Travelling as a family: Participating

Let’s travel the world. With our kid. How awesome will that be??
He’s well travelled and travels well. It’s a low risk proposition.

Turns out our kid is a right arsehole. Or possibly a better way of putting it is that he’s not adapting well to the change and is taking it out on mom and dad.

Those who know Austin know that he is energetic, strong minded and has no issue with sharing every thought that crosses through his mind with every man, woman and child in his path. He is a highly spirited child, and despite our best efforts at being conscientious parents, he has no recognition that there is any hierarchy among adults and children. And that means he has an opinion on what we’re doing and where we’re doing it – and he sees no problem with insisisting upon it. And for the last several weeks, if that hasn’t involved doing exactly what his Id has wanted to do, he’s been a dick about it.

I get it. It was hard for him to watch us moving out of our home and putting things into storage. It’s hard enough for us to imagine a year untethered, much less a 6 year old trying to put his head around it. The food, the language, the places — all unfamiliar and new. I understand that this is, and will be, hard.

We have deliberately built in time for activities that he would like. We have given him full control of some of the family choices we’ve made. We tried a reward system, bribery and punishment. We tried reasoning with him, making demands of him, and appealing to any shred of consideration for others that might exist within him.

Nothing. Still a demon child.

One night I had enough of his whining and attacking everything we did or said, and in a moment I instantly regretted, I put my head in my hands and told him he had made me wish we had never gone on this trip. It was a low point of motherhood.

Thank god Mark is a calming influence, and he managed to talk us both down. (He does this a lot, and yes, mother, I can hear you laughing from here about how I’m getting back just what I dished out as a child because we’re exactly alike.)

That night we had a cheesy family talk about respect, teamwork, love, consideration, kindness, thoughtfulness and any other nice word we could think of. We pinky swore a family oath that we would treat each other with kindness, love, respect and consideration, and created a safe word that we could use to call out one another if anyone wasn’t demonstrating these qualities to one another.

Believe it or not, that started to work. He didn’t entirely snap out of it, and now he had a new word to spit at us when he wasn’t getting his way, but something got through to him. He started being that little bit nicer, and the frequency at which he would turn red and lash out to us reduced to about 60% of the time down from about 90% of the time.

He even showed the most heartwarming kindness to me yet when, after my lunch failed to arrive at the airport and we didn’t have time to wait any longer for it, he bought one of his favourite bread rolls with his last 5 lira — just for me.

But the real reward came earlier that morning. The day before, we had been out walking around in Istanbul and he had spotted two young boys pushing a heavy cart up a hill, overflowing with ears of corn. They were working hard, but not complaining — just doing their job. One would have been about 10 and the other no more than Austin’s age himself.

As a privileged Western kid, he’s never known work – picking up your legos while watching SpongeBob after you’ve been asked 27 times to do so doesn’t count. These two boys made an impression on him, and he had a lot of questions. Why were they pushing the cart? Wasn’t it heavy? Why did they have to work? Was it hard for them? I answered his questions as sympathetically as I could, without lecturing, and I could see him pondering over it. When he goes quiet (which isn’t very often) you know he’s thinking things through.

The next morning as we were leaving our hotel, we had decided to walk the 7 minutes to the Metro station to get to the airport, rather than fight the hideous traffic we had seen on our way in. Since Mark (still) hasn’t bought his backpack, we (still) have one large suitcase that we’re lugging around that is awkward and heavy. We had packed it full to accommodate Qatar Airways baggage rules, and it was not an easy suitcase to manoeuvre.

Austin insisted on pulling it the whole way to the Metro station. Up hill, and genuine hard work. It was a chilly morning, and he even broke a sweat. I offered to take it from him several times, and each time he said, “No, Mumma, I can do the work.”

I knew then why he was doing it.

It was a moment of compassion and generosity in a six year old boy who, up to that point, had been making a sport out of making everyone around him miserable. He had opened his eyes to see other children in the world and compared it to his own situation. He connected with them without ever speaking to them, or even having been told that he should consider himself lucky. He didn’t stand off to the side thinking how grateful he is that it’s not him who had to push that cart up that hill. He didn’t feel sorry for them and then throw money at the problem. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and participated.

This is why we brought our 6 year old son on a round the world journey. Not to observe with pity, but to learn, understand, connect and to be inspired. We brought him to participate in the world, and finally, he’s doing just that.

About the author: Shalena

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