Growing up, my family traveled regularly. Coming from the Midwest, every place was an adventure. We were used to the pleasures of the quiet prairie, down home charm, and friendly people. Then we went west and experienced the humility mountains can bring and the rush of a horseback ride through them. We experienced the vision of the green and black sand beaches of Hawaii while tasting fresh pineapple cut from a tree in front of us. We also stood in awe in European buildings or while seeing artwork that we had formerly only read about in books.
By the time my sister and I were in college, we had been to several foreign countries and had traveled extensively throughout the States. My parents prioritized travel because it built our confidence and provided us with valuable learning experiences.
When I got the opportunity to study abroad in Italy for a summer while in college, I did not hesitate. I would be traveling throughout the country on the weekends while attending classes during the week at an Italian university. Never mind the fact that I spoke French and not a lick of Italian. I grabbed a Lonely Planet guide and had the confidence to make it work.
Unfortunately, our group arrived in Italy without our baggage. Lost baggage meant that I needed to buy some necessities after patiently waiting for three days to no avail. I hit the Italian streets shopping for essentials – even underwear – with no vocabulary to help me. It was a stressful and awkward memory that I will never forget, but one that I surmounted and took in stride.
After later getting married, my husband and I enjoyed many years of travel before having children. But now with two little boys, our travel has, well, changed. As we approach the baggage check area at the airport, it looks like we are embarking on a hiking trip to the Himalayas. With car seats strapped to our backs, diaper bags hung on our shoulders, and rolling suitcases trailing behind us, we are ready to leave on a simple weekend trip.
Our barometer for travel involves about a two-hour flight radius. Rather than seeing the sights, we’re more focused on manipulating the hotel room into a locale that will make naps a possibility. Enter the sound machine. Enter the need for a vacation after the one we just took for Mom and Dad. And yet, despite it all, we have made some wonderful memories.
I remember the first time I traveled by myself after having children. It was freeing to fly through the security check point without the extra goods. It was more convenient to not have to strategically maneuver my eating, drinking, and bathroom schedule. But I was surprised that I felt naked without the fanfare, adrift without a little hand in mine, and even a little scared.
What had changed from my upbringing and early adulthood that had lead me to this point? Had my identity become so tied to being a mom that the other parts of me had suffered? Or is it that my whole identity had fundamentally shifted as the result of bringing new life into the world? The answer is probably a combination.
I am attached to my sons in a way that I never envisioned possible before becoming a mom. Leaving them feels like leaving a piece of me. And yet, the same woman is still there. She is treasuring these moments with her children that are flying by too fast. She is planning on having new travel adventures, different travel adventures with them when they're a little older.
I’ve often heard the admonition to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. While this is poignant advice in life and travel, I’m learning it applies to parenthood too. Parenthood is a journey that’s simultaneously exhausting and invigorating, all-consuming and liberating. It’s a journey of growth – not only for our children, but for us. And I don’t want to miss a single step along the way.
I came home from my trip and my older son said, "Mom, I want to live with you forever." I know he will feel differently down the road. My goal one day is that he does. But for right now, that's exactly how I feel too.
This piece was written several years ago and originally published on The Laundry Moms. To read my other articles, click here. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog to never miss a post!