Category Archives: Coming Home

Our trip by the numbers

31 countries

358 days

141 different beds

20,532,375 collective steps

10,537.1 miles walked

3 Doctors, 2 of which spoke English

17 familiar faces over the course of the year

27 flights

10 types of transportation (airplanes, rental cars, boats, vans, buses, scooters, tuk tuks, bikes, camels, elephants)

4 backpacks

4 day packs

3 brushes with the law

1 theft

countless kind people

 

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A tribute to two amazing travelers

In hindsight, I realize that the question, “Do you have yellow?” was the only consistent inquiry throughout the trip.

Yellow is Molly’s blanket that has been an important part of our lives from around the time Molly turned one.  Yellow has a preschool education that she obtained by attending classes with Molly, has suffered the indignity of spending a long afternoon and evening in a rag bag before being rescued and delivered back home late at night by a fellow mother who understood her importance and has now traveled around the world.

We left over 140 places in the course of our year and as I reflect back I marvel that it was the only consistent question.  You see, I’ve been one of “those” helicopter mothers; the type — in spite of criticism by both self and others – that have a habit of hovering and rescuing.  However, the ongoing question of “do you have yellow?” seems to be one of the few surviving remnants of that habit to survive our yearlong journey.

While the constant togetherness could have re-enforced the habit, it had the exact opposite effect.  You see, witnessing, on an ongoing and consistent basis how very capable my children are, the habit naturally fell by the wayside.  It was amazing to watch as their good judgment, responsible behavior and ability to keep track of both themselves and all their stuff never wavered.

They seemed to instinctively know when to stick close, take a hand or when it was safe to wander.  They remembered to remove their pedometers before swimming while Dan and I both unceremoniously drowned ours.  They faced down extremely long travel days, boredom, confusion, uncertainty, scary situations and weird food (and sometimes no food) without complaint.

While we had set up all sorts of systems to keep them safe, including wearing whistles, secretly stashed cash, money belts with contact cards and copies of emergency documents and even walkie talkies, they never once needed to rely on their back up systems.  Instead they kept their wits about them.

They showed such grace and responsibility that we eventually felt comfortable leaving them in apartments, hostels, guest houses and hotels all over the world while we went for groceries or out for a run, knowing that they would know how to deal with an emergency, even without knowing the language.

They did math, research and read copiously without being asked, often going way beyond anything we would have suggested, like the time Theo taught himself the hieroglyphic alphabet so that he could “read” the things we were seeing and wondering about.

I kid you not when I say we NEVER nagged them to do their math.  Instead, as we drove or rode along, they would pull out their work and start doing it long before it occurred to us to ask them to.

They learned to curb their impatience, grouchy feelings and tempers. Molly even learned how to deal with hormone induced mood swings by calmly stating that she felt upset, impatient or sad, and was best left alone for the time being.  (Left alone being relevant as she was often only able to obtain a bit of psychic space since there was often no physical space to be had.)

In other words, Molly and Theo were amazing travelers and companions, doing their part to make the year, on a scale of one to ten, an eleven.  So, while I may no longer be one of “those” helicopter mothers, it occurs to me that I now sound like one of “those” mothers who brag.   Always something to work on!

And just for the record, Yellow made it back to Denver, well traveled, still well loved and a bit less yellow!

A gift of a year

(Written at the end of August)

Summer slipped away in a blur of not much.  And as Theo and Molly leave each morning for school it feels like the door of our extended time together, opened still a crack through the summer, finally closed.  And I am saddened by it.

As we planned our trip we made a conscious decision to arrive home in the early summer, giving ourselves time to re-assimilate, and it is with a heavy heart that I realize that time has come to an end.  It also brings to question, what exactly does it mean to re-assimilate?

