Sunday, October 4, 2009

the Orient Express and the Ferocious Fearlessness of 'Before Children Travel'

The year was 1996.  My husband and I had been married for about a year.  We were living in Germany at the time and he was deployed as he had been throughout most of our marriage.  He spent the first six months of our marriage stationed in Kuwait and the second six months in Bosnia.  Most of our communication that year was via letter.  It was the "olden days" -- before everyone had computers, cell phones, Blackberries, etc.

I received a postcard from Bill letting me know that he had been granted leave -- finally, a long weekend!  As leave was rare and precious, I hurriedly read more of the little note.  Oh, no!  Yes, he had been granted leave, but it wasn't to come home to Germany.  It was going to be in Budapest.  Whew.  I had never been to Hungary before.  I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Hungary wasn't a spot that I could simply make do with my smattering of German and high school Spanish.

Well, I didn't have children and had already spent a good part of my life as a young adult in and out of New York City so my fearlessness was at a relatively ferocious point.  I purchased a train ticket out of Frankfurt, found a wonderful old Grand Ramada Inn from a tattered tourbook and booked it, and began packing.  While I will not bore you with details as to what I packed, I can tell you that what my tiny suitcase contained was nothing like how I pack today.  And, the name of my train?  The Orient Express.  Really.  My weekend -- an unbelievable memory.  Something I will never forget.

When I pack nowadays for my family of five, I am like an efficient machine.  Each of my three girls is allotted their own small suitcase.  Extra unmentionables.  Lots of layers and room for favorite treasures -- just a few, of course.  A suitcase for me.  Bill?  Well, he gets a small carry-on.  :)

The electronics, reserved for the cabin.  Two more books per child then we think we will need.  Extra caffeine for the parents.  And the pre-travel scrubbing and gassing up of the van?  Very necessary!  For me, it makes the journey so much more pleasurable to pull away from the house in a neat and clean van.  But, as the years have passed and my expectations have become more realistic, I have learned to be proud of my little family if we can make it to lunchtime without completely thrashing our vehicle. 

While long trips have become easier with the children as they have become older, I wish I could say it was a dream to travel with them.  But I can't.  I found myself cracking up today, driving from church, in Daddy's sedan, to Home Depot for grout.  My three daughters were arguing and pinching and poking away, resisting any semblance of correction or good behavior.  The scene in my rear-view mirror was so cliche and so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh.  Fortunately, my giggles surprised them out of their argument, and the halos shifted back into place.

I often feel like we as moms need merit badges, just like my girls receive merit badges in Girl Scouts.  Traveling with small children = two merit badges.  One -- Made it to Destination in Relative Good Humor.  Two -- Made it to Destination without Leaving Anyone or Anything Mission-Critical Behind. 

While traveling with my family can be tedious and trying to my patience, I still catch myself looking around at my little crew with a heartfelt joy.  I wouldn't trade my fellow passengers for the world.  And a little secret I have finally started to pick up on?  If Mommy remains upbeat and calm, often the behavior of the rest of my companions will follow . . .

The picture?  Margaret Island in the heart of the Danube River in between the sister cities of Buda and Pest . . . found on Google.  1996?  Long before I had access to digital.  :)

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