Miserable, frustrated, unfulfilled moms are definitely not the best role models for their kiddos.
Since my own childhood, I have been drawn almost magnetically to travel, yet I grew up in a family where travel was seen as a luxury for the privileged, and certainly not as a responsible option for a full-time lifestyle. Fast forward one divorce and a few years later, I took a leap of faith, left suburbia behind, followed my heart, and I am now a full-time travel writer living in the Andes of Patagonia who gets to take my kids with me on many adventure-travel assignments all over the world.
My kids see me tapped into my passion, now full of life, a mom who looks forward to every new day. They see me living a life authentic to my interests, one that makes me feel alive, and they know I will not ever again settle for anything less. They also know that I will not accept less for them. Whether their passion is painting or archaeology, skiing or journalism, my traveling has given my kids a solid example of how it is possible, necessary, and expected at any stage of life to pursue their own passion with a vengeance.
In my experience, US kids in general are not exactly known for their impressive geography skills. Most have never been outside of the US, and all too many couldn’t place South Africa or Peru on a map if their life depended on it. Also, it is my opinion that kids are born naturally curious and open, yet parents who raise their kids in a bubble soon end up with children who learn to fear anyone who isn’t just like them and their clone neighbors.
Other countries and cultures are relevant and vivid to my children. When I go on assignment to Costa Rica, it gives us a great opportunity to talk about where it is, what the culture is like, and how the country is politically and economically. My kids will always remember that Costa Rica has both a big coffee industry and a focus on organic agriculture because I brought home about 25 bags of organic coffee from my last trip. It becomes memorable to them geographically that Uruguay is on the coast when we spent time together learning to surf there. When my kids plant in our garden quinoa and corn seeds gifted to them by an indigenous woman in Bolivia, Bolivian food culture becomes incredibly relevant and not just a quiz question in social studies class in school.
Traveling expands their world and what they are exposed to. The more they walk the earth, the more people they will meet – many of different races, religions, sexual orientation, and traditions. Travel has helped my kids see themselves not just as “American’ or “white” or “middle class,’ but as world citizens, walking just one of many possible paths in life, and has helped to give them the ability to interact with anyone, anywhere, with a curious and open mind.
There’s nothing like ending up in a shanty town of the Amazon with two lost bank cards, a grand total of three pesos left, and no way to call home or get online, to make you get creative and quickly work together as a team. My kids and I have dealt with being temporarily homeless in Argentina, having our dog shot point blank by a hardcore gaucho, and we’ve stood in the pouring rain for hours as we’ve waited for hitchhiking rides together. We’ve been pet like animals simply for having light hair, and we’ve been at dinners together where we don’t speak a word of the language everyone else speaks. We’ve crashed, cuddled up, on flea-ridden couches.
We are the Browns, and that’s how we have consciously decided to roll — full on, open-hearted, and open-minded into whatever crazy situation life presents us with.
In the end, we laugh. We have stories. We realize that no situation that we end up in is the end of the world. We know that together we can handle anything, and that we always have the choice to turn the ‘bad’ into nothing more than part of a grand adventure.
When I was raising my kids in white, rich suburbia, it was all too easy to get dragged into the idea that they should turn 18, go to a reputable college that would wipe out my savings, get a good job, marry well, then have kids (one boy, one girl — Tyler and Madison, or some equally socially acceptable names).
Then I traveled. I realize that the world is really big and full of infinite possibilities, some of which are way cooler than the study-work-marry-procreate-die scenario. I realize that my kids can learn so much on the road, and if they want to skip traditional university for a few years backpacking on the road, so be it. I will be their biggest cheerleader. If they instead want to start a surf shop in Ecuador or work with an heirloom seed bank in Chile or learn acupuncture in China, they will have the contacts to do so. And if they want to do the traditional college-work route, at least I can relax knowing that through our travels they have learned to question and to observe, and should have the presence of mind to know if their souls are being sucked or if they are actually on the right path for themselves.
While my kids will grow up to do whatever they want to do, I expect that in a few short years they just might be strewn all over the world. My travels have shown them that the entire world awaits them if they want, and I think that their spirits are too big to be contained, even by our current home of wild Patagonia. My son currently has aspirations to be a mountain guide in Alaska or Antarctica. My eldest daughter I can envision being the powerful CEO of her own clothing design company in Milan or Paris or London. And my middle daughter will probably run away with the circus in Romania, accompanied by her troupe of mangy street animals she rescued along the way.
So the fact that we are all under the same roof for now is most likely a temporary luxury. I know that I need to appreciate every short-lived moment we have of eating heart- or dragon-shaped pancakes in the morning together. Someday soon it might seem like a miracle if we can arrange to share one meal a year under the same roof. I love it that they still get excited when we go on beach trips together, because I know full well that one day I might get replaced by some hot surfer boyfriend or free-spirited kayaker girlfriend who they would prefer to travel with. For now, I enjoy what I can get, because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring; I trust that I have raised spunky and curious kids who will leave the house with a fierce independence and self-confidence to go explore the world, not needing mommy at every turn.
To all of you saintly moms out there who wake up with an effortless Colgate smile, jumping out of bed to prepare a huge, time-consuming breakfast for grateful children all before you take time for your own cup of coffee, who actually enjoy putting in 400 miles a week in the minivan between play dates, soccer games, and piano lessons, all while joyfully listening to at high volume whatever teeny-bopper popstar crap is the new big thing on the radio: I am not you. You fascinate me, you kind of scare me a little, but one thing I do know is that we are not cut from the same cloth.
From time to time, I get burned out by 24-7 mommyhood. I can just imagine some of the haughty and self-righteous comments from ‘supermoms’ I will receive for actually writing that sentence. I love my kids with all my heart, to the moon and back, but, damn, sometimes it’s best for all of us if I get a little break. A few days mountain climbing is all it takes for me to come rushing home, wanting nothing more out of life once again than to snuggle my kids and watch some horridly mindless movie in bed together eating popcorn, with buttery kid hands always somehow getting rubbed onto my down comforter. And I love it, because I realize that no matter how many mind-blowingly amazing places around the world I visit, nothing will ever beat home and kid snuggles.