“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education;
in the elder, a part of experience.”
Being that my family was taking a trip to a North Carolina beach a few days after I originally read this quote, I found myself intrigued by it. So, I wiki’ed Sir Francis Bacon.
Francis Bacon was an English philosopher who lived in the 15th century. Francis Bacon never knew of airplanes or security lines or rental cars or flight delays. He probably barely had time to digest that whole “Earth being round” thing. Francis Bacon died of pneumonia while studying the effects of cold on meat (bacon, perhaps?). Francis Bacon had no children.
Now, as I sit here at my dining table, having just successfully uploaded 419 vacation photos to Facebook, I am allowing myself time to reflect on that quote even more. In a younger sort, travel is a part of education. In an older sort, a part of experience. Bear with me as I reflect aloud…
My sister delivered a brain-child in April, saying she wanted to go back to the east coast with our family and stay on the beach for a week. (Insert arm-twist here.) We booked, paid for, and anticipated the getaway for months. The night before we flew out, we got Coen all jacked up to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. in a pleasant and excited mood. And Mabel does so naturally so I wasn’t worried about her willingness at that time of day one bit. I packed a carry-on bag full of Dora DVDs, sticker books, mini play-dohs, suckers, Cheeze-Its, diapers and a small stack of lightweight (but surprisingly compelling) superhero books. I zipped the bag, confident that come hell or high water, those kids would be entertained to the gills! I remembered my own underwear, inflatable floatation devices, sunscreen, camera lenses, contact solution, my drivers license and everything in between. I was ready. Bring it on.
The flight to the beach went surprisingly well, all things considered. My daughter decided to celebrate turning 18 months by PMS-ing her little baby tail off with a few (ok, TONS of) screaming tantrums that my friends with daughters had warned me about but I laughed off because my baby boy was cool as a cucumber. My four-year-old son dropped himself to the ground in the checked baggage line because, oh I don’t know, we asked him to stop singing the theme to Bubble Guppies at the top of his lungs or some other sort of unfair nonsense that makes perfect social sense to anyone who is NOT four years old at 5 a.m. in a crowded airport. I found it amazing that my parents, sitting strong in their late 50s, could watch us ever-so-calmly deal with our own chaotic kin wearing slight smirks of either payback or pride. But once we boarded that plane, excitement took over and I couldn’t help but smile ear-to-ear. Hearing Coen shout, “We are in the CLOUDS, mommy! Look, the CLOUDS!” – that alone was worth the price of admission.
We arrived at the beach house and the whole family booked it up the back steps to get our first good look at the ocean. The kids had immediately replaced the day’s nonstop whining that often accompanies travel with squeals of utter joy, and the adults already had icy visions of Dos Equis dancing in their heads. It was a moment I’ll never forget, running out onto that patio overlooking the Atlantic, with Mabel babbling in her Pebbles voice as she “ran” down the deck flailing her left arm back and forth as if it were her own personal propeller.
Our vacation was made up of tiny memory snippets that simply weave together at the end of the day into one giant “euphoric afghan.”
…Lying on the beach with a book in my hand. Drinking wine outside with my sister while listening to live acoustic guitar. Sitting on the deck with my husband, holding hands at the end of the night after the kids were tucked in, soaking in the sound of the waves. Fighting mom and dad for dinner bills. Eating all the peanut butter cheesecake before my PB-lovin’ bro-in-law had a chance to get a fork on it. Sitting on the couch until midnight watching Duck Dynasty with my mom. Listening to dad rave on and on about the crab cakes from The Beach Shop and Grill.
But there was so much more. There were so many moments when I would look up and see where I was and who I was with and exhaaaaaale with one long, deep, calm breath. There was no email inbox proverbially breathing down my neck, no dishes gathering dust on my countertop, no agenda whatsoever. And it was glorious.
Yes, there was some stress. Take for example, trying to control Mabel “the Tormentor” who found great joy in injuring her nine-month old cousin. I swear, her motto for the trip was “Kick her while she’s down.” And, since Ruby has no choice but to crawl, she is technically down all the time, which really made our jobs as parents exhaustingly frustrating. We dealt with spousal spats, indecisiveness, early morning crabbiness, overtired late nights, impatience and typical family exasperation. Mabel discovered that her voice can literally raise one million decibels in less than three seconds and that arching her back and throwing herself on the floor below her (be it sand, cement, or stairs) will get her – not only more attention – but usually, her way. Coen decided that a scowl is a fine way to react whenever someone says, “Say Cheese!” and spent a majority of the trip talking in a voice that (I think) he thought resembled Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Intended to be low and gravelly, but mostly it just sounded like he had a bowl of Cheerios stuck in his throat.
