It’s the Pirates’ Life for Me–But What About Them?

Reykjavik harbor

Sad girl in Reykjavik harbor

Granuaile spent much of our first day in Iceland crying. Her delight at the snow falling (Mommy, let’s build a snowman!) while we were inside the airport turned quickly into misery just trying to find our rental car. The wind stung her eyes; she was cold and it was dark. Her kitty Gretzky kept getting blown out of her grasp.

Reykjanes peninsula

Sad girl in a lava field

Granuaile spent much of our second day in Iceland crying. She loved swimming in the warm, weird waters of the Blue Lagoon, but when the 100 MPH winds ripped her out of my arms and sent her rolling across a lava field like a tumbleweed, she objected.

Granuaile spent our third day in Iceland trying not to cry. She wore two layers of pants, rain/wind pants, two shirts, a fleece, her winter coat, and the “knight hat” that we’d bought our first day in Reykjavik. She was mostly warm enough, except when she had to drop her layers to pee on a pile of rocks at Þingvellir–then, she howled.


Sad-but-brave girl at Thingvellir

While she remembers some good moments about our trip, Iceland looms large as a cold and bitter place. In the Critterverse, she often sends particularly bad characters to Iceland, like a penal colony for small woodland creatures, which often makes the Cap’n and I ask each other–was it worth it?

I like a degree of difficulty in my travel. I realize some people feel differently, which is why such things as cruises or all-expenses paid resorts exist–no judgement. But for me, I want to stretch a bit, which is why I find myself repeatedly traveling whilst six-months pregnant, sleeping in a glorified igloo, or going to places where they eat puffin. Granuaile, it has been discovered, does not. She likes watching TV in English, eating pancakes, and staying warm, preferably in a place littered with Disney Princesses.

From my childhood, I don’t remember much travel misery, but discomfort wasn’t my dad’s style*. I was, and am, terrified of heights and would dread coming home to our big-city hotels that frequently featured soaring ceilings and balconies. As a teenager, I wept and wailed about leaving behind my friends and boyfriends who would surely forget me while I was gone. But these were minor discomforts, ones that my parents were right to ignore.

Pre-kids, I went to Ghana, West Africa to visit my stepsister who was living there for Peace Corps. My roommate Bryan accompanied me. Everyone warned me that life would be hard. There will be no flush toilets; you know it will be dirty; there will be weird food. It never occurred to anyone to warn him, the former Boy Scout, the Guy.

Ghana tro-tro

Fully loaded tro-tro in Ghana

Bryan was miserable–hot and always hungry. It wasn’t fun for me, no, but even after 32 hours riding on a tro-tro, being skeeved out by large (holy-jumping-firecats!) bugs, and picking up an amoeba from some food-cart goat, I would go back in a heartbeat. This doesn’t make me morally superior to Bryan, nor–although I tease him otherwise–does it make me tougher, but we both want different things out of our travel. I don’t mind being uncomfortable if it gets me out in the world.

So now that we have two wee ones who like having dry, warm bodies, full bellies, and soft beds–can I still justify my degree-of-difficulty travel? Realistically, and probably selfishly, I will find a way to justify it–it’s good for them, it’s character-building, it’s only temporary. Obviously, there are some things that are too hard for us–mostly places or experiences that would be unsafe for families of our ages and abilities.

The kids are pirates too, though. They will always get a vote in where we go and, given that Granuaile wants to go to Egypt, it sounds like they might have a sense of adventure. But these are the grown-ups’ travel dollars in the end, not theirs, and we will call the shots. I know other households work differently–and again, do what works for your family–but if travel doesn’t push you into the unfamiliar in any way, maybe we should just stay home. Life leaves scars–should a family vacation?


Gretzky and the Icelandic wind

*My mother, however, was a tough cookie. Recently, I read her final trip diary and was in tears reading her entry about fighting her way up Halifax’s Citadel Hill against gusting winter winds while weakened from chemotherapy. But that’s another post.

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4 Responses to It’s the Pirates’ Life for Me–But What About Them?

  1. Abigail says:

    I just heard a great story about a beautiful 12 mile hike in New Mexico. The children were young – maybe as young as six – and the parents knew they could do it because they hiked every week, so they just didn’t tell them ahead of time how long the hike was going to be, and brought lots of candy bars. The family still talks about that hike to this day (kids grown). I guess the thing is knowing your kids and their limits so they’re challenged – without hating the thought of a family vacation. Perhaps it’s time for a romantic getaway – in an igloo?

    • SKM says:

      Thanks so much for this comment–it’s provided the start to a whole new post! I’d love to know the name of the hike, if you happen to know it, and what clever parents. I also love your suggestion for a romantic getaway, but it will have to wait until the baby is no longer nursing. But a girl can dream…

  2. Susan Herriott says:

    It think she remember that she was there but not the misery. She will remember the adventure. Besides, it will make everything else less horrible. You can always say, ” Remember how bad Iceland was.” That should put a stop to all complaints.

  3. Terry McGowan (Dad) says:

    The rough edges of travel become smoother with time as Susan Herriott says. I’m sure you remember being miserably car sick numerous times on trips (seems like it was every time we happened on a curvy road); but that was all forgotten when somebody (was that you?) yelled, “There’s a bear out here!” at our cabin in Yosemite or when the ranger turned out the lights in some cave or other so we could all experience being in the complete absence of light. You don’t want to be alone in times like those; you want your family there to share them with you — even if there’s some risk.

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