"The volcano!" my two-year-old gasped as she watched a geyser erupt in Yellowstone National Park. Her tiny legs ran down the wooden boardwalk that covered the geothermal ground, eager to find the next wonder. "'Nother one volcano," she shrieked.
Five months ago my husband and I set out on a road trip around the United States with my daughters, who are two and six. Since then the girls have played in 12 national parks, put their toes in both oceans, and climbed on playgrounds in 25 states. It's a shame that they probably won't remember any of it, despite the fact that we're sharing the story with the world on Instagram.
"I visited the Grand Canyon when I was six," a cosmetologist told me recently as she waxed my brows. I interrogated the woman, asking what she remembered, hoping for some reassurance that my daughters might recall our adventures. But I know that I have very few memories from when I was six, and none from when I was two.
My husband and I knew when we set out that the girls might not remember this adventure. Despite that, we hope that the trip provides something more important than memories: experiences that will shape them as they get older, and help define the values that our family holds dear, including:
Since the pandemic began, all kids have had to adapt to changes. In our family, that's looked like moving from a 2,500 square-foot, three-bedroom house to a 32-foot RV. Friends, toys, schools and daycares were all left behind, but my kids have barely noticed, because they're having so much fun exploring the country. In addition to that, the girls also deal with constant changes in scenery and weather as we drive to new places.
Mental health experts are focusing more and more on the importance of resilience, the capacity to bounce back from difficulties. I hope this trip is fostering that in my daughters. I want them to know that they can cope with moving, having fewer toys, and having less space, as long as the people they love are with them.
Living for the moment
Lots of parents wait to travel until their kids are "old enough." Pre-pandemic, Facebook groups for parents had regular discussions about the best time to do trips like Disney: when the kids will most enjoy it (often, younger years), or when they'll remember and appreciate it (generally, when they're older).
It would be great if my kids remembered running from a farting sea lion or walking through a giant sequoia — both trip highlights for them. But there's also something magical about seeing them have those experiences, even if they're fleeting. When my girls look back on pictures from the trip, I hope they recognize there's never a perfect time to have a grand adventure, so they may as well do it now.
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