Thursday, January 26, 2017

Waiting for the Mornin' Sun

Still Waitin' for the Morning Sun

My wife informed me that social media informed her that it was two years ago this time of year that we were on our Florida adventure.  We both commented on how nice it would be to be back there right now, excluding the 26 hour one way drive of course.  Two years later, our attitude is more or less unchanged on how we've viewed that trip.  We were glad we did it, but we're probably not going to attempt something like it ever again.  At least not in the near future.

Before we had kids my wife and I liked to travel.  We weren't globetrotters by any means, but we liked to travel when we had the chance and made it a priority to take at least 1-2 trips a year.  I had the opportunity to study abroad in college for a semester, and like a lot of people, got bit by the travel bug.  When we found out we were expecting, I was convinced that having a kid would not hamper our ability to take exotic adventures (or long weekends to see the fall colors).  I bought the Lonely Planet's Guide to Traveling with Kids*.  I read books like How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel and A Year Off to find inspiration on how to be those cool parents who had their kid's passport filled up before age 5.

And then reality set in.  Little kids, especially babies, are a lot of work, and the comforts of being in your own home while doing that work becomes very, very enticing.  In hindsight, a trip like the Florida one we took two years ago would have been so much easier had we done it with just one, or even two kids.  But before that trip, we'd only made it out of Minnesota a few times with Isla & Havi, and it was typically never further than a state sharing a border with ours.  Even then we found ourselves in cities that were just across the border - La Crosse, Wisconsin; Fargo, North Dakota.  The furthest from home we ever ventured with one of our kids was when Havi was three months old, and she accompanied us to a wedding in Kansas City, an 8 hour road trip (12 on the way back in a snowstorm).  We had yet to cross that threshold of attempting to put our kids on a plane and flying somewhere.  

This past fall we finally did it, taking our first family vacation adventure out to San Francisco.  We had some good friends who had relocated out there a few years ago, and knowing that they likely wouldn't be there forever, we figured we should try to go see them.  Gus was still under 2, so theoretically he could still fly for free.  I say theoretically because even though he just turned 2, he is about the same weight as Havi, our four year old, coming in at almost 40 lbs.  Imagine that sitting and then squirming in your lap until it finally falls asleep in a position that allows you limited range of motion and causes excessive sweating for the next 2-3 hours.  We took a nuanced approach, figuring that if we didn't have to pay for a seat for Gus, we'd have my mother-in-law (you remember, the saint) come with as an extra set of hands.  So we still purchased five seats, just with six people to fill those five seats.  Gus actually did a fair amount of rolling around on the floor in the aisle during the flight out anyway.

When traveling with his kids, comedian Jim Gaffigan says he is always amazed at "how much money it costs to be uncomfortable all day and listen to your kids whine and complain."  If ever there is truth in the axiom of "needing a vacation from a vacation", traveling with kids is definitely it.  Not that you can really ever call traveling with kids a vacation.  Traveling with kids is "any port parenting" at it's finest.  The time when standard parental operating procedure gets thrown out the window.  Flying with kids takes that notion to the extreme.  Or as a friend of mine advised, "flying with your kid is not the time for carrot sticks and hummus."  Our kids did relatively well on the flight because we gave them excessive amounts of their favorite S's - sugar and screen time.  And gum.  They chewed a wad of gum.  Our flights were also direct, about 3 hours each way, and time somewhat nicely over nap time, so Gus did sleep (a little) and I did sweat (a lot).

Similar to my approach in a number of other things in life, like purchasing groceries, I tend to be somewhat of a frugal traveler.  I don't couch surf or sleep in my car (regularly), but I'm typically looking for ways to keep travel costs down whenever possible.  To me it adds something to the adventure of the trip.  Going into our San Francisco trip, I knew I needed to adjust my mindset.  Not only were we taking our first flight as a family of five, we were also traveling to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.  We wouldn't be able to crash at our friend's place because their apartment was approximately the size of our kitchen, and we were a group of 6.  We'd need to rent a vehicle, and it would have to be a van, because I wasn't to keen on trying to navigate the BART with three small children.  I knew that if the kids got hungry, we'd need to stop and eat, even if that meant a round of $20 sandwiches.  This would not be a trip where we would be able to cut any corners.

Mentally preparing myself for some of these inevitables definitely helped me lower my expectations for the amount of things we'd be able to do in a city that had so much to do.   In all, the kids did really well throughout the whole trip.  We scored an awesome (and reasonably priced) accommodation in a great location that we found out used to house an in-home preschool and had a bunch of toys on hand.  It also had a hot tub in the backyard which, after the excessive amount of snacks and screen time, was probably the kids' favorite thing about the trip^.  The time change to the West Coast did wreak a little havoc, as instead of being up at their usual early hour of 6am, the first two days found the kids rousing at around 4:30am.  Fortunately, they got into West Coast time just as we were ready to return home to Central time, creating a whole new set of issues when Isla had to go back to school.

Yes, we've been up since 4:30am!

