All the Thanks I’ll Ever Need

A few years back, I was visiting my employer’s office in Colorado—I’ve long worked from home—and found myself in a strange conversation with a co-worker I barely knew. He was almost chiding me for traveling to Europe so much, especially with kids. He just didn’t see the value in spending money on that kind of a trip, and he couldn’t believe that my children would ever benefit in a meaningful way. But then he finally said something that really bothered me.

“Do you think your kids are ever going to thank you for these trips?” he asked, more than a bit belligerently.

No, I explained. I don’t care if my kids ever thank me for taking them to Europe.

I care that they’ll be better people. That they’ll have a better understanding of a bigger, more diverse, and more inclusive world. That they won’t react badly or immaturely when they’re presented with circumstances that aren’t exactly like those they experience at home. That something being different doesn’t mean it’s worse, or less, or unusual. That they be open to experimentation and to new things.

Our goal is to open the world to our children as much as possible. And then see what happens. Who knows, one day they may complain to us that we never took them to Asia.

What I do know is that our children are better people as a result of our experiences traveling. They may not remember specific places or events from their earliest trips to Europe—when Kelly was just 5 years old and Mark was 8—and we joke about that sometimes. (“Where’s the Colosseum, Kelly?” we’ll often ask. Her original answer: “Europe.”) But what they do remember, what is, in fact, a part of the fabric of their lives, is a lifetime of trips to foreign places, of overcoming language barriers and solving problems, of meeting people, and enjoying these times.

And they have already thanked me in their own ways.

Kelly looks forward to our annual home swaps, has said that she loves when we’re the “traveling family.” And Mark, who skipped out on a home swap in Paris in 2016 because he was heading off to college for the first time that fall and didn’t want to miss out on his last summer at home, regretted that decision. And he has made an effort to come each year since, despite being ever-busier as he grows into a man and has work and school commitments.

But my favorite example of how this travel has changed our kids came several years ago, in 2006, after our first home swap, which was also in Paris. It’s also one of my proudest moments as a parent.

After we got home from the swap, Steph and her sister took the kids to a local “joint” restaurant, the type of place that serves simple food like hot dogs, fries, and ice cream, and has waitresses in white outfits who carry little order notepads. Their waitress had taken everyone’s order but Mark’s, and when she got to him, he was still scanning the menu. Mark has always been a picky, unadventurous eater, and his tastes run to simple items like pizza and hamburgers. So when he finally spoke up, what he asked was unexpected. Not just for everyone at the table, but for the waitress as well, I imagine.

“Do you have escargot?”

Bravo, Mark. That’s all the thanks I’ll ever need.

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