Travel Truth

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.

sebastian-leon-prado-547564-unsplashI 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.

oakie-696139-unsplashIt 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?

rob-bye-319816-unsplashI 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.

Photo #1 by Sebastián León Prado, photo #2 by oakie, and photo #3 by Rob Bye, all on Unsplash

Hail Hamilton!

I’ve been offline for a couple of days. Drove 6.5 hours one way from Ohio to New Jersey and back this past weekend to visit an old friend of mine who beguiled me with tickets to Hamilton to celebrate my big birthday this past year. That last sentence should be enough to explain that she’s a pretty good friend.

We took the train into New York City Sunday afternoon. Got out at Madison Square Garden and walked to the theatre district. Oh man, was it ever cold! She’s a former resident of the city so she had her earmuffs firmly in place but I’m a silly Midwesterner who thought I could get away with gloves, a warm scarf and a hood. Nope. The city is WAY cold in the winter when you walk blocks and blocks…

Anyway, we get inside the theatre and I discover we were sitting seven rows from the stage, house right: so so close.  The Richard Rodgers Theatre is pretty intimate to beginIMG_6786 with but still: what a delightful surprise. It was Javier Munoz’s last performance in the lead, having taken over for Lin Manuel Miranda who originated the role and wrote the whole thing. The audience was uncharacteristically rowdy from the perspective of my prior Broadway experience, and totally pumped up for the show. Javier appeared on stage to extended applause and whoops, as did a few of the other lead actors.

From the opening line of the show, you could tell it would be different: an in-your-face, gripping story of a man who overcame unbelievable odds but whose accomplishments aren’t lauded.

Until now.

About 15 minutes into the show, tears streamed quietly down my face. I couldn’t believe how remarkable this performance was. Not that I’m a Broadway aficionado, but what art form tells the story of the Revolution? What musical virtually avoids all spoken word but raps and sings throughout? Tell me what Broadway event showcases modern dance and hip hop throughout the entire performance? I’m telling you, every single word was punctuated by a movement or gesture at just the right moment by the principals and cast. This wasn’t mere stage blocking…this was magic. The cast mimicked a hurricane, they became part of the set, props in a scene…

The words flew out of their mouths like rolling waves of history. So so fast. It was as if you had to hear an entire phrase and absorb it on delay to appreciate what they were saying. The speed of the speech was incredible. And it’s rap so it freaking RHYMED! You can claim that you hate rap and you therefore have no interest in this show, but I beg you to reconsider. The best kind of rap is storytelling with soul. And that is Hamilton.

How can you even begin to appreciate how much dialogue is in this show? At 3-5x the rate of any other type of entertainment? This is a story being told with speed, dynamics, rhythm and rhyme, poetry and motion, not to mention color. The deliberate multi-cultural casting of the show is brilliant. As a line the playbook says: the story of America then being told by America now.

I swear, it seems that growing up we studied the Revolutionary War starting in 1st Grade all the way through 8th Grade. Memorizing dates and battles and commanders in a meaningless haze, to the point where I had zero interest in revisiting any of this history. Boring. Mindless. Yes, we formed a new country. Yay. Men died. Understood. We kicked the British out. Yep. Got it. Heard it, read it, been there, done that.  Yada yada. I know that sounds flippant. Arrogant. But nothing I had heard about the early days of our country really jazzed me.

Until now.

This telling gave you an appreciation of who these Founding Fathers were, what motivated them, what doubts they had along the way, and what qualities they had that mirror Americans today. And how every single one of them came from somewhere else, with their own dreams for success in this land, the French, English, Caribbean, and Dutch, to name just a few back then. That’s the beauty of theatre. It stirs emotion in you that makes it somehow relatable. I’m sitting there thinking of what characteristics Hamilton and Washington and Jefferson and I have in common. I’m still thinking about it, the connection of Founding Fathers over time to their American child: me.

There were moments in the show that blew me away. The music was a constant until one point in the show, when maybe Hamilton is actually using spoken word or maybe not, when the absence of accompaniment had an almost klieg-light effect on what he was saying. There was another poignant moment when the music became a heartbeat, and you could hear a pin drop.

And King George was hysterical throwing a subdued hissy fit. Every single restrained line was absolutely delicious. And it seemed that his words could be just as relevant to us today as they were intended to be at that point in history.

It was breathtaking. It was freaking genius, every single bit of it.

It’s been three days now since I’ve seen that show. I keep humming the themes and phrases that repeated throughout. I marvel at the remarkable drive of Alexander Hamilton, not to mention the irony and tragedy in the line, “I am not throwing away my shot”.

All I can tell you is, hands down, Hamilton is the most amazing artistic performance I have ever seen. A total game-changer in terms of entertainment. The story of an old world told by a new world. I am forever changed having seen it – so so proud to be American – and I urge you to see it in New York or in a city near you when it tours.