A Different Kind of Holiday

Holidaying with your kids is amazing. It's also not really a holiday. You can't simple lounge and enjoy sips and eats or promenade pensively, as you are on duty - in charge of engaging your children, supervising them and keeping them alive. The third day of our trip, for instance, involved recurring vomiting by both boys and we spent the whole day at home, except for a brief walk in the eve on the canal when they had recovered from their various eruptions and were set on adventure.

It was a wonderful, if somewhat taxing, experience.

When showing our kids the Parthenon, which they both admired vocally through intermittent exclamations as to how hot it was, one disgruntled individual commented that our kids won't remember any of their experiences and that it was a loss to bring them. It's always charming when strangers provide unsolicited opinions (which each pregnant person can attest to), particularly when they are so enchantingly depressing. Perhaps they won't remember. Or they may remember some parts, but what may seem quite inane instances, such as for instance, riding the escalator, which they could have done at home. I remember my grandparents took me around the former SFRY and yet my most vivid memories have to do with food - including a particularly tantalizing yoghurt in a beautiful wooden bowl which I believe I had somewhere in Macedonia.

Whether a child remembers an experience is not the point. Whether they remember it or not, it's nevertheless something they experience - and each experience widens their horizons and makes new connections in their wired minds. Our kids absorbed new smells, new sights and new languages and we were excited to see their wonder, which to some extent bounced back onto us. We are after all, all mirrors reflecting off each other.

My kids were impressed by the grand buildings, palaces, churches and gardens of the European cities we visited, but they were mostly excited about the transport we used. From planes, to trains to boats, to trams, my kids were happiest when a machine was moving them along. I've learnt you can turn any day into an amusement park simply by spending your time transversing the different modes of transport, and hopefully, using an escalator somewhere in there.

Their favourite mode of transport were the double decker buses in London. They loved it so much that we rode the bus just for the sake of the ride. We sat right up front and my boys began to excitedly ululate a nuanced narration of their trip. The passengers did not seem to appreciate that they were being provided a free guided tour of London from the toddler's perspective. So what's the 142 to Shoreditch like?

Crane! Crane! I see a crane ma!
Bus! Another double decker bus!
Clock! A big clock! That's a big clock mum!
Street sweeper! Street sweeper!
Duuuuuuup truck! Yep, that's a dump truck!
Construction site! Construction!
Double decker!
Crane! Crane! Crane!
Another double decker ma!

To help the boys remember, we started journalling - after each trip, they would draw what they could remember from their previous sojourn. I also encouraged retaining souvenirs of the trip. I think these exercises help cement the memory of their experiences and their digestion. This led to some added weight en route back as my boys have picked up my love of rocks (every time we go on trips, I stack on books and rocks to my husband's chagrin - and now I have two more partners in crime).

Our kids were notably stunned by travelling through five different countries, with five different languages and one that neither parent spoke (Hungarian, some words were the same in Serbo-Croatian, some similar but most were quite foreign and the kids were amused at my somewhat unsuccessful attempts to communicate with frazzled locals who invariably asked in perfect English if I could converse in it). This was a grand step forward. I had been explaining planets and continents, which they found exciting, but neither was much interested in learning about countries, not understanding what a country was (except Luca's gravitation towards Japan, which he understood to be the country of Shinkansen, robots, ramen and cartoons). The trip made them understand that other countries are where people speak different languages to you, eat different food and live in a different place to you and that cities are constellations of people within a particular country. L was very interested in why there were borders. I explained that countries want to know who enters and exists. When he asked why, I said that it allows them to better understand who is inside for them to more effectively govern. He seemed to take this answer as self-evident and I decided to not elaborate on the more stygian circumstances on the ground but leave him with this crimson impression.

There were invariably some cultural clashes on the playground. My kids would run up to play with other kids, excitedly gesticulating and loudly clamouring for some game in English, while befuddled natives would stare at them as if they were under attack and earnestly look for the aid of their parents. L, in particular, drew attention for his particularly Californian style, in which he runs manic around the playground role playing as a fire-fighter in various disaster situations, including fires and earthquakes. "You house is on fire!" he would yell at some unsuspecting child in his foreign tongue, and then proceed to act out pouring water on them, which considering the horror of their faces and that of their stunned parents and the stereotypes attributed to L's fellow countrymen, may have seemed as if his hose were rather a gun and he was stampeding his imperium about the playground in service to Manifest Destiny.

L takes rules seriously - particularly when they don't apply to him. He has yet to ride a bike (but his next birthday present will propel him into this activity) but is keenly aware that one should not ride a bike without a helmet. He is also quite astute at spotting people that ride bikes and motorcycles without helmets, after which he invariably proceeds to proclaim this slight to me. Having realized that I will not impose the rule on strangers, L took it upon himself, shouting after them they they forgot to put their on helmet. He has had a startlingly low success rate.