My children laugh as I repeat my elevator speech, as people continue to ask about the trip:

It was absolutely awesome.  Not perfect, not utopia, but awesome.  On a scale of one to ten, it was an eleven.  The sheer magnitude of what we saw and experienced; the people, the history, the architecture, the art, the culture, the ways of living, the natural beauty, the schools, the housing, the ancient sites and emerging modern world, the hamlets, villages, towns, cities and metropolises, the churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship, both the sadness and the joy, the majesty and the destruction, the natural and man made beauty, the celebration and destruction of the environment, the cities underground and soaring to the sky… the list goes on and on.  These are the things that made the trip a 10.  However, what made the trip an 11, was the concentrated time spent together.  That was the real gift of the trip.

And it is that gift that I miss most.

Our concentrated time to together really ended as we stepped off the plane in Denver on May 27 and began integrating back into our lives in Denver.  The pull in many different directions began instantly, as did the luxury of a house that has space enough so that we don’t all always have to be in the same room.

Dan returned to work within days of our arrival and June was a blur, made more so when Bob, my mom’s partner of 20 years and grandfather to Molly and Theo, entered the last painful weeks of hospice before succumbing to the cancer that was diagnosed 3 months into our trip.  Bob’s death further immersed us with a sense of struggling through goodbyes and hellos.

As the summer wore on, we delighted in being in one place, seeing familiar faces and reconnecting with friends and family.  However, we also dealt with the sadness of saying goodbye to a loved one and to a year of being together.

As the door that was held open a tiny crack closes, I can’t help but evaluate what we’ve been able to keep in our daily lives from our adventure and what new perspectives we bring to our lives.  But I’ll save that for another blog because for today, I’m just sad to see the extended time together really and truly end.

On Re-entry and Childhood, By Molly

Not surprisingly, re-entry to the USA has been a bit of a culture shock for many reasons. There were countless things, both positive and negative, that we’d forgotten the feeling of entirely! Even after being back a few months, I am often surprised by how different the US is from anywhere else.

But one of the biggest shocks of getting back happened to me and Theo. Traveling for a year was a wonderful experience, but it required us to deal with a multitude of situations we haven’t ever dealt with in Denver, from navigation issues to going months on end without another English-speaking child to play with. I can literally list off every single instance that we played with other kids. Being with adults all the time led to some great conversations, and was easy enough to get in the habit of (especially for me), but we often got a little bit lonely.

When we got back, I was expecting to feel many things, but feeling like I got my childhood back was never on that list. And yet that’s exactly what I felt. As soon as we returned, we couldn’t throw a stone without hitting another English-speaking kid. Now we’re never expected to go months without actually playing.

Being plopped back in to life as an American child, I’ve been able to observe things that I never would have noticed had we not gone on our trip. For example, the kids in the schools we visited in Laos had no shoes and very little adult supervision during school hours, and yet they were more diligent students than any one of my peers. American children in general are taught to value material wealth. Americans may have a lot of cheap stuff, but seem much less content with their lives than children all over the world – Ireland, Turkey, Laos, Italy, Thailand, New Zealand, Kenya, and the list goes on.

What is this a function of? Is it that Americans spend much less time with family than in these other places? Is it that the American media pressures children to grow up before their time? In many places, the parents work all day, and the children have to grow up very quickly to take care of their house and their siblings, which disproves both of those theories. In my opinion, children in America are less satisfied because their lives are missing something. Too often in our culture inexpensive things that we neither love nor need cover up the subtle things that represent childhood: the lemonade stands with neighbors, the capture the flag games in the street, the pickle-making endeavors with grandparents, and everything else that is just another part of life for children worldwide, but slowly disappearing from American culture.

Long live childhood!

May 27, parts I and II – Going Home

Ever wished you could do a day over or had more hours in your day? Well, you can.   Just get on a plane in Fiji and fly across the international dateline and poof, it’s yours.  But before you sign-up, a word of advice – it wears you out!

May 27 part one included a pool, plenty of sun, time to relax, read and play — a bit of paradise tempered with excitement and trepidation about returning home.

