I lay in bed last night, struggling to think of a metaphor that perfectly captures the je ne sais quoi of international travel with a toddler–both to commiserate with veterans and to explain the dueling subtleties of lunacy and heart-feelies for the uninitiated. I have concluded that no hashtag, no pithy song title, no symbolic object accurately embodies the yin and yang of this unique brand of voluntary and rewarding torture.
To be sure, its gifts are rich. Perhaps most importantly, all cultural norms are rendered equal through the eyes of a child. Simon wears the same expression of wonderment whether he’s watching his father knot a necktie or a burqa-clad woman purchase a baguette. Travel is also brimming with “firsts”–and the joy of novelty, thankfully, is neither picky nor circumscribed. I cherish the image of our translucent cherub gleefully splashing in the Aegean with a soggy paper cup because he wears the exact same expression when he’s clutching a soggy paper cup on our puddled kitchen floor.
To keep you (and your travel budget) modest, however, there’s also
Canto XXXIV Charles de Gaulle Airport. And toddler jet lag. I also recognize all too well the “OH HOLY HELL” expression characteristic of layover-weary parents waiting in line at customs with 33 pounds of Cheerios clinging to them like a shampooed kitten. These are the moments when you may or may not throw your kid some shade and give your two-week notice.
But just as I settle into the luxuriously self-serving details of my new imaginary job, I remember that my parents did this with THREE kids, 14 pieces of luggage, and a grand total of zero Daniel Tiger iPad apps. When I whined that my perereca* hurt as I loped around the pyramids on a donkey, my parents gave me a pillow and encouraged me to enjoy the view. Dad stuck it out solo in Dubai for much of the summer–subsisting on tuna and the Star Wars trilogy–as we visited our far-away grandparents. Unencumbered by TSA tomfoolery, Mom fashioned little roll-up floor mats out of foam so that we could squirm ourselves to sleep on the airplane floor. I know my parents loved to travel, but I also know that I’ll never fully comprehend the sacrifices they made so that I could whine in Portuguese.
Obrigado, Mom and Dad. Voce me deu o mundo.
*NOTE: Family lore has it that this is the word that I used. It took about 32 years and a quick Google to better understand the nuances of this term. Um, surely not one I learned on our Brazilian apartment playground?