A previous version of this post was published in TheFABMom’s monthly commentary column in The Fresno Bee on Saturday, July 13, 2019.
I’m convinced that easy family trips hinge on one simple parenting rule — don’t bite off more than we can chew. This goes for how many children we may decide to have, how many errands to run in a single day with a baby in tow, how many activities to book for an antsy toddler, what kinds of vacations to plan when we’re taking our kids along.
That’s right. Family vacations can quickly go south if we get too ambitious and fail to acknowledge what our kids may or may not be able to actually handle when it comes to their age, flight time, jet lag and just being away from their own cozy beds for an extended amount of time. Because, they’re KIDS… they’re not like us.
Those who know me well might remember how adamant I’ve always been about not taking small kids on big trips. A 3-hour car ride through California’s Ridge Route to visit my hometown of Fresno? No problem! A family road trip to Palm Springs (2 hours) or Santa Cruz (5 hours, with stops)? Absolutely! The stress and logistics of taking a several-hour plane ride with babies and/or toddlers to go to some exotic location? Never did it — wasn’t my idea of a good time. (We did take a huge family trip to Hawaii when my youngest was almost 5… it ended up being totally doable and fun.)
So when my husband proposed that my daughters and I travel with him to Armenia for his yearly medical mission there (with Mending Kids) I didn’t quite jump at the chance. “How long is the flight? Is it safe? Will I be able to handle myself — out and about, while you’re working — without knowing how to speak Armenian fluently? Most importantly: Can our kids handle the jet-lag? Will they even remember the trip itself?” I was not interested to shell out thousands of bucks for a family experience our girls might potentially forget by the time they’re 10. My old-school parenting voice also kicked in: “What business do 8 and 7 year old children have traveling to the other side of the world?!”
After lots of consideration, my questions and opinions faded. We’ve since taken our 15-hour flight to Yerevan, Armenia and have returned. And I am changed. We are changed. [I *WILL* BE SHARING MORE ABOUT OUR MOST AWAKENING TRIP LATER…]
The trip was a perfectly-swift combo of watching my husband’s medical volunteerism, exploring our cultural homeland with cousins, visiting a center for kids with special needs and inhaling freshly-baked Armenian lavash [bread] for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had a hunch our experience would be unique but was blindsided by how swept away I became — by my heritage, by my own kids.
It was my daughters’ and my very first journey visiting our original roots and we bonded in a most unpredictable way. The hundreds-of-years-old churches we sang in, the fascinating histories we learned about the region, the local families conquering medical challenges, the joyful fervor of a renewed, old city full of hope and energy instantly opened our eyes and hearts. (And don’t forget that lavash.) We’re ready to go back.
Friends and followers would comment on social media pictures — “What a fantastic trip you’re having!” Here’s the truth: We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if my daughters were not ready for it — if they screamed their heads off on the plane, needed diaper changes, still required naps, etc through the semi-taxing our daily day-trips around the region (about an hour’s drive, or more, outside the city). The trip was successful only because I refused to bite off more than I could chew, as a parent, before I had confidence we could do it without struggle.
My kids proved me wrong about still being too young to navigate moderate demands of international travel. I proved myself right for vehemently waiting to tackle a trip like this until now.
This trip grew us up in the exact right way, at the exact right time, because we waited until everyone could handle it. Them. Me. All of us. Yeah, the trip felt a bit too fast in the end (we were there inside of 8 days, and actually wish we had 2 more days there together) but at the time of booking, I wasn’t sure if my girls could handle more than 7 days. So we didn’t book past what I imagined might be our likely threshold. Instead of departing with an “OMG this was so hard we can’t wait to get home” attitude, we returned home with an “OMG that was amazing… when are we going back” fervor that is continuing to enrich our family life now that we’re back to normal programming. Stop while you’re ahead, I’ve always said…
My big point? Don’t get pressured into taking certain vacations if you suspect they might not turn out positive for everyone — including us, MOMS — because the line between magical and miserable is more delicate than we realize. Timing is everything when it comes to making family memories. Especially with kids on a plane.