Travels With Sons

I read a piece recently in the New York Times about a man and his boy taking a trip together to Iceland and spending some time hiking a specific, somewhat challenging trail.

It made me smile as I pictured the events described because there were some really sweet moments. The theme, as I perceived it, repeated a phrase and sensibility that I’ve heard other parents express – life is taking my child away from me and our remaining time together is limited. Time to share some moments and make some memories. STAT.

The story prompted me to consider the reasons I personally choose to travel with my children and to conclude that I don’t believe I’ve ever really been motivated by that same realization. There wasn’t an epiphany that I recall. For me, it was more of a life goal to show my children as much of the world as possible.

I’ve always wanted to travel – with friends, partners, and/or kids, solo, all of it – and there’s a special place in my heart for each one of those situations. One of my favorite trips, however, is the one I take each year with one of my sons, in a rotating fashion.

This began many years ago with a proposed trip to Colorado to visit a recently relocated friend. My then-husband had no issue with my going west, but he had no intentions of agreeing to the trip unless I took a child with me. Fair enough.

And, thus, the tradition was born.

Each subsequent year – when financially possible and never at the expense of the family vacation – I took one of my sons on a “Mom & Me” vacation.

The first trips were strictly domestic. Florida a couple of times, California, a train trip from Albany to NYC to D.C. to Baltimore and home, all followed that first trip to Denver. As the boys got older, though, we expanded our horizons and began going abroad, often visiting family.

We’ve been to 10 or 12 countries now, and in recent years have been extending our stays by traveling in the summer instead of squeezing a trip in during a school vacation. We want to see and experience more.

Now that my sons are young men, it feels to me that the time I share with them away from home is more about getting to know them than about getting to know a new city.

Witnessing how they deal with the challenges of travel – things like not knowing the language, being in an unfamiliar locale and navigating to specific destinations, practical decisions related to budgeting, etc. – all fascinates me. Seeing them literally making their way through the world is the best gift of parenthood.

Handing the reins over to my sons is much easier when we’re traveling. I’m happy enough to have two glasses of wine at lunch and allow my child to figure out the transit map. That sounds more “Real Housewives” than I intend, but it’s certainly nothing I ever imagined would happen during the days of cutting their meat and never consuming a meal of my own at its ideal temperature.

Choosing restaurants and activities is much more fun when your travel companion can offer suggestions from advance research they might have done, or express opinions about available options.

While I was recently called Julie McCoy (click here if you’re stumped by that reference) by a dear friend, I really don’t always need or want to drive the bus. Trust me. Through my sons and their personal interests, I’ve visited places I had never before considered – including the Ardennes Forest and Normandy with my WWII history buff, and L.A. and LaJolla with my wannabe surfer boy.

One of things that makes me most proud of my children, beyond their curiosity and spirit of adventure, is the fact that there has never once been any jealousy expressed about anyone else’s trip.

Each of my sons knows that I will do my best to indulge them in whatever way is possible when it is their turn, and they seem to understand that, while there may not be complete equity in how much the individual trips cost, the takeaway isn’t how much money I spend. It’s much more about the time shared.

(The photo that accompanies this post is from the Lilly family collection of landmark tchotchkes collected from the cities we have visited).

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