Nine things I want my kids to learn through travel

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Our family is having a wonderful time traveling around Thailand. We are swimming, eating ice cream, playing games and lots of other fantastic “vacationy” activities. Alongside all the fun, my top-secret mom strategy is that my boys are also learning some important life lessons. 

Traveling is tactile, kinesthetic, and experimental. It is a life laboratory that presents endless opportunities to grow as well as deepen old lessons.  

Here are a few things that my boys are learning as we travel:

1. Waiting. Planes, trains, buses and boats… There are many, many opportunities to practice waiting while traveling. The first day or two I heard a lot of “I’m bored”. As time has passed, they are thinking of creative strategies to deal with down time. Chasing geckos, singing songs, drawing, telling stories or playing games. They are learning to tolerate what can’t be controlled by utilizing what is always available to them: imagination and memory.

2. The value of water. Thailand is hot and humid. Walking a few blocks leaves us sweaty and thirsty. Our family is working together to make sure that we have enough water. We have to share. We have to conserve. We have to pay attention to how much we have and calculate when we will be able to buy more. Because all our drinking water has to be purchased, the boys are learning to see water as a valuable resource. This will serve them well back home in thirsty California.

3. Respect for the sacred. We are visiting beautiful temples in Thailand. The boys are learning the temple drill: remove shoes, cover shoulders and legs, remain quiet, sit without facing your feet toward Buddha, and don’t climb on/pose with/be silly with any Buddha statues. Our family is not Buddhist but I love that my sons are learning to practice respect and self-restraint in honor of that which is sacred to others. I hope that they will always approach the beliefs of others with curiosity and respect.

4. Respect for the ancient. When we’re not visiting current temples, we are visiting temple ruins. My boys have held their hands against ancient brick and listened to stories about the rise and fall of kingdoms.   They are encountering history and the reality that time decays even the grandest structures.  Traveling gives them the ability to viscerally appreciate that lots of life has existed before this point in time. Maybe one day when they are in the throws of adolescence, the memory of ancient stones will remind them that they are not the sole crux of space and time.

5. A healthy appreciation for food. Food is a big deal when traveling. My kids are not particularly picky, but they are not always jazzed about opportunity to eat something new. Most Thai food is new to them. There have been some meltdowns about food. At the end of the day hunger seems to trump preferences, even if the meal ends up being rice and fruit. They are learning that food is necessary and that there are not unending choices.

That said, we are all learning that a bag of goldfish crackers and an imported lollipop can be game-changers after a long series of noodle dishes. For us, as for most people around the world, familiar food represents home and brings a sense of comfort and pleasure.

6. Autonomy. I don’t have enough arms to carry everyone’s things. I don’t have enough brain-space to remember where every family member put their every belonging. On this trip my kids are learning to manage their own belongings. They are responsible for charging their ipads, putting away their clothes, and organizing their things for the day. They are also learning to ask hotel and restaurant staff for directions to the bathroom and the filtered water. They are getting their own breakfasts at the buffet each morning and are responsible to choose healthy food. They are running up to the room for a forgotten book. These may seem like small things, but I am so proud of the ways they are learning to be independent in new environments.

7. Trust. I have been asking my kids to do some very unusual things: climb on elephants, pet baby tigers, eat strange things, sleep in unusual places, hop on and off of trains, boats, trucks, and tuk tuks. They are trusting me to keep them safe. Of course, this is not a new lesson. They are healthy kids who, from the beginning of their lives, have been fortunate to have trustworthy, caring adults helping them to navigate the world. Traveling does stretch this trust a bit. They are old enough to chose to trust me or not. They are old enough to question whether my requests are crazy or unsafe. The other piece of trust is that they are learning to trust themselves and their own limits. We visited an insect center where the kids had the opportunity to handle a variety of creatures, including a large scorpion. One of my sons held the scorpion. One of them did not. He didn’t want to and he was free to trust his instincts.

8. Adventure. It’s a great big world. Let’s see what is out there. This is why I travel. I love watching the seeds of adventure take root in them. We went to an elephant refuge and my 8-year-old was the first to volunteer to ride an elephant. He wanted to ride bareback and he wanted to ride alone. I realize this was risky and I really wish that there had been helmets available. Maybe it is foolish, but I am so, so proud of my brave boy. I hope he faces all the elephants in his life with courage and a strong sense of adventure. 

