Every day I take tons of photos. I post the best ones that I feel are either artistically interesting, culturally significant, or funny. The rest of them are not quite Facebook worthy, like the one above. My kids were so uninterested in the Greek ruins at Delphi that they decided to sit down and play with their latest puzzle cube.
Yes, you can say it’s exciting and fantastic and a hundred other adjectives to be on this trip around the world, but actually, there is a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes that just doesn’t go on Facebook or on the blog. A lot of bad days, annoying happenstances, prickly conversations, unfortunate events, tiresome circumstances and stressful situations happen day in and day out, no matter in which country we are traveling.
I thought I’d let you all in on a few of the behind the scenes things that have really impacted us as a family while traveling.
One of the biggest things that hit us out of the blue was my own physical breakdown. I may be overweight, but before we left I was in pretty decent physical condition from attending an amazing exercise class 3 times a week for 3 years. I felt strong, able to do anything this trip required (within reason). Not wanting to kill myself, I had no great expectations on climbing mountains and hiking for days on end. I figured the most I’d be doing is walking, climbing stairs, snorkeling and horseback riding. All of which I have done. But there have been many months I’ve been in extreme pain.
It started in Prague back in October. I think the uneven cobblestone streets and the miles of walking took their toll on my knees. I have one knee with an old ski injury (MCL tear) that still effects me. My left knee started hurting in Prague and I was taking large does of ibuprofen every day just to walk around. Off and on the pain continued until Ireland (January).
This pain reduced my ability to stand for long periods of time, walk around for too long, and climb stairs. Not to mention I walked twice as slowly. My kids are amazing at waiting for me to catch up. I had a knee brace just in case my knees hurt, and sure enough I used it. Until I lost it.
Due to me putting all the weight I could on my other leg as I walked, in Ireland I had a serious case of “What the fuck is wrong with my knees?” when I woke up one morning and could barely walk. This time it was the other knee. It took me a while to figure it out, but I had water on the knee combined with a sprained ligament.
After getting another knee brace from my Dad when he met us in Egypt, elevating my legs every night for 5 weeks and not having to walk as much because we did bus and safari tours in Egypt, South Africa and Jordan, my knees have finally gotten better. Enough to the point that I can bend them (an impossibility just 2 months ago), walk almost without a limp (unless I do too many stairs – yeah, Greeks, I’m talking to you), and I still take ibuprofen on bad days.
So, behind all those great pictures of the Irish coast, Sahara dunes, pyramids, and safari animals there was me clenching my teeth every time I had to get in or out of a vehicle, walk too much, or ride a camel. It was excruciating.
Kids Getting Bored
The boys have been great on the tour, for the most part. They are like any other kids (probably) and get bored when things move too slowly, they have to wait too long, or there is just too much cultural overload. That is why I only plan museum visits in short bursts. Two to three hours is our limit for any museum or cultural experience. This limit gives them the knowledge that I won’t drag things out and there is an end in sight. If they give their full attention to the museum visit and appreciate what they see, the time usually goes faster as well.
However, there are those tours we have taken where the guide is long-winded, the tour is in multiple languages and we have to wait until it has been explained to everyone, or there is a long car ride before the next stop. These things lead to boredom and sniping between the boys. Sometimes a puzzle cube helps, sometimes not.
Behind many of the tour photos I have taken are my kids standing off to the side, playing with a cube, yawning or rolling their eyes and asking me when we will be done.
We’ve moved from city to city and country to country so many times, you think we would be used to it by now. We are, in a way, but every time we move on there are things we have to do to ensure the smooth transition.
Traveling days start the night before. I make sure the boys have packed their suitcases if we have to leave early, so that all they need to do is put on clothes and leave. Then there is the coordination of getting to the airport/train/bus/ferry that we need in order to leave. This is sometimes done for me when booking a tour, and sometimes not. I try not to stress too much about this, but I hate being late for things, and not having a car can be debilitating in this regard.
Any way you manage it, traveling days usual involve some amount of stress on my part, and of course that can make the boys prickly because I am yelling at them to hurry up. I like to believe I’ve gotten better, but that may be wishful thinking. Sometimes things just can’t be helped, like a surprise luggage inspection literally 10 minutes before the TGV train we are supposed to be on leaves the station. Running up to the departure level and jumping on the nearest car just so we make the train is something I do not want to repeat.
Or the time E had both full-sized bottles of shampoo in his carry-on backpack because he shoves stuff in wherever he can and doesn’t think about airport security while he’s packing. Time to buy some more shampoo.