But, those moments when I would steal away from the group and find myself one-on-one on the beach with a kid of my choice…NOTHING beat that. I sat in the water with Mabel for nearly an hour one day, throwing shells into the waves. I spent half a day with Coen searching for just the right seashells to give to his friends at school. Hearing all about Nate and Coen’s getaway to go mini golf during the hottest part of the day – highlighted by a hole-in-one – was priceless. Those are the moments we will never get again so I certainly intended to enjoy them.
A few people have asked me what the best part of the trip was. I could answer that so many ways…the 90 degree weather, my long-lost (but short-lived) tan, the fact that the parent to kid ratio was 6:3 and the hardest job any of us had was to sit on the deck with a Corona in hand listening to the baby monitor during naptime. But, the truth is, I can actually choose a specific time…30 special minutes that made such a lasting impression.
It was Wednesday evening and the weather was flawless. We had just returned from a fabulous dinner out, desserts included (hey, it’s vacation!), and jumped into our comfy clothes as we did every evening. I took the kids outside to the sand and, one by one, my family members joined us. The beach was virtually empty, the ocean was like bath water, the sun was slowly setting and my heart was full, surrounded by those I love.
With words unspoken, we started to leisurely stroll down the beach. For the first time all trip, it seemed that every one of us was in the greatest of spirits simultaneously…kids included! I took in every minute, looking from the sky to the ocean to my parents to my beautiful kids and niece. With sand beneath my toes, I chased and raced around with my son and watched Nate toss Mabel high into the clouds, made footprint trails and wrote “Mommy ♥ Coen + Mabel” on the shore with our fingers. I literally have never known my life to feel so serene.
I spent a long time on that walk observing my parents. I watched them interacting with their grandchildren, my mom carrying on full conversations with a four-year old like it was her job. Or at least like she had done it a few times. When a kid would start to act up, I saw both of them simply stand back and let us do the parenting, and then smile at THEIR miniature creations taking such care of OUR miniature creations. At one point I caught my dad watching my daughter with a twinkle in his eye and it made me so happy. Even though she had been a little crabapple for a majority of the trip, it warms my heart to know that they love her just as much as they did before they knew of her truest Satanic inner-workings (just kidding, Maby…you know mommy loves you). I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched our growing family learn, laugh, and love together on this wonderfully zen-like peninsula.
Wait! So, maybe that’s what it is…that’s what the childless Francis Bacon was talking about in his confusing quote. He wasn’t drunk or whacked out from his frigid pork studies. He was talking about the change in personal perceptions that occur with habitual travel. The more you see, the more you know, the more you create memories which surely play some impact on your entire outlook of life. The definition of “Experience” is: the knowledge or skill acquired by such means over a period of time. So, watching my parents on the beach that night was them truly experiencing something. Just as watching Coen follow a ghost crab all the way down the shore was him truly learning something. And us, as 30-something newbie parents, are stuck in the middle, trying to balance tantrums with television and eye rolls with ice cream. I have dominated the task of packing a suitcase for four and can entertain kids to kill a five-hour layover like Celine does Vegas. But, I learned on this particular vacation that I can also experience and appreciate life and the lives of those around me more than I ever have before.
I don’t know if it is related at all to my having children of my own, but I do know that they have helped me to find grace and gratefulness in everyday activities. They have made me anticipate the mornings to see their little faces and take on whatever challenges that day may bring. They have given me the courage to want to be a better, healthier, smarter, more patient person who they can look at someday the way I looked at my parents that night on our walk. THEY have given me what I consider my first true taste of genuine “experience.” And for that, I am thankful.
Yes, Sir Francis, I will continue to travel. I appreciate your words and that they had an impact on me in my life at this moment. And, hey, if you ever want to try travel with children, I’ve got some pointers for YOU, big guy. Maybe next time around…