A mother’s reflection on her four year old’s year abroad…
I can’t count the number of times Lil-Sis has said,
“I want to go back to Phillyadelphia.”
It’s become one of her standards, right up there with
“You’re not the boss of me.”
“You’re not my mommy anymore.”
and, my personal favorite,
“You’re the best mommy in the world.”
We thought she’d eventually stop asking, “When are we going back to Phillyadelphia?”, and though there were periods when she didn’t mention going home, it crept up periodically, sometimes turning into a righteous demand, “Take me back to Phillyadelphia NOW!”
The kid had a valid concern and she wasn’t getting an acceptable response. She was far from home in places she didn’t ask to go. She’s too young to understand concepts of time like weeks or months, so how is she to grasp that this is just a trip and not the rest of her life? Kids her age live in the now, which is why they masterfully pull us into the present, and why we cannot reason with them beyond the moment.
Thankfully, we also heard her often say,
“Can we come back here again tomorrow?”
“I like this kinda place.”
“People here are so nice.”
“Are we going to a new land?”
and, fortunately or unfortunately,
“yay! they have chicken nuggets!”
She longs for the comfort and familiarity of her house, her toys, her foods, her family and friends, but she also knows a good time and good people when she sees them no matter where she is, even in faraway Asia. Lil-Sis’s conflicting desires, to go home and to enjoy exploring with her family, make perfect sense, and in her 4 y/o honesty, she calls it as she feels it.
“doesn’t anybody speak English around here?”
We are proud to announce the accomplishments of our youngest traveler: She finally swims. She has played with the same 3 small toys for 9 months. She can play with found objects, trash, branches, and more. She has slept well in 42 different beds. She can sit in a restaurant 3 times a day for weeks straight. She can eat random meat on a stick sold on the street. She can play with children who don't speak English. She is less afraid of strangers. She expects most people to have dark skin. She can sing at the top of her lungs anywhere in any country. She's not embarrassed to be topless at the beach. She can meditate for a whopping 3 minutes. She signs her own immigration card. She climbed up a waterfall. Oh, I'm sorry, am I bragging?
Our petite, peanut-butter-eating princess became unhinged more often than we’d like to admit, and when she fell apart, it wasn’t long before the rest of us spiraled, too. But she was also the glue that bound us together for a common cause, because we feared few things as much as sending her off the deep end. The locals never made us feel self-conscious when she hit rock bottom, fussing at the top of her lungs. We’ve never gotten annoyed glares here like the looks I’ve endured in supermarket checkout lines back home.
She reeled in the locals with her curls and her songs (as opposed to her manners), making it much easier for us to connect with people. It wasn’t uncommon for her to attract an entourage of Asian teen girls or older folks. She spent the first half of the trip passively agreeing to smile for their cameras, allowing them to fix her clothes or brush the hair out of her eyes, but as she became a more savvy traveler, she started denying them her attentions and playing shy. Her favorite place on the whole trip was Melaya, Bali, where she won the heart of a very special Balinese woman, Kadek, who had her permission to hug and kiss her endlessly.
As we viewed ourselves as guests in these countries, we encouraged our kids to be friendly in ways that our host culture expected, even if those ways pushed us a bit out of our comfort zones. In Thailand, if an old woman thinks a child is cute, she takes it upon herself to reach out and touch. We never found the attention to be threatening or inappropriate, just different from what we were used to. From a mother’s perspective, the local interest in my children made me feel safer. There was always someone with smiling eyes asking me how old they were, crouching down to get a better look, and curiously touching one of their arms or hands, or in some cases even hugging them. If Lil-Sis was dead set against the attention, everyone around her knew it, so there was rarely a need to intervene by telling a local not to touch. My older two, Maddie and Bro, really enjoyed the friendliness, and have happily taken to returning a “hello” in whatever language wherever we are, with a smile.
From her curiosity in Hindu offerings to her openness with local children, Lil-Sis showed us the beauty of travel with young ones. From her finicky eating to her bug bites, she showed us the challenge of travel with young ones. She made us work harder. She helped us experience the kindness of SE Asia. She taught us how important unstructured time is.
she may be coming home, but Watch out world, she’s onto you.
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