Family Vacations, Summer 1996
"An African safari? with a three-year-old? Are you completely insane?"
That was the response, from in-laws to pediatrician, when we announced our vacation plans. While we'll admit to having entertained our own doubts, where is it written that adventure ends when parenthood begins?
Bouncing along in a Land Rover (not equipped with seat belts) en route to our campsite in a remote corner of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, we passed elephants, giraffes, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and kudu. I don't know what was more thrilling--the endless African sky or the look of amazement on our daughter Roxie's face. But our doubts resurfaced later that night, when the thunder cracked so hard it felt like it would split the earth. As rain poured out of the sky and our tent trembled wildly, each drop that pelted us was another disapproving finger wagging. My husband, Bill, and I lay awake in the dark, soggy and terrified. Roxie, meanwhile, slept through the whole thing. We awoke the next day to find her--born and raised in Manhattan--affectionately fondling a dung beetle. When she learned that this cute bug lays eggs in little balls of "poop" that it rolls itself, she could not have been more pleased.
And so were we. Adventure was still possible.
Of course, heading out isn't quite the same as it used to be. Before Roxie, we'd point to a map, figure out the logistics, and go. Now, we plan; spontaneity is the first casualty of parenthood. We've learned to pack provisions that take into account every conceivable contingency--hunger, boredom, cancelled flights, rain, mood swings. Then there are concerns about finances--which grow exponentially with family size--as well as the need for activities that accommodate a variety of ages, abilities, and interests. Sometimes it seems easier to just stay home.
But all that planning can become part of the fun. When we took a trip to Saddleback Lake in northern Maine last summer, we filled the living room with the gear we'd be packing--life jackets, baseball mitts, mosquito repellent, and maps. Just the sight of equipment gets the juices going, and anticipation about our trip grew: Roxie got interested in the area's history and geology. If your kids are included from the beginning, they'll have a stake in the outcome.
For us it's worth it--even with the addition of kid number two. We've taken Roxie (now six) and Eli (15 months) to Maine, Florida, Cape Cod, and Colorado--where we went rock climbing at Garden of the Gods. Next summer we're going camping in Arizona with friends and their eight-year-old, and when Eli's older we'll try a horsepacking trip, something I've always dreamed of doing. Neither Bill nor I have spent much time on a horse, but we figure we'll learn to ride the same time the kids do. Traveling with children doesn't have to mean lowering our sights.
As for Roxie, I credit our trips with instilling in her a keen inquisitiveness--along with an abiding interest in bugs. And Eli? I was heartened when he uttered his first word. "Go," he said, as he sped off toward the door. "GO!"
Copyright 1996, Outside magazine