Getting There

The short walk from Trafalgar Square down to Big Ben was fraught with many tears, comments that walking was not an acceptable form of transportation, and demands that an Uber must be called immediately under the threat of a meltdown which was already partially underway. This walk, a mere few blocks, was one that I thought could be endured by the group, but halfway in, literally 1,000 ft from where we started, we called an Uber and were off to our next destination, the Natural History Museum. As a London first-timer, I didn’t even realize that we had caught the Uber right in front of 10 Downing Street; I couldn’t help but picture a totally lost foreign family standing in front of the White House having no idea what it was or where they were…such was a typical stroll for us in this town.

The UK was the third country we’d brought the kids to since taking on our lives as expats. We’d picked it for its proximity and relative kid-friendliness, or so we had heard. The proximity factor turned out to be incredibly overrated after enduring a less-than-ideal experience with the Eurostar train, which supposedly whisks you away from Amsterdam to London St Pancras station in 4 hours. Thanks to rail strikes and other various delays, the four-hour journey became closer to 7, and we rolled into our hotel on Whitehall just in time to grab a bite in the lobby and go to bed after being told we had to buy a second room due to occupancy rules enforced in the UK. After just one night, I’d already felt London family travel had defeated us.

Finding Joy in the Unexpected

While I’d love to tell of the joy the children took seeing Big Ben, exploring the Tower of London, or walking the lawn in front of Buckingham Palace, the highlight of the trip came in a less expected form: Hamley’s Christmas Store. Six floors of pure chaos and congestion were the break that the children needed, and as I have learned at this point, what Mom and Dad needed too: I would much rather have spent an hour in this packed place with happy children than dragging along whining messes to a place as silly as Westminster Abbey. By this point, I had given up that we are not that perfect Instagram family that posts group selfies of us all smiling brightly in front of beautiful monuments and unforgettable places.

So we are still learning together as a family: searching for that equilibrium point at which everyone is reasonably happy, and the sacrifices that are made for the sake of harmony among the crew are not so much that we may as well have just stayed home. I do sometimes ask myself if it’s worth all this. Many moments on this trip may sound oddly familiar to a post about our last trip to Italy and one may even recall the common phrase that repeating the same act and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity… if that’s true, does that mean we are insane?

I don’t have a fully formed “philosophy of travel,” nor do I think there are any right answers to how to best travel with children (or whether one should at all). I can say though that my idealized notion of what it would turn out to be, with visions of embarking upon magnificent journeys for which all are packed for and eager to take, or passing by the world’s famous monuments while Dad regaled their thirsty ears with tales of this immense history to humankind has instead become something of a mix of the Griswolds’ 6-second stop in front of the Grand Canyon or having to speed away from Stonehenge after having knocked it over, racing against time and certain consequences and being exposed as marauding and out-of-place tourists.

Embracing the Adventure

Of course, I could spend the next several minutes pointing out the silver lining of all this, anything from instilling desperately needed culture and global perspective into the next generation of humans to the stories he will have to tell in ten more years that will make him the most well-traveled and coolest kid among his teenage friends. Or I could highlight all of the positive moments we had in between the tears and make our trip seem more like the picture-perfect Instagram reel that does its best to convince my few dozen followers that I live an ideal life of an adventurous ex-pat in Europe. And while all of those unforgettable moments were there, and I do believe that the long-run broad view of it all will win out over short-term woes, I won’t do any of that and just accept this as another chapter in the still very much in progress story of our family’s journey of Becoming Dutchish.

3 Responses

  1. I watched the video first, then read the blog. While seeing the video was thinking repeatedly how special of a childhood you are giving your children and the richness of experiences they will be able to draw upon as an adult. Then I read the blog and heard what your kids, and likely you, will forget in time which is the hard parental efforts it took to give that to your kids. It’s certainly a sacrifice and risk to tote the kids to all the adventures, but one that will bond the family more and build a great foundation of memories. I love it, the good and the bad.

    1. There’s an old Marine Corps saying that I have heard they use to find enjoyment in or at least tolerate the worst situations: “embrace the suck”. I have found this to be my mantra many times on trips like these when everything is going awful.

      1. I’ve lost count of how many ways our intended vacation plans have gone through detours because of our kids. Last Hawaii trip several of us got sick, kids run out of energy at wrong times, etc. I always think though the worse fate would’ve been not going and never taking the risk. I like that embrace the suck mindset.

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