Why I won’t wait until my kid is “old enough” to travel

Adult and child standing in front of Notre Dame in Paris on vacation

At the risk of sounding like a terrible human being, one of my first thoughts when I heard about the fire at Notre Dame in Paris was relief. Of course I was concerned about the safety of those in and around the famous cathedral, of course I was heartbroken at the loss of so much history; I just could not help feeling thankful that we had been lucky enough to visit the cathedral two years ago with our son.

There is a big question when it comes to travelling with kids: what’s the point if they don’t remember? Why spend thousands of dollars on something they won’t even care about three years from now? Why go through the tantrums, the headaches, the complaints of “my feet hurt” and “I’m bored” when you can stay home and listen to all of that in the comfort of your own home? They’re not going to remember anyway.

Because maybe all of parenting isn’t about the kids. I know it’s radical but stay with me here. Doing things for ourselves makes us better parents. And doing things as a family brings us together. Whether it’s visiting the museum that’s 5 minutes down the road or a multi-country European vacation, there’s value in going somewhere new.

Does my son remember seeing some old church? No. Does he remember the delicious brioche we ate on the park bench on the way over? No. Does he remember the sunshine and the smiles? Maybe not specifically. But I do.

I remember how he walked all over Paris with barely any complaints. I remember his eyes dancing as he watched his gelato being shaped into a flower as big as his head. I remember his nervousness and excitement at touring Marie Curie’s now decontaminated laboratory. Yes, I even remember considering not waiting in the long line to get into Notre Dame, because kids, but doing it anyway because Paris and making the wait fun. I remember watching him learning and growing as a human being. I remember watching the little pieces falling into place, shaping the adult he will one day be.

As much as he doesn’t remember the details, he learns something every time we venture somewhere new. Maybe I’m trying to justify my own selfishness, but I truly believe that travel changes us, even if we’re too young to remember in what way.

I know that I am so fortunate to be able to take my son places and give him experiences. I don’t take it for granted. Life happens– beautiful cathedrals burn and are forever changed, people die, and kids grow up. And waiting until my kid can remember it isn’t always an option. One day, he’ll go back with his own kids and that will be his moment to remember. Until then, I have beautiful photos to show him and fun stories to tell him. And maybe that’s selfish of me, but I’m going to cherish it.

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Milling day at Morningstar Mill

Up until recently, Morningstar Mill has best been known to me as the place to park to get to Decew Falls. Sure, we have stopped in and checked out the mill quickly before or after our hike, and found it quite adorable, but I had no idea that they still operated the mill. And I certainly didn’t know that it was open to the public and that you could receive your very own fresh milled flour for a small donation to the mill.

Most people who come to Niagara Falls come for, well, the Falls. And I understand why. I love to ride my bike down during the off season when the crowds have gone home. It’s beautiful. But the problem with coming for the Falls is getting trapped in the tourist areas and never venturing out to see what the Niagara region truly has to offer. Niagara is a great place to visit by car: an original honeymoon road trip destination. And a car gives you the freedom to escape and appreciate the scenery. Places like Morningstar Mill.

Milling was posted to start at 11am, and we arrived just after, not certain what to expect or how long it would last. The parking lot was full but many were parking on the street- just be sure to look for no parking signs! The parking lot is on the small side so it’s always good to go early or expect to walk — even when it’s not milling day.

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The grist mill was rebuilt in 1872 and houses all of its original machinery. A fun fact that we learned while touring is that while the original sifter is up in the attic on display, they had to encase a new one (which looks to be much like the original, just that it’s encased) because flour dust is explosive! If you start on the main floor, you can see the grain coming down the shoot from the attic before you head downstairs to watch it come out of the sifter.

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The original sifting equipment housed in the attic

It was especially neat to see the turbine turning in the attached shed. The mill still uses the moving water to grind the flour, which my kiddo found fascinating.

On milling days the home of the Morningstar family is also open to tour. The house was completely restored, the only thing that was changed during restoration were the walls to accommodate the electrical work and sprinkler system. K and I had fun glimpsing historic versions of modern items.

The blacksmith shop was also open. I have to admit we spent the least amount of time there…. I think K was afraid he would get put to work making nails!

