Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Nature of Travelling

I am spending Sukkot, at least the first half, with my sister in Ithaca, NY.  First let me tell you, it is so beautiful here! Open her door and you can hear the roar of a waterfall.  A huge waterfall.  It's gorgeous.  And that's only up the block.  We've driven along a beautiful river that comes off a 60 mile lake.  I mean come on.  And it's fall.  So chalk it up to G-d for the amazing display of foliage yet again.

At night, when the kids are asleep, and we're playing Boggle, laughing about intimate things only sister's share, I am so glad we came.  During the six hour car ride, every night that I've gotten a little less than four hours of sleep (which is every night since we've been here) all the times my son asks me, "what am I supposed to do here?", my husband's incessant complaining about the temperature of the house, I ask myself, "why did I choose to travel with children?"

But today I had a good day.  Despite the fact that it started well before the sun came up.  I'm sharing a room with my daughter and baby.  They are the two worst sleepers in the family.  My son wakes up to nurse.  This wakes my daughter.  I get my son back to sleep and then my daughter thinks it's time to say hello to him.  She sits there so innocently, stroking his hand and head, cooing his name.  It's hard to get mad at her, but somehow I manage.  But soon I gave up on sleep and came downstairs instead.

One thing I have learned about traveling with young children... if you are invited, then your hosts put themselves at risk of loosing sleep.  I used to drive myself crazy when my first son was a toddler.  He would wake up at the crack of dawn, and play very loudly.  If I tried to hush him, he wailed so loud I cowered in shame.  I thought it was my responsibility to make sure his presence didn't intrude on anyone's lives.  But you know what?  Children are intrusions! So, now I hold by the fact that if you invite me, you invite my children, and my children are loud.  Especially in the morning.

It took me years to learn that.  But back to today.  Once we finally got going, you know around 1pm, we went to a nature reserve.  As well as live caged animals, we also saw wild deer, some kind of ferret or something, and a six story tree house.  There were woods and streams, waterfalls and meadows.  A truly fall overcast day with enough wind to make you pull your scarf a little tighter around your neck. There was an almost magical moment when my husband and son were opening milkweed buds and releasing the soft, flying seeds into the wind above the meadow.  I live for those moments.

But there are harder aspects of being in someone else's home.  I cannot chase my children around picking up after them.  I need to be able to feed them and not wash up immediately after.  I need to let them cry and not have everyone look at me wondering if it's because I want them to cry, or because I'm waiting for someone to give me a break.  I need to just mother.  And it's really hard to mother away from home.  No time out rooms.  Not many toys.  No friends.  No sleep schedule.  Yeah, it's hard.

But the attitude I try to keep it this: It's not ideal for any of us.  The guests or the hosts.  So let's all suck it up with grace and just enjoy each other's company while we can.  But I guess that opinion isn't shared by all.  And to some degree I understand.  Guests think, we're out of our comfort zone, came all this way, you should bend for us.  Hosts think, we put you up, discomfort ourselves, give you our food, you should at least keep the place clean and quiet.

Well, thinking that way only makes space for unattainable expectations, disappointments, resentments and bad moods.  So I say, suck it up people! At least we're all together.  And since I'm the one up at 4am, washing tooshies and dishes, all y'all should just smile and say thanks!

Okay, that's my high horse.  Here's what's behind the arrogance... My sister asked me to please pick up after my kids before her guests arrive.  Simple request, totally reasonable.  Here's my inward reaction... Are you ashamed that there are kids here? Are you ashamed of my kids? Is there a reason you can have a chumash on the table but not Good Night Moon? Do you want to erase all evidence of their existence? Why must you apologize for their stuff? Instead of saying, 'Sorry about this stuff, my niece and nephews are here,' I want you to say, 'Yeah, isn't it great, my niece and nephews are here!'  Totally irrational.  Totally unfounded.  Totally baseless.  And yet I am so triggered.  Why?

Honestly I don't have an answer.  I think partly it's the extreme lack of sleep that contributes to my taking everything so personally. Also, I think I want everyone to recognize what an amazing job I am doing, traveling with three little ones.  Instead I'm feeling that, to some degree, my family is just an intrusion on an otherwise quiet and calm atmosphere.  I know my sister likes having me around.  But now I come in a package.  My family.  And I guess I want us all to be liked.  And that's easy when my daughter is talking to herself in her room as she falls asleep, saying things like, "I love you," over and over.  It's a little harder when my baby is spitting up on their couch, or my son is shouting and slamming doors.

But, that's us.  And to a certain extent, that's me.  I am my family.  Their accomplishments are mine.  Their sweetness, giggles, nagging and cries, I lay claim to it all.  And it's not that I get embarrassed by their actions.  Really.  I've done a lot of work on myself to get over that.  But I will stand with them if ever there is a side to stand on.

I don't regret the choice to travel. I knew it would be uncomfortable.  I knew it would be hard.  And it is.  But it's also a change of pace, something new.  It's time to be with the ones I love.  Time to be a creative mother, while also being a loving and caring sister, wife and daughter.  That's a big challenge and I say, Bring It On! 

Did I mention that 3 minutes into our 6 1/2 hour drive, my son pooped up his back and I forgot to leave out a change of clothes? After all, it's not really my blog if I don't mention poop, right?

1. My sister
2. Foliage
3. The ability to be happy when uncomfortable
4. Large cups of coffee 


  1. It sounds like a sleep deprived, loud, messy time--next year I hope to be there with you!

  2. I just finally got around to reading this and wanted to tell you that not only am I not ashamed of my loud and messy niece and nephews, but I love them and all that you come with terribly (it's just that like my father, I enjoy some order in the home :)

  3. This makes me smile and want to cry all at the same time. It reminds me of all the times I traveled with the little ones and the times I attempted to get together with my sisters and brothers. Every time I felt like I failed to truly connect with my siblings and as much as I want to travel again with the little ones, I appreciate that you reminded me of the challenges. Again, everything you said strikes a chord inside of me! I guess we're in similar places in our lives Tova. Love you! We did survive the chagim!