There are usually very few photos taken on traveling days. Mostly because I’m tired, not paying attention to the beauty of an airport or train station (Morocco had some beautiful airports) and when I remember to do it, there are very few things of interest to photograph.
Let’s see – what have we lost on this trip? Wow, it might not seem like much, but when you are carrying around everything you need for 6+ months, all the things count.
- Two neck pillows for travel
- One neck pillow case
- One computer charger
- One knee brace
- Countless earbuds (OK, maybe 4 pair?)
- One baseball cap
- One umbrella
- Two pair gloves
- One pair earmuffs
- One pair reading glasses
- One wheeled luggage carrier
Along with all the lost things are the broken things –
- Two pairs headphones (nice headphones)
- One mouse
- Three umbrellas
- One pair reading glasses
And the things left behind on purpose –
- One jacket
- One travel hairdryer
- Two shirts
- One ripped pair of jeans
- One pair khakis (they got too small)
- various paperback books and touring books (left in hostels and hotels for other travelers)
- One large backpack (we bought F a new backpack in Dublin with wheels and left the old one at the hostel)
Missing our Friends and Family
It has been a long 6 months. It seems to have flown by so quickly, but then I think about all the people we haven’t seen for so long and wish we could just pop in and say HI. This has affected the boys as well. We all felt it in February and actually discussed the idea of stopping the trip. We decided that we really wanted to see the rest of the places we have talked about visiting, but it was with the realization that the boys wanted to do more planning and try to stick to more urban areas where we could count on wifi and access to their friends.
My first realization of how much I missed our girl, Karli, happened a few days ago when we visited an animal shelter in Crete. I was excited to get to see all the great dogs and pet and hug them. Then, it hit me that I would not be able to see my own dog for another month. After so long, I just wanted to hold her again. I burst into tears and tried to explain to the confused volunteer that we had been traveling a long time and I missed my own dog so much. She gave me a hug and told me how special all animals were. It was nice of her to show me such compassion, but I was weepy for the rest of the day thinking about her and how much I missed her.
Kids Need to Be Kids
Aside from touring, doing school and planning more of the trip, the boys need kid outlets. Surprisingly, playgrounds in various cities have been wonderful to let them mess around and enjoy being kids. While they may appear to be too old for playground equipment, they are always careful to use it safely and not destroy it inadvertently because of their size. I don’t often post photos of these special moments, when they are literally playing together, but I hope they remember how much fun they had with each other.
There are days when one of us wakes up in a dangerous mood. I say dangerous because if we could explode and be done with it, we’d probably die from the blast zone. This is completely natural and I don’t want us to all be happy all the time. We are human and sometimes we just don’t want to be with each other. Sometimes we have pissed off each other through something we said or did.
Sometimes we try to talk it out, sometimes we scream it out. Sometimes we take a day off. Taking days off has actually proven to be one of the best things we do. We are each allowed to bow out when we get overwhelmed with all the togetherness. One boy will stay at the hostel/hotel and one boy will go with me to do something that interests us. It gives us the break we need and also allows for special time together.
Only three times have I been so upset with the boys that I literally did not want to be around them. Luckily, once was right before we went to bed, so I could get away from them by falling asleep. Once I decided I was going to take a day for myself and I left them some money and went out for 6 hours and did what I wanted. The third time I tried to talk out the problem and we all ended up crying and feeling miserable all day.
No family is perfect, and the days we fight are indistinguishable from the days we don’t on Facebook feeds. But we are a family and we do fight and yet we also love each other fiercely. Most of the time.
Missing Howard and Emmy
One of the reasons I decided to take this trip was because of Howard’s untimely passing. Who knows when we are going to die? I certainly never thought he would die young, and that a year later my mother would also pass. Why wait any longer to do something amazing, I thought. This opportunity should not be wasted.
You might think I was running away from grief by busying myself and taking a trip around the world. Well, you can’t run away from grief.
You never finish grieving, and during this trip our grieving has continued. Everyone grieves in different ways. The boys have both dealt with the death of their father and grandmother differently. It has been hard on all of us. It has been difficult to be a single parent and wishing not only that I could share the parenting but have someone to sound off to when things get overwhelming, or I just need support.
We have cried together wishing they could be with us. We have lit candles to remember them. We have spread Howard’s ashes on 3 continents. I have cried silently while thinking about how much Howard or my Mom would have loved seeing what we are seeing and having the experiences we are having. Remembering them at the strangest times has been hard. Different locations remind me of something they once said or did and I realize they will never say or do that again. I will never get to tell them about the funny things that have happened or appreciate a beautiful view with them by my side.
All these things are behind the scenes. They make up part of the whole experience, which is amazing, but it’s not all laughs and gelato.