“Flourishing Fiercely” is the theme this year for a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group at Community Bible Church, which recently invited me to visit and speak about “Traveling Fiercely, Not Fearfully.” One of the organizers follows me on social media and has seen how my kids and I go lots of places together; she hoped I could offer insight and encouragement for MOPS moms who are facing their fears about traveling and visiting places around town with their kids. This blog post is adapted from my discussion with these fierce moms.
What motivates me to go out with my kids so much? It’s my drive to keep learning. In T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, Merlin counsels the future King Arthur:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin…”is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails.”
It’s worth facing your fears because going out into the world opens up so many opportunities for learning.
While preparing my slides for the MOPS presentation, I looked back through photos from when my kids were very young. (My son, F.T., is eight years old now, and my daughter, G.N., is five.) I found a picture of F.T. just as he was starting to master walking. He quickly developed more energy than we could contain in our little house.
F.T. and I would walk around the block and take breaks to sit in a neighbor’s porch swing. One time, he broke another neighbor’s wind chime, but when we apologized and offered to replace it, she was very gracious about it.
As F.T. got bigger and developed more stamina, our walks took us to the neighborhood library and playground. We have many happy memories of playing there, and it’s still a favorite spot to meet friends and stock up on books.
As my kids have grown and developed their own interests, I have gotten in the habit of using social media, especially Heather‘s weekly San Antonio Scoop posts, to find interesting, family-friendly activities. I really appreciate it when museums, gardens, the symphony, etc., put out the welcome mat for families. I know my kids won’t be the only young people there, and I won’t feel as much pressure to constantly correct their behavior.
A mom at the MOPS meeting asked a good question: “What if my son just wants to stay home?” She mentioned that her son enjoys playing with LEGO bricks; I recommended that she look for LEGO-related activities. Also, she could plan their itinerary to include a treat, like a raspa or paleta.
One of my biggest fears used to be strangers coming up to me and criticizing my kids. It seemed to happen to us a lot when my kids were younger, probably because my kids are unusually tall, so people tended to judge their behavior by how old they looked, not by their real age. However, if you develop a good mindset for dealing with strangers’ criticism, then it will not slow you down.
Here are my steps for dealing with criticism. First, how mad are they? Think about safety, and try to defuse the situation. Then, ask yourself if you or your kids really did something wrong. For example, if I accidentally cut in line, then I will sincerely and profusely apologize. (Even if you didn’t actually do something wrong, search for find something kind to say.) Then, try to look at it from their point of view. Maybe they are having a bad day, or their kids are grown now and they’ve forgotten what it was like. Even if they are being unreasonable, try to treat them with grace. Finally, when it’s time to move on, stop criticizing yourself. Don’t go over the situation in your mind wondering what you could have done differently; just go have fun with your kids, and let go of your worries.
The MOPS moms testified about facing their fears: for example, going shopping with a toddler and a newborn. When her little one got hungry, she sat down in the baby section and nursed. She felt awkward, and the nursing cover was not staying put. However, strangers came up to her to offer kind words and support. Sometimes, the people you need are put in your path, and going to the store with a hungry newborn turned out to be a positive experience after all.
The more places we go, the more my kids learn the etiquette of different places. A couple of years ago, I started taking my kids to San Antonio Symphony Family Concerts. Last month, they went to a full-length concert and enjoyed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Yes, my kids have accidentally set off the security alarms at various art museums, and no, I didn’t die of embarrassment. Once the security guards see it’s a child and not a thief, they usually nod and move on. Or, if your child accidentally touches the art, then you have to tell them what happened, for the insurance claim. Then there was that time F.T.’s shoelace got stuck in the escalator…
Having the right gear makes visiting places with your kids easier. Strollers have their place, especially for airports, but for day-to-day use I preferred to wear G.N. in a sling or backpack so I could go running after F.T. if he went up stairs or over bumpy paths. The MOPS moms had good gear recommendations, such as wearing a sling with a built-in purse to carry your stuff, or carrying a cute backpack that comes with necessities like a changing pad.
Healthy routines save energy and give you the freedom to explore. We try to stick to the usual meal schedule when we are out, which helps keep everyone happy. Speaking of gear, we have a stash of lunchboxes and reusable picnic supplies for road snacks. Michelle has tips for choosing a lunchbox and packing healthy lunches.
As my kids and I explore the San Antonio, we tend to go to a familiar anchor point and then branch out. For example, I have a few favorite parking garages downtown, where I know how to navigate the one-way streets to get there, and I know which attractions are within walking distance. For safety, we either use the buddy system or let someone know where we are going.
When it come to road tripping, a MOPS mom said that when she’s driving to Houston, she either leaves at 4:30 A.M. or 2:00 P.M. so that her kids can sleep on the way. Good plan.
Denise has great tips about traveling with kids. Over the summer, my kids and I took two trips by air. My advice for entertainment while flying is to go low-tech, and bring a stash of fidgety toys and doodling books. Without electronics in the way, we experienced more of the people and places we visited. (However, as Jill discussed, your mileage may vary.)
At the MOPS meeting, a mom asked a good question: Is it a good idea to try to break a bad habit while traveling? The consensus was: “Too risky.” When traveling, kids need some familiar things, such as a lovey or a water bottle, to ease the transition. Even if kids are having a good time overall, they can still get homesick. I recommend using a trip as an opportunity to establish good habits, such as going outside for walks, playing old-fashioned card games together, or lingering over family meals.
If you’ve been feeling afraid of going places with your kids, I hope these tips from me and the MOPS moms at Community Bible Church will help you go out there and travel fiercely. Think of all the new experiences you and your kids will enjoy together!