Last month, we rented a car and drove down to Ashikaga Flower Park – about a two-hour drive. I was with the girls (now 4 and 2) at the back. At one point, while they played with some stickers and 100yen store toys, I looked out the window and watched the scenery … Back up! Back up! What?! I wasn’t spewing out nursery rhymes like a maniac or playing sock-puppets (which I swear is going to give me Carpal Tunnel Syndrom one day). No one was crying or fighting to get out of their seats. No why?why?why? questions were bombarding me. That moment when it hit me that I was quietly looking at the backs of buildings and other vehicles cruising past us, it felt like I’d burst out into the sunshine after being underwater for too long.
The rest of that day passed just as pleasantly but I was still skeptical. Could this be a fluke? Or was it finally happening to me? The thing my friend told me about (read it here in Part 1), the one about the scales of pain and fun. Oh please God, let it be the latter. A few weeks later, we had the chance to put our newfound peaceful traveling to the test during Golden Week (a long stretch of national holidays in Japan). Since hotels, flights and shinkansen tickets were just ridiculously expensive during this season, we opted for day trips. And… it wasn’t as bad as it used to be! Even during the worst traffic jam (6 hours on our way back from Mount Fuji), thanks to the magical iPad and a pit stop at a rest area that included an over-friendly goat, we survived! More than that, (dare I say it?), I had fun. Yes, me!
Over the past year, while I was gritting my teeth and marching through holidays with militant determination, the girls were stealthily growing up. They’re still really little but for kids their age, one year makes a huge difference. But it’s not just they who have matured, I have too. And I guess I’ve learned to relax. Chill. When I used to travel alone, I had only one way of seeing the world. But now my girls lend me their vision for an alternative view. It’s like the difference between taking a photo of a flower with a normal lens and a macro lens. After a trip, we take turns to ask each other what was our most and least favorite part of it (not Tresa obviously). And some of the answers that Anne has given makes me do a double-take and say, oh yeah! I completely forgot about that.
The other thing that has happened a lot when we’re out with the kids is, we suddenly find ourselves a magnet for locals. Even the grouchiest, most jaded old man isn’t immune to the charm of a child. These people are not the creepy, I-might-rob-you kind. But genuinely friendly ones who want to have a chat (even if neither of us speaks the same language!). And sometimes it happens when I least expect it. Like once when the girls were kicking up a fuss in a restaurant and I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me, a lady came to our table to distract the girls with origami cranes she’d folded using her lunch bill. Bless her.
The last one year has been a crash course in traveling with toddlers. In retrospect, what do I think of it? Too much effort just for a little fun? What’s the point because they’re hardly going to remember anything? Yes and yes … those were my exact thoughts in the beginning. But just for a second, shift your focus to that guy patiently soldiering beside me. Doggedly planning trips, wheeling our bag (yes, we learned to pack only one) around from train to bus to car and missing a perfect photography moment because of a cranky child. We’ve been together for a long time but very few things have bonded us like the past year has. And because they are a part of us, the kids are included in that bond. This capricious, prone to meltdowns but all-encompassingly loving age they’re at now, it’s going to be over in a snap. Then you will hear me moan about how my kids think what a drag it is to go anywhere with their uncool parents.
So when I finally reach the phase where the scales of fun outweighs the pain, I hope it lasts for a reallllllyyy long time.