During the trip, we did quite a bit of "touristy" stuff, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, an overpriced trolley ride (during which 2 out of 3 kids fell asleep), Golden Gate Park, and Chinatown.  We patronized the Haight Street Market, drove down the crookedest street in the world, ate sourdough bread, got Chinese take-out and authentic Mexican at the place that serves the "best burrito in America".  We also spent a significant amount of time just hanging out at the beach, with the kids doing some unintentional swimming in the Pacific.  Our friends admitted that the five days we were there was some of the nicest weather they'd had in their three years there.  Our trip happened to coincide with the Navy Fleet Week, so one of our days at the beach included a free air show featuring the Blue Angels.  Having a grandma along allowed us the luxury of having an adults night out with our friends, and doing some of the more "touristy" things made me excited for the possibility of returning (sans kids) to explore more of the city and surrounding area.

Blue Angels?  Meh, we got bananas.

When you're down at Fisherman's Wharf before 9am on a Thursday,
you can pretty much have the Venetian Carousel to yourselves.

When we returned home, both my wife and I agreed that the trip went about as well as expected, but that it wouldn't be something we'd attempt to do every year.  Both from a sanity and sound fiscal policy standpoint.  But then we got talking about where we'd possibly want to go next with the kids, and the topic of Iceland came up.  Jess' grandmother has always wanted to go to Iceland as her mother immigrated to the US from there.  A few glasses of wine later we were about ready to book some flights for this coming June, a few months after her grandma's 80th birthday.  Luckily we realized that no one in our family currently has a valid passport, but have tentatively slated a trip for June of 2018.  With a 6 hour direct flight, we figured it could be a good first international trip for the kids, and great opportunity to take Jess' grandma (and probably mom again, because she's a top notch travel companion).  If you've been to the "Land of Fire and Ice" and have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them.  I've already been informed that we should start saving now.

Having the chance to take our kids on these trips at relatively young ages, while stressful, is a great opportunity to expose them to travel and other places and cultures.  It's a much different experience then what I had growing up.  I remember going to Washington D.C. when I was in 4th grade, and vaguely remember flying to Milwaukee to see family before that trip.  My first trip out of the country was at 13, when my sister somehow signed us up for a cruise to the Bahamas that resulted in my Dad sitting through a day of time-share presentations.  My first flight out of the country, and first solo flight ever, wasn't until my semester abroad in Europe my junior year of college.  Obviously, our circumstances are a little different now than that of my parents when they were my age.  While we likely have more resources, like money and time, that allow us to travel more than they did, we've also been more exposed to the idea that traveling with our kids is (stressfully) feasible.  I doubt my parents ever considered the possibility of taking my sister and I on a cross country flight before we hit double digits.

"Really, Grandma, that was a prison out there?  Interesting."

Fortunately though, while my parents definitely didn't get a chance to travel as much as I have as a young adult, it has always been something they've encouraged me to do.  Both my sister and I were able to take a semester abroad in college, and since we've left the roost, my parents have both done some extensive traveling themselves.  Maybe they've been jealous of the various adventures my sister and I have been able to have.  Maybe it was something they've always wanted to do, but didn't think they had the time or the money before.  I'm thankful for the trips that they took us on when we were growing up, even if they were somewhat limited and I was adamant about how much they sucked at the time.  My hope is that if my kids take a mild interest in traveling while they are young, that will hopefully continue to grow as they do, and encourage them to make it a priority in their lives.

And while it can seem like an expensive endeavor, especially to be uncomfortable and have your kids complain most of the time, as Gaffigan suggests, I think the return on investment is definitely worth it.  I recently read (probably in a travel magazine) that some of the fondest memories young adults have of their childhood are the family trips they took.  Sometimes they may be memorable for the wrong reasons, but given our propensity to selective remember things better than they were, and our ability to find humor in retrospect, in the most Griswald-esque family trips can certainly have their highlights.  Making a conscious effort to take those family trips also, I think, helps your children see what it is that you value.  We choose to utilize our finite resources, mainly our time and our money, on the things that we value.  If we prioritize having those family adventures, no matter if they involve circumnavigating the globe or heading to the next town over, we are showing our kids that making memories as a family, good and bad, is something that is important to us.

Thus we'll still try to travel with our kids as much as we can.  It won't be often or a lot, but it will probably be enough for us to question why we are doing it.  If anything it will put things into perspective on the (even more) seldom times when we travel without kids.  Yeah, that sucks our flight is delayed, but hey, at least we don't have three kids to deal with.  Let's go to the bar!  Hopefully, the more we can travel as family, the less crazy our (my) crazy travel ideas will seem.  It should also give the kids some good parental griping material as they move through adolescence.  Oh, you think your parents were strange....  

Our gracious tour guides, Ben & Katie, who gave us
a great reason to engage in such foolishness

And the real star of the vacation, the hot tub!

*This is one book about "parenting" I would actually not recommend.  There is a little bit of practical advice in it, but the excerpts about "kid friendly destinations" leave a bit to be desired.  Unless if you are looking for some validation to take your kid to Disney World.

^Havi actually commented the other day that she wanted to go back to San Francisco so she could watch movies on the plane and swim in the hot tub.

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