiting, but it crystallized as the week has gone on.
You see, Major’s “favorite friend” has been enjoying some fun and sun in Turks and Caicos this week and I have been stupid jealous. To get away and see something else (not to mention be warm and relaxed and pampered!) is something that I desperately need right now. It’s cold in Massachusetts this week, and I’m ready for an opportunity to re-energize. I thought about taking the boys down to Maryland for this break week, but I could not convince myself that I could make the eight-hour drive by myself with the boys. So we stayed home and we’ve made the best of it: plenty of time with classmates, little projects here at home, plus plenty of time in the yard…
but I can’t help but think about all of the things kids learn when they leave home. Not just that things are different and marvelous in different places, but also important practical stills, like: how to eat at a restaurant and eat cuisine you’re not used to. Learn what it’s like to sleep in a hotel room. Learn how to navigate airports or rest stops… when you travel, you learn how to be in the world, and you learn how small your personal world is and that it’s amazing beyond your personal boundaries. These navigation skills echo into adulthood just as much as memories of crystal-blue waters or forests that never end.
There is a lot of planning that has to go into that kind of travel. I’m good at planning and logistics, so that’s not my problem. What I think has held me and The Husband back from venturing beyond our front door has been the trust involved. To wander with children requires two types of trust: Trust that they will do what you expect and need them to do and trust that we will have the patience and good humor required when they don’t or can’t.
It’s that later trust that we are lacking more than anything else. Who wants to invest the energy, time and, yeah, precious money into an experience only to have to endure the boys whining/fighting/yelling/crying through it for 60% of the time? Or, you spend so much time fighting with them on the way to the thing that you are too frazzled to enjoy it once you get there!
So, we convince ourselves that they can’t handle it. We tell ourselves that we’ll have our own adventures, just the two of us, and we’ll take them with us on some family trips later. In the meantime, though, their peers are having adventures with their families, expending what their ideas are about the world and where they exist in it. Our sons are missing out because of our hangups.
I know that this must read very “keepin’ up with the Jones’,” and I understand that. Longtime readers know that we can’t afford to take our boys on a glorious week-long island vacation. My parents have no summerhouse on the coast of Maryland, there is no family condo to party in on the Florida coast. I will never keep up with these affluent families we’re hanging out with and I’m not going to try.
But we have this membership to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which gives us free entry to some fifty wildlife sanctuaries in the state. Through The Husband’s job and our alumni associations, we can get free or discounted tickets to a lot of the local cultural attractions. And, if we pack our patience (and get the boys passports), we can easily drive to Mt. Washington or Montreal…
There is plenty to give to these two boys (who are worthy, and eager, and ready) if we only choose to trust ourselves and trust them, pack our patience and go. They are still at an age when I need The Husband with me–they are too strong-willed and too big for me to handle them both in new places by myself. But one day, they be old enough that I know they’ll always do as I ask and we’ll really be able to go and explore, even when The Husband has to work. This year, we’ve decided not to give a summer camp $400 to take the boys for a single week of mornings, and we decided to hold off on that couple’s vacation this year, too (we did the budget and there wasn’t enough left over to do it well anyway). Instead, we’re going to use that money for bunch of mini-summer excursions. Little weekend outings and maybe one or two overnight trips for the destinations that are farther away. We’re going to take these two boys and expand their boundaries. I’m not going to look at it as a sacrifice because these will be vacation days for me, too. I’ll be learning and enjoying along with the boys, and this is a fantastic opportunity to finally get to share the world with them. If they thought musket fire was cool, wait to their set their eyes on the Mayflower II or see the world from the top of a mountain!
There will be time for sitting on a beach with a cocktail in hand. There will be a time for vacations of pampered bliss. As much as I yearn for it, I recognize that now is not the time. Now is the time to wander. Together. Because they deserve it and they need it, too. And nobody loses when we decide to do so. They learn and grow, and we do so with them.
It is a cold and windy Friday in Massachusetts, with very little sign of real and actual Spring (It snowed in parts of the state today. I am not kidding!). It’s easy to lose hope under the circumstance, dear reader, but I hope that you are enjoying warm temperatures and an emerging vernal landscape wherever you are! I wish you a time of contemplation this weekend, and an opportunity to make yourself uncomfortable but also expand your horizon. What would happen if you chose the road you’d otherwise not travel for once? What would happen if you went left instead of right? Spring is a transition season: it brings tulips and tornadoes. Both symbolize change and opportunity. I hope, dear reader, that you seize a moment this weekend. Whichever way you choose to turn, I hope that you walk in love, because you are loved and admired, and you are worthy of it. Near and far, known and unknown, you are a loved person. So do something unexpected. There are few wrong choices in this life (or easy ones! That’s half the fun!).
Until Monday, take care.