This story is part of our series, "But Really, How Are You?" where we share first-person essays about real motherhood: the highs, lows and everything in between. Today's piece is by Jessica, a self-proclaimed type B new mom in LA who found herself in Paris in the middle of a toddler meltdown. Sound familiar? Here's her story...
On a charming side street in Paris’ Marais, cafe patrons spilled out onto cobblestone streets. Sultry French purred between sips of wine. Amongst them, my two-year-old flailed her body into feral oblivion while clawing her dad’s face. How did we get here? It’s important to note that he’d suggest she sit in this chair—not that chair—which anyone who is not two-years-old could never understand the implications of. The jovial hum around us quieted as her screams mounted, fat tears rolling down her face—and mine. At that moment, when I felt as small as a baguette crumb, was it worth it to schlep my toddler across continents? It felt like a big juicy no. But toddlers, those sweet and sour, lovable maniacs, have a way of changing your mind.
Last year—thanks to in-laws with roots in Italy—I was lucky enough to spend a month traveling around Italy, north to south, with my one-year-old. This year, with our now two-in-a-half-year-old daughter, we spent two weeks in Paris and Rome. I offer these itinerary details to add some context to my perspective. I need you to know, I have been in the trenches, okay?! Okay. It also feels important to point out something else: travel, anywhere, and at any stage of life, is a massive privilege.
With credibility and gratitude on the table I can get to the crux of this piece: Traveling with toddlers is certifiably bananas. Family, friends, and internet acquaintances alike, warned me that I was impractical and overly optimistic in my quests. They were right! And they were wrong.
"Traveling with toddlers is certifiably bananas."
Here’s what makes it worth it, if you ask me. The concept of the subconscious mind was popularized in 1915 by Sigmund Freud.1 Since then, research continues to show us that “in early childhood, our mind accepts every information as true because there are not yet any existing belief systems based on previous experiences that could contradict the new information. This is how we develop firm beliefs in early childhood that impact us for the rest of our lives. By the age of 6 or 7, we have a set of beliefs that becomes increasingly difficult to change. From that time on, when new information is presented the subconscious evaluates it against existing beliefs, accepting or rejecting it. This is the basis for our perception of the world and explains why the experiences from our early childhood remain the most important factor determining our happiness in life,” Alex Miguel Meyer explained in his recent Medium piece.1
Great, wonderful. As if it wasn’t hard enough to keep your toddler alive, clothed, fed, and moderately mannered, now we’re responsible for shaping their subconscious belief system? It’s a lot to handle. But my better self can also say this: It’s an awesome opportunity to expand the way our children will see the world. When my one-year-old rolled dough beneath her clammy, chubby palms to make pizza in Sardegna, and when she sat wide-eyed as big kids shouted playfully in a new language, and when she devoured escargot next to exquisitely dressed Parisian patrons, and when she saw that fat orange cat saunter down the colorful streets of a tiny Italian village, I knew it was all seeping through the cracks of her brain into her subconscious.
"It moved me to think that showing someone so small—someone so malleable—the bewildering beauty of different cultures is one of the biggest gifts I can give her."
It moved me to think that showing someone so small—someone so malleable—the bewildering beauty of different cultures is one of the biggest gifts I can give her. Of course it doesn’t supersede the love, presence and playfulness that day-to-day life requires, but I like to think of travel as an extra special bonus layer of awareness to give a child. To know the world is vast but our humanity makes us all more alike than different, is a gift. To feel comfortable in foreign settings when you’re just learning to make sense of your existence to begin with, is a gift.
I know she might not remember it, of course, but I will. And the gift of witnessing the diversity of the world, up close, will have done its job by seeping into the thoughts that shape who she will become. It’s enough to almost make me forget the time she stuffed peanuts up her nose on an 11 hour flight that ended in an ambulance trip from LAX to the ER. All’s well that ends well, as they say.
Written by Jessica Lopez. Jessica Lopez is a freelance writer, digital content creator, and new mother. She has covered all lifestyle topics ranging from bridal to beauty for publications including Brides Magazine, Byrdie, THE/THIRTY, and more. Walking wide-eyed into motherhood has inspired her to connect with other parents through her writing and shared experience. You can follow more of her journey @Jessica.H.Lopez.
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