How expat life made our kids great travelers
My kids trudged through the passport control line sleepily but without whining or stumbling, and I realized I was giving myself way too much credit.
I sat in the dark room, rubbed my eyes and tried to psyche myself up for the monumental task in front of me. It was 12.30 at night and I was in New Dehli, propped up in the guest bed of dear friends who had recently relocated from Beijing.
My kids were sleeping all around me but in 15 minutes I would be rousing them and carrying them to a waiting car to drive to the airport and board a plane with the ridiculous departure time of 3.15am. And I would be doing it on my own, as my wife was staying in India for a few more days.
This journey had been hanging over me all week, as we toured around wild and crazy India. Now the moment of truth was approaching and I was trying to buck up my nerves. We had aggravated an already intense situation by waking the kids up at 5am the previous morning to see the sunrise over the Taj Mahal and then having a long slog of a drive back to Delhi that stretched deep into the evening.
Our vacation choices often involve a balancing act between making the most out of being Asia-based expats and not wanting to put our children in perilous, exhausting, confusing – or just boring – situations. Still, we tend to push things hard and our kids generally respond well. They have trudged through numerous airports changing planes in the middle of the night, slept three hours in by-the-hour hotel rooms in Bangkok airport before heading back out and bounded off to school fresh off an overnight flight from Malaysia.
But boarding a 3.15am flight alone with the kids had to take the cake. The absurd situation occurred after our travel agent made an egregious error that canceled our original flights – at more sane times – and we had to make a last-second decision whether to accept this new itinerary or cancel the whole trip. We really wanted to visit our friends Nathan and Kristi, and I did not want to leave Asia without having visited India, so we pushed on.
“This is the gold medal decathlon of the parenting Olympics,” I told myself. “It’s what you’ve been training for ten years.”
An hour later, as I checked into the Air China flight and my kids trudged through the passport control line sleepily but without whining or stumbling, I realized that I was giving myself way too much credit. If this was an Olympics event, it was the kids who were competing. Not me. Our nutty, on-the-go lifestyle has trained them to be good travelers. If they chose to rebel, however, there wasn’t much I could do.
We pre-boarded the plane and took our seats at 2.30am. Ten-year-old Jacob immediately collapsed across two seats and went to sleep. No American airline would have let him sleep in that position through takeoff, but the Air China stewardesses just walked by. My own safety standards may well have been compromised by a week driving through India, where the teeming roads, filled with animals and overloaded vehicles, make China’s byways look like empty pastoral landscapes.
Eight-year-old Eli was happily playing a Nintendo DS while his little sister Anna watched. This astounded me, as I could barely keep my own eyes open. I finally gave them a time limit and 15 minutes later, they both curled up and went to sleep. I sat in the dark, listening to people snore all around me and silently thanked my kids. I was proud of them. I have often wondered what the net impact of this expat adventure will be on them, but one thing is for sure: It has turned them into seasoned, hardy travelers.