The joys of traveling with grandchildren through Spain
While many of you may know that I took my family to Spain in the fall of 2013, you may not know that my parents came with us. This was their first trip to Europe, and my mother’s first trip out of North America. I speak a lot about our experiences as parents traveling with our kids, but I wanted to hear from my parents (AKA the grandparents) who were traveling with us. My mother happily agreed to write a few posts to show the trip from her perspective so that other families can jump onto the multigenerational travel bandwagon and explore the world together.
There are 2,821.2 miles between my two grandsons in Seattle and me in Philadelphia. Google tells me that it will take a mere 1 day and 17 hours to drive there. This is ridiculous. So, my husband and I used to take direct, six-hour flights to visit with them. However, this began to cut into our vacation budget and limited our opportunities to explore new vistas and environs.
Around the same time, my daughter decided she wanted to open up the world to her kids, so I figured why not tour the world with them? It slowly dawned on my husband and I that rather than spend thousands of dollars going to the same city each year, we could invite ourselves along on her family’s trips. This way, we could play with them to our hearts content, and see the world at the same time. After several months of discussion and planning, we all agreed that our first trip would be to Spain in the late fall of 2013.
Before continuing, I should mention that we, as an extended family, already had several structures in place that made considering traveling together possible. We’d already lived together for more than a week at a time when we visited each others homes. We’d honed our communication skills and determined our limitations within these arrangements. When we ran into problems, we talked.
When planning our trip, my daughter Keryn kept Benjamin Franklin’s proverb in mind: “”Fish and visitors smell after three days.” While she arranged for us to enjoy two apartment stays together, she wisely interspersed those times with separate accommodations, beginning with those crucial first days in Madrid used for recuperating from jet lag. Keryn was clearly in charge, and we were happy to let her tell us where to be and when.
The biggest challenge that always faces grandparents living temporarily with their children is how to fit into a family unit that is already functioning very well. My daughter and her husband are loving parents who already nurture my grandchildren without my daily help. How to support them without meddling was the challenge when we lived in close quarters and also had to deal with the stress and strains of unfamiliar beds and culture.
We found it best to keep our mouths shut for most of the time and to just settle down to the serious business of playing and having fun with our grandchildren. We also looked for natural opportunities to help. My husband and I fed the baby and bathed the children. We ran errands or made needed phone calls. If we were in separate quarters, we’d invite the grandchildren to come to our hotel room while Keryn and her husband showered. We’d whisk the kids away so that their parents could finish their long Spanish restaurant meals in a more leisurely fashion. Which brings me to the need for a harness.
Like his mother, Ty is an explorer. He was 18 months old when we were in Spain and constantly on the run. No sitting quietly at a table for him. He wanted to check out the pigeons pecking their way across every plaza in Spain. When I took my turn keeping an eye on him, I’d often hold onto his sweatshirt hood so he could follow his natural whims and I’d simply hang on for the ride, but still have a firm hand on him in order to snatch him away from any predatory gypsies that might want to take him (actually most of them would have preferred spare change as opposed to feeding a bambino for life). This proved to be a workable arrangement until Ty wanted to go in one direction, and I in another.
One day, while his parents lunched in the Plaza Nueva in Granada, Ty and I wandered around looking for the usual pigeons. At one point, I started pulling him back to the table, only to look up and see a dozen Spanish families clutching their throats, laughing and pointing at Ty. Ty was headed towards the closest bird and I was choking him to death in the process. Next time, I will insist we bring along a harness.
There were one or two times when I felt I needed to speak up about something. In these instances, I looked for a quiet moment alone with my daughter. I never accused, just let her know that I felt uncomfortable about something and proposed a solution that would work for all of us. She always listened and usually accepted my suggestions. And, when my husband and I determined we needed a break, we were sure to let Keryn’s family know. Taking taxis back to the apartment while they walked, or a day apart for exploring on our own were never considered insults, but encouraged.
Traveling to Spain with my daughter’s family was one of the high-points of my life. With a little planning and forethought, we were able to enjoy each other’s company without alienating each other’s affections. I’m already dreaming about our next trip together, but this time, I’ll bring along a harness. On the other hand, Ty will already be a little taller, and in his own way, a little wiser, so perhaps we’ll enjoy a few strolls hand-in-hand.
Photo note: my mother prefers not to have her image posted online, so my father happily stepped in to show off a grandparent traveling with grandchildren.