I have a confession. But first, a little background.
When my husband and I were engaged, we attended a marriage prep class at our church. I remember one of the “experienced” couples leading the class explained something about how, when you have a child, you want them to be with you all the time…you want to take them everywhere and just sort of incorporate them into your life. Social gatherings, dinners out, and travel were only as complicated as you allowed them to be, said the older, wiser (read: delusional) mom/wife. My then-fiancé and I smiled dreamily at each other as if this was actually how life works. You mean, we can go on being recklessly independent and selfish after we have kids? Cool!!
Fast-forward to four years later.
I’m sitting in my newly assembled nursery rocker, elevating my swollen feet, reading one of many how-to-raise-the-best-baby-ever books. Somewhere between the chapter on how to get your baby to sleep through the night (you mean they don’t already do that?) and the sample spreadsheet to help new parents monitor their baby’s milk intake (and output), that woman’s face flashed before my eyes. She lied to me.
Confession time: I did not think I would be the kind of mom who takes her kid to Europe.
Y’all, I was positively thrilled to be pregnant. And a couple of months later, I was positively thrilled to hold my little miracle babe. But one thing was clearer than crystal, and that was that this parenting thing was going to be much, much harder than I’d anticipated.
Thank goodness for grandparents.
My mama stepped right in to her role as Nana, and she made it very easy for my hubby and I to sneak away for a couple of trips a year while she kept Chayce. In fact, she may have made it too easy, because it took several years before we mustered the courage to take Chayce anywhere that required an airplane! That was, until we did.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s nice to get away kid-free!! #allthepraisehands
But the minute we saw this kid run into that ocean, we knew it was time to show her the world.
This Kid Is Going To Europe!
As you may know, my hubby and I surprised our little girl, Chayce, with a trip to Paris for Christmas, and it is finally time for us to pack our bags! We are going to pull her out of school a few days before spring break so that we can be gone over a week without her getting too behind on her schoolwork. Can I just say the anticipation is building in our home!!! Chayce is anxiously learning French phrases, researching sights in her French travel guide, and even taking a proactive approach to doing her chores so she doesn’t miss out on getting her allowance each week. #MomWin!!!
And how cool is this…Inspired by some of the American Girl books she reads, Chayce came up with the idea to blog about her trip to Paris! As she put it, “Mom, don’t you think people would want to know what it’s like to see it (Paris) like a kid does?” Um. Yes, yes I do.
Anticipation is Everything
With two travel-obsessed parents, Chayce has already had her passport stamped a few times. This is her first trip to Europe, however, and I am so excited to see her respond to it. We’ve had a lot of conversations about cultural differences, exciting new experiences, and having an open mind to different foods (food is a big deal in our house).
Chayce is blowing me away with her excitement. The kid has the travel bug, and why wouldn’t she? She’s got two parents who decided a long time ago that travel would be a priority in our family. One of those parents happens to design travel for a living, so the vacations we’ve gone on have all been well-planned, memorable adventures. I am so proud of my little love for wanting to step out of her comfort zone and see the world!
But let’s get real for just a minute here. Chayce would also be over the moon about a trip to the beach, Great Wolf Lodge, or to her cousin Kiki’s house. So why Paris? Why take my kid all the way to Europe when a beach trip would be easier (and probably cheaper)?
Why I’m Taking My Kid to Europe
Think of a trip to Europe as the ultimate field trip. Growing up, I was blessed to go to a school that actually did take this approach to travel + learning. What I learned early on was that seeing sights isn’t so much about pilgrimage as it is engagement.
When you travel, you join the story.
My footprints may not have changed the Roman Colosseum, but walking in the shadow of martyrs changed me. I see it all the time in my work. A religious heritage trip to Spain, Italy, Israel, or Greece deeply affects your reading of Scripture and your connection to your faith.
Examining Burgundy’s slopes will forever change my understanding of what it means to drink a Grand Cru. Likewise, a walk through Paris will no doubt bring to life the many historical accounts and works of literature my daughter will study in her academic career. In Paris, she will find the battlegrounds of the French Revolution, the cafés where Hemingway crafted classics, and the palaces of doomed royalty. She will glimpse the inspiration of poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, gardeners, architects, and chefs who have shaped the way the entire world uses their senses. Maybe she’ll be inspired herself.
Expanding Her Palate (for the love!!!)
