I travel internationally quite frequently, mostly because the nature of the work my husband and I both do, and we try to travel as much as possible as a family with our toddler in tow.
Some people think that sounds like the most amazingly fun thing in the world. Other people think it sounds horrible- constantly on the go with no routine (and how could I do that to a baby, too, they wonder?). In reality in can be both of those things. It can also be incredibly boring.
We always try to take advantage of where work lands us. We spent a lot of time in Jordan last year and made trips to see Petra (a wonder of the world), and lots of cultural heritage sites. We also took a long weekend and traveled to Lebanon on vacation. Whenever we travel to India to see family we make a point of taking a vacation to the beach, mountains, or to visit a new part of India we’ve never seen before. When we travel in South Africa we try to take advantage of long weekends and go hiking, visit the coast, or find other fun things to do (meerkats!) This is when traveling can be fun- when we have and make the time to plan extra vacations and sight-seeing to our work schedules.
On the other hand, it can get tiring constantly being on the go, usually at least every month or so. It requires a lot of time to plan and pack, squeeze in doctor appointments, house stuff, and errands in the usually short time we are in Chicago. We do not have a regular routine. Sometimes my husband works and I stay at home with our toddler, sometimes I work and my husband stays home with her. Sometimes we both work and we have to figure out childcare wherever we are. It can, indeed, be exhausting and we spend a lot of time figuring out logistics and how to make things work.
Right now my husband is back in Lesotho working, so we are staying for just a little less than two weeks in the quiet small dusty mountain down of Ladybrand, South Africa across the border from Maseru, Lesotho. We stay at a lovely little B&B, Cranberry Cottage, in a small one bedroom flat with a kitchen and living area. My typical day is as follows:
– Wake up at 6:30(ish) and we all shower, dress, and get ready for the day
– 7:15am we go to the restaurant for breakfast (fruit and granola, french toast, omelettes, and hard boiled eggs between my husband, daughter, and I)
– 8:00am my husband leaves
– 8:05am I look at my daughter and contemplate what I am going to do with her all day long to drive across the border for work (my toddler and I wave him off after we go through a ritual of helping to “push” the car out of the driveway)
– 8:05-8:15am every day I boil hot water to put in the refrigerator for drinking and (every other day) count all the dirty laundry and dirty cloth diapers (filling out the count sheet they provide) and put them out on the front steps for the laundry to pick up and wash (they return it the same afternoon)
-10am- 10:30am my toddler and I walk around and say hello to the staff at Cranberry Cottage
-10:30am-12:30pm we set out onto the dirt road to perhaps run an errand to pick up some food supplies or toiletries at the grocery store or pharmacy a couple of blocks away, or we might trek a mile (with my daughter strapped to my back) to Living Life Station Cafe where they have yummy food (garden fresh salads with cilantro and pomegranate seeds, pumpkin and zucchini quiches, fresh papaya juice, etc.) and the only place with a semblance of a playground (big outdoor trampoline, tire swings, sand pit, old trailer with little furniture and dolls)
-12:30pm-3:00pm after arriving back home I usually nurse Veda to sleep (she takes about 10 minutes to fall asleep) unless she fell asleep on my back on the way home, in which case I just dump her on the bed. This is my time to catch up with emails, blog, write, take care of stuff back home, pay bills, etc. It goes by quickly.
– 3:00pm stare at my daughter and contemplate what do with her for the next 2-3 hours/ count down the hours until my husband gets back from Lesotho
-3:05-5:00pm play with my daughter (run around outside, chase the ducks, read, go for a walk, say hello to staff again, generally repeat whatever activities we did in the morning that is available to do)
– 5pm my husband usually returns home from Lesotho
-5-6pm we hang out as a family, go for a walk, etc.
– 6pm we either cook dinner or go out for dinner (there are three options: the restaurant at Cranberry, Roberto’s Italian, or JC Chang’s Chinese)
– 7:30- 8:00pm bath time for the toddler
– 8 – 8:30pm story time and nurse my toddler to sleep
-8:30- 10pm hang out with my husband and/or catch up with things I couldn’t finish during my toddler’s nap time, then to bed for us
Sometimes I appreciate how quiet it is here. And I have a lot less to distract me than I do at home. I don’t even have to worry about things think laundry or cleaning or dishes since that is done daily here by the cleaning staff. I have lots of quality time to spend with my quickly growing and changing toddler.
As I write down our typical day here in this sleepy South African town, I realize that it isn’t so much different from life back home in Chicago when I’m not working and staying home with my daughter. But there are some fundamental differences- I don’t have the option of meeting with friends I have there to have some meaningful adult contact (beyond my husband). There aren’t a plethora of options of parks and new and interesting walks to spend lots of fun outdoor time with my daughter. We don’t have the option here (because it doesn’t exist) of bringing her to soccer, creative movement, art and music, tumbling, and swimming classes (all of which she does when we’re home in Chicago).
It can feel isolating at times to travel to remote places not for a leisurely vacation but to keep our family close together as travel for work. It’s not to say there aren’t plenty of friendly faces that I have grown to know during our frequent trips, but it’s not a replacement
for the close friendships I have cultivated over years or decades with friends back home.
But at the same time when we make the decision to travel together as a family, we usually to decide to do so because our idea of providing our daughter with stability and security is having your mom and dad present when she goes to sleep at night and wakes up in the morning. We do often have time on weekends, at least to get away and expose our daughter to new experiences she would never have at home in Chicago.
Last night as my husband and I were both feeling restless we had the same conversation we have every week day night which is something along the lines of: “What should we do tonight?” “I don’t know- what is there to do.” “Nothing.”
He decided to go grab a beer from the B&B bar and returned with it in five minutes or so. He said there were some guys he knew having a beer on the patio. I encouraged him to go have a beer with them while I play with our daughter for a little while.
“No,” he responded. “I’d rather be bored with you than not with you,” he said nonchalantly.”
I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. And I feel the exact same way about my husband and our little family. I love how much time we do get to spend together as a family, regardless of how boring it can sometimes be. Our life style isn’t always perfect or ideal, but it at least is a life filled with lots of love and happiness wherever we find ourselves in the world. And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it? Finding someone you can love to be bored with, because life isn’t always filled with excitement and distractions.