Before we left we had to come home with some freshly milled flour and bran! We were given a brochure with a few of their recipes to try out with our flour. K helped me double the bran muffin recipe and decided to add peaches, blueberries, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg to it while subbing half the sugar for maple syrup – talk about delicious! We made over 3 dozen, enough to share and freeze for another day.

The next milling date is September 23, 2017. Be sure to check their Facebook page as it is dependent on water levels. I suggest bringing cash so that you can leave a donation; $4 a bag of flour is their suggested donation.

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Travelling with gifted kids

Travelling with a gifted kid may seem like something only someone intent on punishing themself would do. Between overexcitabilities and the fact they these kids never seem to turn off, it’s difficult to just make it through the day. When would you even have the time to plan a vacation when you’re parenting a gifted kiddo?!

But what if I told you that travel can be an amazing experience for a family of overexcitable, never stop thinking, over-wired brains? You just need to approach it differently.

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Admiring the Louvre’s collections

 

Prepare Expectations

We are a family of overthinkers. We mull over the littlest things for hours. So after all of that thinking, sometimes plans don’t meet the expectations of overzealous imaginations. (Prime example: my 4 year old ordered “honeycomb” gelato and was severely disappointed that it was not a Winnie-the-Pooh style ice cream in an actual honeycomb.) It can be a big letdown. Or, on the flip side, we get stressed about the details. This is why it’s a good idea for everyone to be involved with planning. I’ve involved my son with the planning of vacations since his first plane ride at 3 months. Yup, I sat and rambled to a 3 month old all about airplanes and planning and itineraries. At first it was mostly because I was bored and needed someone to talk to. But you know what? It works. Now I make sure I tell my son as much as I can about what we’re planning so he has an idea of what to expect. We look at pictures, watch videos, and get books from the library about the places we’ll be visiting. We even watch ride videos before trips to Disney, and no, it doesn’t ruin the magic. What ruins the magic is a 3 year old refusing to go on any more rides because of that scary thing they didn’t know was going to pop out at them.

Know when to walk away, and when to stick it out

I know, you paid all that money and came all this way. But sometimes, that thing you thought would be oh so fun is really just too overstimulating and loud and crowded. Sometimes, all of the preparations in the world can’t overcome those overexcitabilities. If at all possible, leave and come back. Get some air, let little ears readjust, and take a deep breath. Take a minute to talk it out logically. “I know, my ears feel a little buzzy and it makes my head spin when there are so many people and sounds too! But I really wanted to see that exhibit, maybe if we focus on that one display, it won’t seem so loud.” “Yikes, that dragon sure is scary, but you know, it’s just pretend. It actually took a whole team of scientists and engineers to make it! Maybe if we go in, instead of being scared, we can try to figure out how they did it?” Then, try again. But if it still doesn’t work, and it’s causing a meltdown, walk away. It’s not worth it.

What about those times when you just know in your heart that your kid will love it and just needs a little encouragement? Try to find a way to encourage them to stick it out! Draw their attention to a single detail so they can take one thing in at a time instead of being overwhelmed and finding it all to be too much. Sometimes, all it takes is for them to see mom and dad being confident for them to gain a bit of bravery too!

Don’t make promises

Just don’t do it. Promises have never helped a parent ever. It could rain. A ride could shut down. An exhibit could be closed. Prepare them that the unexpected could happen. And try to model appropriate behaviour when things go wrong. Taking a wrong turn or getting on the wrong train isn’t the end of the world. Laugh it off. It’s an adventure.

Pick something just for them

You can’t expect any kid to just go along and do everything mom and dad want to do all day every day for a week. Make sure the whole family is taking turns and gets to do a “must-do”. Maybe your kiddo loves trains, or science, or art, or literature. Find something unique that you think they’ll love.

Enough with the hard, why travelling with gifted kids is the best!

