We’ve all heard it said that if you really want to know someone better, travel with them. Somehow I always thought of this advice when it came to friends and people with long-term romantic potential.
But who’s to say you can’t do this with one of your kids? Especially a teen, those mysterious creatures who often withdraw from parents from ages 13-21.
I have these really cool older cousins who raised two children. My family would get their annual Christmas letters and I’d read in awe about how one parent took one of the kids on a trip in high school somewhere in the US, just the two of them, and then they’d switch out where the other parent would take that same, now college-age kid on an overseas trip, just the two of them. They did this for both children.
Being a travel buff, I thought that was an AMAZING idea. My cousins’ kids were so fortunate! And now as a parent with means to do the same, I am taking action. So many years I wanted to travel but virtually none of my friends had the time or means to go so I went solo, aching for a companion. Little did I realize that one day I would give birth to them.
It all started when our oldest turned 13. Growing up he loved geography and soccer and we’d talk endlessly about the places he wanted to visit one day. Seattle was consistently at the top of his list, so he could see the Sounders play. I planned to surprise him with a long weekend trip to Seattle, just the two of us, but by the time I worked out a mutually agreeable weekend, a whole entire year passed. We made the trip the summer before he started high school instead of the year he became a teenager.
Our Seattle trip was so much fun he wanted to do it again, so we traveled to New York City for a long weekend this summer too.
My oldest is beginning to think this is an annual excursion for us, and while I’d love that, I have two more kids in the hopper, so I hope I can afford all this when their turn arrives. Sure it seems doable today, but the other two are closer in age so these trips will add up quickly. I don’t want to over promise, but let me tell you: our time together was magical.
I drove us seven hours to New York, so we got a lot of talking done in the car. We had an almost adult conversation where I shared some things that have been bothering me and he gave me the advice we always give him. He even admitted that he was coaching me to take my own medicine and I chuckled over how I couldn’t argue with him or I’d invalidate the advice I dole out as parent.
We visited Ellis Island, talked about today’s immigration challenges, and discussed my immigrant grandparents and what it must have been like for them to leave their homes and family forever 100 years ago. We visited the 911 Memorial Reflecting Pools and I recounted the story of that frightening day and how worried I was for my friends who lived in the city. We marveled over the endless number of foreign languages we heard over and over again, all day long. I suggested to him that all Americans should visit New York City at least once in their lifetime to see first-hand what a melting pot the city is, almost like Muslims are expected to travel at least once to Mecca, and maybe just maybe as a result, Americans wouldn’t be so afraid of “others”.
We talked about travel, anthropology, sociology, art, movies, musicals, Hamilton, celebrity, history, politics, Manhattan neighborhoods, gentrification, the cost of living, what he wants to study in school, where he wants to live, religion, sex, family, weddings, marriage, and child-raising. Yeah. What didn’t we talk about?
I took him to a high-end restaurant and he navigated his way through the menu, ordering process, and all manner of dining etiquette through tip calculation. I bought him a New York style slice of pizza and taught him how to fold and eat it. I taught him how to hail a cab, orient himself on the streets and avenues, catch a ferry, and use the subway. I’m excited that I taught him the ways of New York City, and I hope he always remembers it.
He asked a ton of questions and I answered them all without reservation.
My son, who is very content playing video games, talked the whole time. We laughed. He was attentive to whether I was tired or thirsty, and he opened doors for me and others. He was unceasingly polite. He couldn’t get enough of the people energy in Times Square and had to walk through it each day.
He asked if he looked like a tourist or if he was behaving more like a resident. You see, he might want to live in New York one day. I could see him trying it on for size and vibe and watch his face light up as he recognized one landmark after another. I like how he’s a worldly kind of dude for his age.
I saw glimpses of the man we’re raising, and he’s only 15. Last year he tried to engage me in a pillow fight. This year, he gently asked me about something that was tugging at my heart and making me sad. The amount of personal growth he demonstrated from one year to the next and the level of compassion he had shown me was remarkable, and I was dumbstruck over how mature, deep, and intimate our conversation was, because we were talking about things I don’t even discuss with some of my closest friends. I doubt we would have connected at that level had we been at home and stuck in our normal routine. Correction: I am certain we would not have connected at that level.
Do you have any idea how precious this time was? It was New York, and as Midwesterners, we don’t walk nearly that much on a daily basis or cram so much into our day. It was go-go-go the whole time. Exhausting but equally exhilarating. I didn’t want our trip to end.
I better start saving for next year, and for two more kids after that. He’s already got fingers crossed for me to show him around Boston next summer.
Are you longing to connect in a more meaningful way with your kid? Go on a trip, just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be big thing, but go somewhere overnight you’ve never been. You just might find that where you actually travel is deeper into each other’s hearts.