L and M both love the sea (particularly after L was satisfied with our multiple answers that there were no sharks inhabiting the waters of the Mediterranean), with L deciding that he didn't need his floaties and running into the sea until our invariable intervention (M was more cautious, assessing that he needed to be within centimetres of a parent at all times, floatie or no). After a while he understood he could go in up to his ankles and fetch water for our sand castle without any flaotie (which due to certain constructions impediments and architectural disagreements was left incomplete) and was satisfied with the imposed limit. 

The stray cats on Rhodes, a feature throughout Greece, caught the boys' attention. M, in particular, became their champion and at one dinner, after having asked why stray cats were skulking the restaurant tables, and having received all ill thought out response from his mother that they were hungry, refused to eat and proceeded to give his food to the cats. This resulted in a feline congregation around our table and none too satisfied wait staff, particularly when two members' of M's newly founded following began to battle over the morsels.

We managed the travel with relative ease, despite offering the kids no semblance of their usual routine. M developed in own routine, which included sleeping through lunch in his stroller. We had an arsenal of cars, crayons and paper which allowed us some relative peace at cafes to enjoy lunches and dinners, and the local wine, until invariably, they would begin to argue over the blue crayon, until we understood that such was its demand, that we needed one for each son. Everything was going grandly and were congratulating ourselves on travelling so well with our toddlers until our little one was assaulted by an onslaught of unfortunate concomitant circumstance - all his molars decided to pop out at once, he went through a growth spurt and he obtained a throat infection and its attendant high fevers. Even when M got over his infection, he was hardly eating from the pain of his protruding teeth, which advent he enjoyed heralding to all and sundry, clutching his chin and stating "new teeth coming". Overtired, hungry and in undulating, ceaseless pain, M had had enough.

M had chucked tantrums before. For months now they would begin with a spectacular shaking of his fist and a proclamation that he was furious - "I'm mad! I'm mad, mama!". However, we had never seen the spectacular horror of what he unleashed in the last few days of his rebellion. He attacked with a scorched earth policy that began with a frighteningly calculated violence. M would target vitrescent objects, menacingly prowling up to them and then threatening "I will break this!" before unleashing his demands. He wanted to go home. He wanted milk. He wanted "chocok" ice cream. "Now!" We were quite challenged by his behaviour. Any discipline resulted in physical injury. In the end, we were in earnest discussing whether to take our younger son to a child psychologist. Thankfully, when we arrived home, he was pleased and has returned to his former self. He has even kissed us and apologized for his behaviour. It's patently obvious to us now that we had dragged this kid past his limit and that he was not going to let us forget that.

The flights were not as bad as we feared. L enjoyed his headphones, pillow and near unfettered screen time and fell asleep for most of the flight to London from SF. En route back, he slept a while and otherwise coloured in and enjoyed his special flight license of screen time. M was more difficult, not being able to be diverted by the screen time (he had been sick and had enough before the flight and we had woken him at 3.30 am for it). M slept too- thanks to the inflatable pillows that allow your children to extend their seat so that they end up having a full bed were indispensable. En route to London on the American airline, the flight staff looked at us with relief, silently thanking us for the fact that our kids were sleeping (another choir took care to assault people's ears and we were simply relieved it was not our kids). Back from Paris, on the French airline, the French favor of bureaucracy led to a congregation of confused and curious flight staff conversing over what course of action to take over the unsanctioned pillows that had obviously caught them by surprise. I was on the far end of the four seats and could not hear what they were discussing to my chagrin but from their focused stairs and pained expressions I discerned that the conversation went something like this: we should allow it because there is no regulation that doesn't allow it. Ah yes, but perhaps we shouldn't allow it because there is no regulation that allows it! And so this went on for a few minutes until finally they reached a conclusion and left. A few minutes later, a stewardess came back with an ipad and asked if she could take some photos for later discussions. It seems that Air France may make a regulation on the issue, hopefully to sanction in favor of allowance.

What aided M the most, on the flight back, however, was yoga. Thankfully we had some more space at the back, being on a 380, and we went through our regular yoga routine, which calmed him down considerably. When I say "we" I should clarify that it was really M practicing, with me simply pointing him in the right direction for a particular asana. This led to some amusement from the flight staff and other passengers, partly due to the fact that M had minutes before raged an eruption that ranged about a 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

When we arrived back home and our circadian rhythms were all out of wack, I took the opportunity when we were up in the depth of the night, having breakfast and starting our day to explain (again) the difference between night and day, using our globe. Kids understand far better when you can show them how something works rather than attempting to explain them to in the abstract (and perhaps some adults too). It worked a charm.

We came, we saw, we survived. We were surprised that the next day after our trip, with the kids so happy to be home, that L thanked us for coming back home and in the very next breath asked when we were going to Japan.


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