I think in some ways, I may have it easier travelling with my kid than most parents do with similarly aged kiddos. For one, his reasoning skills are high for his age in most cases. I can usually explain to him why he needs to stay with mommy, or why we can’t do something that we hoped. He was an early reader, which meant I didn’t really have to entertain him while travelling after he was 2. I just give him headphones and a book and bam! Mama can nap. He loves to learn, so bringing him to art galleries and museums is always a winning activity. And if there’s an audio guide, ha! We’re laughing. Always get the audio guide, even if it’s just a scavenger hunt for your kids to find the numbers and press them! On our last vacation I had a chance to observe kids who were and weren’t given audio guides, and my unofficial statistic is that kids with audioguides are more engaged.

My son needs the perfect balance of physical activity and mental stimulation which is always difficult to get at home. But when we’re travelling, he’s walking and learning and guess what… he actually sleeps like a log! Plus, vacation is the one time that I don’t mind that he doesn’t sleep as long as his age mates. It means I don’t have to worry about getting back to the hotel for nap time or an early bed time, and we have more time for sight seeing. Who knew that lack of sleep could have a benefit somewhere? Plus, there’s no laundry or cleaning or cooking to take care of, so we can focus on just being together as a family. And that is priceless.

This blog is a part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop: Travelling with the Gifted/Intense. Please click here or on the image below to follow along!


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Learning on the road

I am always surprised when I hear about how controversial it is to pull kids out of school for a family vacation. I understand the importance of good school attendance, and maybe my view of school is a little different from someone who had to work hard to succeed (a challenge I wish I had been given!), but I feel like family vacations are just so necessary on so many levels.

Life today is so fast paced and full of stress. It isn’t unusual for parents to work more than 8 hours, and then come home and have emails and phone calls to catch up on. Kids even have their own busy little lives, with lessons and practices and all sorts of extracurriculars that have become almost a requirement of childhood. So for a family to be able to get away and enjoy some quality time together is, in my opinion, invaluable.

And here’s the thing, while kids may not be sitting in a desk and learning the required curriculum, they are definitely still learning. There are so many new experiences that ask young brains to adapt, and quickly. They meet new people, gain new social skills, and learn how to adapt to a new environment. It makes them malleable. Kids’ brains need novelty and fun, and what’s a better to way to get those things than a vacation?

And the thing is, we do so much learning when we’re not at home. But it’s natural learning, which I think sticks in children’s brains much better than rote learning or learning something abstractly. Time and money always come up while travelling, and it’s easy to involve kids with keeping to a schedule and budget. When you visit a new locale, discussions about geography and climate and even the animals come up. For instance, we’re seeing lots of lizards that we just don’t find back home. And, we had a visit from some bird friends which fascinated K.

He sat and watched them until they were out of sight, and noticed that they seemed to be eating. “They’re probably going to look for a little lizard,” he concluded as they walked away. Just having that momentary relationship with a creature he wouldn’t normally see is so great. He very rarely watches the birds at home, but because these birds were different from the cardinals and doves and blue jays he’s used to seeing, they held his attention and he experienced a connection with the natural world he wouldn’t have had ordinarily.

My son has been in swimming lessons since he was 2, and we do make an effort to go to the pool often, but there is a big difference between a half hour trip to a pool and a day spent going in and out of it. He has always been confident in water, but there’s something about being able to get a full day in the pool in that really pushes swimming skills along! He was diving in the 4 ft water for his dive sticks! I am a huge believer in kids needing to know how to swim and how to be safe around water, and there is no better way than just being around it.

And then, if you have a child like mine, you just may bust out the homework. When we found out that we’d be homeschooling K I ordered Beast Academy for him after hearing amazing things about it. It came the day before we left for vacation and he was so excited because, “Mom, we can bring it with us!!” So we did. Bringing it out meant a few more minutes of sunshine and relative relaxation for me, so hey, do what you have to do, right?

‘Cause I mean, if you’re going to do math, why not do it by a pool surrounded by palm trees? And, when you’re in a fun atmosphere, it makes learning so much more fun! We were learning about angles, and since we didn’t have much to work with, decided we could make angles with our bodies. Hello, physical education!

Kids may not remember the vacations you bring them on when they’re young, but it sets a foundation for them for the rest of their lives. And the more often kids get brought places, the easier it is to bring them places. K even received so many compliments on his behaviour. He just can’t be cranky when there’s so much novel fun around!

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