May 27 part II began at about 10:00 p.m. Fijian time when we boarded our flight for Los Angeles — ten hours later we found ourselves on American soil for the first time in 358 days.  Local time was 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

While a two hour layover could have been a drag we instead experienced a magical re-entry that reinforced our belief that people are often kind beyond measure:  Thaine Allison, the father of a dear friend who we had met many years before, showed up at the LA airport to be the first to welcome us back to America. Carrying flags, a map that outlined our journey, American soil in a small jar so we could actually touch it, gifts for the kids and a picnic of grilled cheese sandwiches, bean dip, macaroni and cheese, fresh vegi’s, root beer and wine, Thaine’s welcome home couldn’t have been more thoughtful.

After our airport picnic and a couple of stories, we bid farewell to Thaine and boarded the final flight of our journey, which was an LA-Denver-London flight.  Thus, we finished our trip, truly circumventing the globe, as we were on the same flight we had caught 51 weeks earlier in Denver.

Marveling at the symbolism, we flew home.

A letter to Tilley Endurables about my hat

Letter to Tilley Hats 061010

May 26 – My Reflections of This Trip by Molly

Traveling for this long, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen lots of things and had lots of new, sometimes very weird experiences. Now that we’re in Fiji, with just days left of our year-long trip around the world and all the time we need to think about this past year, a multitude of memories, both wonderful and otherwise, are surfacing.

We’ve all got different favorite parts of the trip, but we’ve got a few things that stand out for all of us. One of the things that we’ve all loved is when people visited us. All four of us have fond memories of Ireland with the Comaskeys and Longeneckers, Paris with the Gottesfelds, Barcelona with Lisa Maier, Italy and then Bali with Marmie (also known as Mom or Marion, depending on who you’re talking to), and Portugal and Vietnam with Grandma and Grandpa. Those are all highlights for me, and I think the rest of the family agrees.

Of course, there are lots of other highlights for me. I loved Ireland more than I can say. Turkey is what we call our ‘sleeper’. We expected it to be a lot like Morocco, but it ended up being very modern and the people were some of the friendliest out there. Spain was another of my favorites, especially Barcelona. Mommy and I both loved France, and we all loved Italy. Southeast Asia was both interesting and very, VERY different from anything else we’d seen. I remember in Bangkok, our first taste of Asia, I wrote in my journal:

“We’ve been to many big cities. Many of those are vibrant, bustling, colorful, wonderful, and weird. Bangkok is no exception! If you don’t have all your senses wide open, you’ll miss something. If you blink, you won’t see something interesting. If you exhale, you won’t smell a weird/wonderful/not-so-nice smell. If you are daydreaming, or have switched into a more things-aren’t-all-that-strange mindset, you will let the whole city pass by as just an interesting place in the back of your mind that you can’t access directly, only in dreams or daydreams or the fiction-writing part of your brain. To really feel like you know what Bangkok’s all about, you need to be very alert, 24/7.”

We’ve also had some not-as-great experiences, that we all like to laugh about now. We have entire dinner conversations about the Top 20 Worst Places We’ve Stayed, which includes the Bedouin tent, the night train to Luxor, the Iban Longhouse, and the Paradise Hotel on Perhentian Basar. I’ll never forget being sick in Pai, Thailand, and being told by the doctor, who hardly spoke English and who seemed to be around 20 years old, that I had typhoid, and by the way he said it, you’d think I had won a prize. It’s funny how sometimes the nastiest things end up being the funniest later on!

A few weeks ago, Mommy asked, “What is our next big dream?” That got us thinking. Move to Paris for six months? Write a book about traveling for a year? There are so many possibilities! Mommy says that doing something big, like this year, requires getting past some boundaries and doing some hard things. I think my next big thing is going to a new school, which I’ll be doing in September.

Whatever it is we’ll be doing next, this year has been really important for all of us. We’ve all changed. We’ve learned more about the world, and more about each other. More importantly, we’ve learned more about ourselves. And, maybe even more importantly, we’ve learned that we can do something huge, something that we didn’t know if we even could do, just by deciding that we’re going to do it and working to make it happen.