If you’ve met my kid, you know that she loves pizza, Cheetos, and chocolate. No doubt that she will get plenty of the latter in Paris’s many pâtisseries, but I’m afraid the other items just won’t be on le menu. Neither will delicacies such as chicken strips, mac-n-cheese, or ranch dressing. My petite foodie has been warned, and she’s actually on board! Perhaps my own excitement is contagious, but Chayce seems to be embracing the idea of trying lots of new foods. And if I have to bribe her with another ice cream cone in order to get her to try les escargots, so be it.
TIP: I told Chayce my secret to eating and enjoying French cuisine is actually quite simple: don’t ask what’s on your plate until it’s in your stomach.
Understanding Cultural Differences
While I have no doubt that Chayce’s grasp of history and literature will be enhanced by our travels, I’m even more convinced that her social awareness and cultural sensitivity will be awakened.
I’m not afraid that Chayce will be confused or disoriented in a foreign country.
I hope she is.
My husband and I are constantly teaching Chayce to be more aware of what’s going on around her. The fact is, when what’s going on around you doesn’t change that often, you kinda stop noticing it. If Chayce is going to grow up to set the world on fire, she needs to be exposed to more than the view from her own front porch.
In our little bubble of Costco mega-stores, backyard play-sets, and driving *literally* everywhere, I can’t wait to see Chayce’s little mind process the simplistic beauty of Paris. Open-air markets and daily grocery trips. Neighborhood gardens replete with carousel and pond. Walking to the Metro station and hopping on a train. Culture shock never sounded so perfect.
Room For Improvement
Visiting France isn’t just going to illuminate their culture; it’s going to shine a light on ours. Look, I communicate with Europeans everyday, and I have to tell you from my very American, very Texan perspective that, more often than not, they are not the rude ones.
Take, for instance…
We Americans walk into a shop and start rummaging about without even speaking to the shopowner or clerk (unless they speak first). What happened to a simple, “Hello”?
American waitstaff rush you to finish your meal so they can turn the table; French servers encourage languid lunches and good company by not interrupting you or–my pet peeve–bringing the next course while you’re still eating. Naturally, we follow this up by jumping on Trip Advisor to rant about the “slow service” we received.
We are literally the most entitled human beings to walk the face of the earth. Don’t believe me?
In our country, we hear people speaking broken English and never consider the fact that they speak more than one language. (Why? Perhaps because learning a second language around here ranks somewhere just above underwater basketweaving.) When Chayce and I get pedicures and she gets frustrated that she can’t understand the nail tech, my travels remind me to be a little sensitive. I can guarantee you that the guy who does my nails speaks far better English than I ever could Vietnamese.
Y’all, I’m sorry to sound unpatriotic because that isn’t my heart. But we visit any country in the world and expect English to be commonly spoken, U.S. dollars to be widely accepted, Dr. Pepper to be served, and football to be played with a pigskin.
Quite simply, I expect Chayce to learn the same lesson through travel that I did at an impressionable age: Not everyone is like you.
To Un-Spoil Her
Wait, whaa? Yep, you heard me. Kids today—mine included!—get way too much of what they want, when they want it. We don’t do a lot of standing in lines, we pick restaurants that are deemed “kid-friendly,” and we don’t dare linger over dinner without an iPad handy. Her life has as much convenience built in as possible. And let’s not beat around the bush: that suits my purposes as much as it does hers.
So, while it may sound like my spoiled kid is headed to Europe for a ritzy getaway of her own design, she’s actually going to get a little bit of the rotten culled out of her. We’re going to wait in lines—lots of them—and there won’t be a roller coaster or a princess character at the end. And while she may prefer visiting a pâtisserie instead of the Pompidou, it will be for good reason that she does both.
Some components of our itinerary are going to be about Chayce’s interests, but many just aren’t. The takeaway is that kids (and grown-ups) really don’t know what they’re interested in until they actually explore it. Life is more fun when you give the world a chance to surprise you and change your opinions…kinda like my opinion that traveling with littles was never going to happen.
THAT is the best part of travel, the part I hope Chayce takes with her wherever she goes.
No, travel to Europe won’t be as easy with a kid as it would without one, but isn’t that kinda true of all parenting issues? And isn’t it also true that it is our job as parents to engage our kids in the world around them? To educate and inspire them to be amazing big people? We are so blessed to have the opportunity to travel with our kid (and, yes, sometimes without her), and I absolutely believe that taking her to Europe is a big step in helping her be a better Chayce.
Au Revoir & Bon Vivant!