9. Compassion. A large part of travel is interacting with folks who are different. My children are getting glimpses into lots of different lives. They are learning to smile, to interact without speaking the same language. They are kind to strangers who pat their shoulders, touch their hair, and tease them. They are curious about how people live here. They are curious about other children. Of course, we didn’t have to take an airplane to learn how to get along with others. But there is something to be said for the intense differences involved in an international trip. There is something to be said for developing a global sensibility, and a concrete experience of distant countries. My hope is that they will always know that the people in far-away places are people like them: people who love to smile and play and eat and enjoy beauty. I hope travel teaches them how small and connected the world is.

Parenting Reimagined

For a year, this podcast was my heart and soul. It allowed me the space to have intimate conversations with people that I respect. It gave us all an opportunity to celebrate the wisdom and strength of every day parents.

I am no longer producing new interviews but I am so glad that you found the site and I hope you enjoy this collection of interviews as much as I do.

 

37 | Our European Adventure

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I took a four week break from the podcast to spend a month traveling in Europe with my family. This was our first international trip and it was a fantastic adventure for our little crew.

In this week’s episode my husband, Rob, and I talk about what we learned, what we enjoyed and what we might do differently next time. Enjoy!

36 | A Flourishing Survivor: Grace Biskie

 

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Grace Biskie is a complicated lady. She is the mother of two young sons. She is a biracial woman, married to a white guy, raising sons that strangers mistake for Jewish. She is a woman living in a house of boys. She is a sexual abuse survivor who has experienced tremendous healing. She is a woman of faith. She is a gifted writer and speaker. In her public life, she tackles tough topics like abuse, racism, sexism, stereotypes, gender and racial socialization, and, of course… fashion.

I first encountered Grace’s work on the blog, A Deeper Story. I especially resonated with her essay: An Open Letter to the Over Sharing Mamas. I highly recommend perusing her work at gracebiskie.com

 

35 | Embracing Life: Fighting Cancer and Birthing Babies

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Dr. Gail Newel has delivered over 10,000 babies, traveled the world, survived cancer, and gotten (sort of) kicked out of the Mennonite Brethren Church. She raised three kids and has sustained a happy relationship in the midst of all her misadventures. She has spent her career advocating for women, fighting for others to experience the kind of respect and empowerment that she was determined to carve out for herself.

Gail is a remarkable woman. She is warm, savvy, and beloved by many in her community. In our conversation, she reflects on what cancer taught her, the importance of travel, and what she’s learned from the thousands of women she’s helped care for throughout the years.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gail on July 8, 2010. She had just returned to work after taking a year-long leave to fight a rare cancer. She introduced herself as Gail and then cheered me on as I gave birth to my second son. She was wearing red crocs and rainbow socks.

I was such fun to talk with her for this interview. Enjoy!

34 | The Traveling Millers

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In 1998, Tony and Jenn Miller set out for a year of travel with their four children.  They never came back.

In the last six years, the Millers have visited 30 countries, ridden elephants, ridden camels and logged thousands of miles on bicycles.   They manage to do some schoolwork too.

I caught up with Jenn in Australia and we had a lovely conversation about life on the road.

For more about the Millers, visit their website: http://edventureproject.com. You can also check out http://dreamreboot.com to learn more about Jenn’s online course.

 

33 | Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso: Listening to the Spiritual Wisdom of Children

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Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso has spent a long career engaging children and adults in the sacred texts and practices of Judaism.  In 1974, she became the second women in the United States to complete rabbinical ordination. She and her husband, Dennis, served as co-rabbis at the Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis until her retirement earlier this year. They were the first practicing rabbinical couple in Jewish history.

Rabbi Sandy is the mother of two adult children and a grandmother of three. Her rabbinical work and her status as a women and mother, have led her to press into a deeper understanding of the spirituality of children.  She has written numerous children’s books and is a a sought after speaker on topics related to the spirituality of children, religious traditions in family life, and spiritual storytelling.

In our interview, Rabbi Sandy shares about her life as a mother and rabbi. She also reflects on what she has learned about the sacred from the many children that she has interacted with throughout the years.

To contact Rabbi Sandy or to learn more about her books, visit her congregation’s website: http://bez613.org/about-us/staff/rabbi-sandy-sasso/

 

32 | The Abundant Life of Emily Plank

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Emily Plank is the mom/author/educator behind the popular blog: Abundant Life Children. She loves to write and in her work she integrates her training in child development with her lived experience mothering three young children. Emily has tremendous experience working with young children and their families. She has been in the field of education for over a decade, filling such roles as educator, mentor, and family child care provider.

Emily values play, spaciousness, respect for children as persons, and a posture of openness. Her presence is warm and gracious.

She and her family are in the midst of their own developmental transition. Earlier this year Emily closed her center and she and her family are preparing to spend several months travelling abroad through a semester at sea.

Her writing has been instructive and encouraging to many and it was a pleasure to chat with her here on Parenting Reimagined.