My son won't remember seeing the ocean for the first time. He won't remember that initial moment of shock when he felt the cool water on his toes and he won't remember how quickly that surprise gave way to joy when he realized how fun it was to kick his little legs as we held him above the waves.
But "whether he'll remember this" isn't the point. To me, the bigger questions are: How will this time re-center us on our mission as a family? What will the experience teach my children? And in what positive ways will the experience live on in our hearts, if not in our memories?
Like so much else with parenting, this helps me realize that traveling with children is so worth it—even if it's not exactly easy.
I think it's best said in the phrase, "You don't take vacations with kids, you take trips." When I travel with my toddler and baby, moments of rest are typically in even shorter supply than when we're home. Packing and planning can seem to consume just as much time as the getaway itself. Good sleep schedules and healthy routines often go out the window. And how is it that someone always saves teething for when we're away?
Then I watch as my toddler's eyes light up from the new scenery and my family's commitment to traveling is validated.
This was an essential part of my relationship with my husband for the years we had before children. From hiking mountains to sleeping under the stars to taking spontaneous road trips, so much of our shared identity was founded on our willingness to say "yes" to adventures.
But when we started on the grandest adventure of all by becoming parents, sacrificing spur of the moment trips and backcountry explorations took a bit of adjusting. We soon realized we had to decide what was worth holding onto and what we were willing to let go as we transitioned into our new roles—and even if we couldn't do things to the extreme we were accustomed to, we were committed to trying to get out there with our kids in tow.
Now we're challenged in entirely new ways by our getaways, like when my toddler announces it's "wake-up time" at 5 a.m. because he's so excited to go explore. (And there's no convincing him otherwise.) Or when we make plans to do things one way only to discover it's Just. Not. Happening. Or when we pass up the best best hiking trails for an afternoon of splashing in the shallow end of the pool.
Although this still feels so different from the way we used to travel, it recenters my husband and me in the same way we always relied on. By getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other (and now our children), we're reminded of what really matters.
While I sure can't say we always go home rested from these trips, we definitely go home rejuvenated.
And when it's hard, I remember that much of this is for them…
Even if they are too young to remember the details, I believe each new experience gives them a frame of reference that will live in their subconscious.
Even if they feel challenged by sitting still on airplanes, I know they are learning patience.
Even if they are nervous to try something outside of their comfort zones, I know they are getting bolder and braver.
So, yes, they may not be "vacations" in the traditional sense of the word. (And it takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to forget how tired we really were.) But when I see the fruits of these labors in my 2-year-old son who loves to lead the way on trails and begs to stay up just a bit later to watch the stars with us, I realize that the best part of traveling is what lives on in our hearts from the experiences.