First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
My husband and three kids play in the Mediterranean below, splashing and diving and floating in the picture-perfect sea. It is ridiculously beautiful here in Majorca, Spain. The way the sun dances across the turquoise water, making patterns in the sand, as tropical fish swim by. The sapphire horizon, dotted with storybook sailboats. The rocky caves, carved into a backdrop of jagged mountains. I almost can’t believe my eyes.
How did the five of us end up here, on this little piece of paradise, many kilometres from our home in Victoria?
For as long as I can remember, my husband and I dreamed about taking our kids on a trip around the world. It was something we always wanted to do “one day,” before our three boys came into the world. It was one of the things we talked at length about, on long flights to Tokyo and Tuscany, when we imagined our life with the children we hoped we would have.
The dream was simple. We would pack a few things, hop on a flight across the Atlantic and just follow the sun, our whims and inclinations. The rollout, however, was a little more complicated.
In the blink of the eye and 14 years later, we have three delightful boys who are growing up faster by the day. It was time to make good on those plans.
We spent dozens of hours discussing, researching, planning, booking flights and cars and places to stay. We planned a route around Europe and South Africa, to Australasia, around Asia and then, for the last few months, to South America. We planned to drive a camper van around New Zealand; to camp out in a Safari park in Africa; to trek together in Nepal and Peru; and spend many weeks on beaches from Bora Bora to the Galapagos Islands to Tasmania.
We had to learn how to “roadschool” our kids, aged 8, 12 and 14; arrange time off from work. We figured out how many vaccines we’d need, went to the dentist and eye doctor, renewed our passports, then packed (and repacked) our bags. By July, we were as ready as we could be.
Of course, dreams never turn out exactly as planned. Our first week, after being a little too relaxed in our camper van in Iceland, we miscalculated and missed our flights to Ireland by a day. Instead of paying too much to rebook our flights, we hopped on another plane to Paris, and had an unexpected weekend there, right in time for the World Cup. It was almost as if we planned it that way.
Two months in, we are learning as we go, and we seem to be finding our travel groove as we journey together.
In the planning stages, my husband and I realized that the rationale for our trip had shifted. We always thought it would be about showing our kids the world; of teaching them about how people live in Sri Lanka and Tahiti and Equator. We thought it would be about experiencing the whirlwind of flights and trains and tuk-tuks together, and teaching them how to navigate it all, so that they can discover how resilient they can be. We thought our goal would be to show them, firsthand, how wondrous, how diverse, how fascinating the world is. We wanted them to learn all that we had learned ourselves, through our own travels as young adults.
But it occurred to us our motivation had changed: What we really wanted is to slow down time. We want the days to stretch out a bit longer, the weeks to take their time. The years with our children are going too fast. We read once that when your kids graduate from high school, you will have spent 93 per cent of your in-person parent time with them. Be still my beating heart! Our oldest started high school with us, on the road, last week. In five years, he will be off to university. The other two are becoming more independent every day. We wanted to put the brakes on our busy lives for a year, and just be with our kids. We wanted a break from the daily morning gong show of making lunches, scarfing down breakfast and rushing out the door in time for early hockey, band and school. We needed a family time-out. To be together. Full stop.
So far, it has been a wonderful two months in Europe, already full of incredible moments we won’t soon forget. But I know it won’t always be easy. I know we will have many days this year when we will drive each other crazy; when we will ask ourselves, “What were we thinking?” I know we will have travel fatigue, and face many challenges, and long for our comfy beds and the friends and family we left back home. The kids are happy right now, but I know there will be days and weeks when they will be sick of eating food they don’t recognize, and sleeping on airplanes, and hanging out with just the five of us.
But it’s only a year. One year in a whole lifetime. And when we look at it through the lens of our entire lives, at the end of it all, I know we’ll be glad we did it. I know we’ll be happy that this is a chapter of the story of our family.
But enough contemplation. It’s getting warm and the kids are calling for me to join them for a swim in those turquoise waters.
Shannon E. Wall lives in Victoria, when she isn’t travelling.