I’m not old enough to be a grandmother. Really, I’m not. Oh, okay, I guess technically I am…my children are in their 20s. But I’ve recently spent a day with Miss K who’s “four in October”, and it reminded me how wonderful it is to spend time with small children and to travel with them. Miss K is my niece’s daughter and for one whole day, it was just me and her.
We didn’t really go anywhere, but we took things slowly and it reminded me a lot of the last time that I did travel with a four-year-old. It was three years ago, when I spent three weeks travelling in Laos with my friend and colleague, photographer Paul Wager and his family. Paul and Joy’s son Dan came along for part of the trip with us, and I delighted in his company.
Travelling with children opens up the world in a way that adults sometimes forget. I’ll always remember boarding a fast long-boat to zip up a stretch of the Mekong River, and Dan looking up at me to say: “Oh, Lee, this is so exciting!” His eyes shone. He would see things that we adults would miss, marvel over things we took for granted. He was a trooper, too, never complaining even on the dustiest, bumpiest, most uncomfortable “bus” ride I’ve ever experienced. And napping during a long drive was an art-form, designed to recharge for the next new experience.
Miss K was the same. Certainly, the day slowed down to her pace. Our walk up the street was punctuated by stops to examine soft flowers growing at her eye level; my handbag came home filled with intriguingly smooth brown seed pods fallen from a tree onto the footpath. We spent time making a Taiwanese lantern from a kit I’d bought home from my trip earlier this year (and later she proudly announced to her mother “We made it together!”). Everything took on a new level of importance.
We went to lunch with my grown-up daughter at a Japanese cafe. Miss K declared: “I only like sandwiches” but was happy with an ice-cream from the shop next door. But when our food arrived, she was tempted to try a few things, including having fun popping the beans from the edamame pods.
Through the day, she made friends with a soft toy orang-utan that I’d bought home from a trip to Borneo (who now swings from my office door handle), with my neighbour’s white Maltese-cross dog and with my daughter’s jet-black, somewhat cranky, cat. Time never seemed to drag, everything holding a new fascination through young eyes and a bright, curious mind.
My own children travelled early and often, but time dims the memory and I’d forgotten how much fun it can be. Or perhaps I’m older and more tolerant, more ready to slow the pace too. And I think that’s the key; perhaps children instinctively know the art of slow travel, of how to linger over the beauty in the world and to relish each new learning experience as it is presented.