This summer I jumped at an opportunity to visit the San Diego Zoo, in part because I was invited to bring a child. Problem is I have three of them. After deciding my preschooler boy was not an ideal candidate I was faced with a Sophie’s Choice between his older sisters. The eldest, Libby, had been to the zoo when she was younger than three – one of my first mistakes as a traveling dad, because she would end up not remembering a thing. But technically Libby had gone before and plus, she already liked me.
Not that my younger daughter, Maya doesn’t like me — she does, I think. But if you’re a father you already know what I’m getting at. In most situations that require comfort or attention Maya prefers my wife, and I figured I could even the odds a little, especially since I had never been on a trip with just one of the kids without their mother. And since Maya is far more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses type than her sister I figured she’d appreciate the trip more. I was right about that, wrong to think Libby would quietly step aside without my paying her off, which I’m almost ashamed to admit that I did.
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So Maya and I saw San Diego and I it was undeniably useful as a travel writer to see the zoo through her eyes, an experience I documented in a post for ShermansTravel.com But until now I was never able to report on how differently that trip allowed me to see Maya.
— She’s more self-sufficient when my wife’s not around. Maybe we all act less helpless when our mothers aren’t close by, but I can only speak for how willing and able she was on this trip. She got herself dressed and ready, didn’t have to be asked twice to do anything and never asked for help unless it was necessary.
— While she didn’t go completely Stepford on me, she hardly complained about the aches and pains and bouts of hunger and thirst and tiredness that seem to afflict her at home, and maybe you’re already way ahead of me here but without having to compete with her siblings for attention she probably saw no advantage to giving me a hard time.
— If hot maple syrup is available, every hole in a Belgian waffle will be filled individually before consumption, no matter how damn long it takes.
— While happy to move at one unhurried speed most of the time, she has no problem with suggesting to a good natured tour guide that he might want to speed up his discourse about deer mating rituals and maybe talk a little bit about those animals standing over there.
— If someone in a beige uniform tells her it’s safe to touch a scaly animal, she’ll do it.
After gamely trying to convince her to explore downtown San Diego to find a fun place for dinner, she said she didn’t see the point if our hotel served food, particularly by the pool. And she was right. Here I was, typically, trying to get her to take advantage of our destination, and here she was telling me in so many words that all she really wanted to do was relax, because wasn’t that part of why families ought to travel? As we sat poolside we were comfortably silent, and I understood for the first time how important it was for us to have this time together, and how critical it is for every parent with more than one child to one day do the same.
If you’re a traveling dad and have already discovered the merits of breaking away on a trip with just one of your kids – or, for that matter, if you’re a single dad who has been doing this for years — I’d be curious to hear what you’ve done to create opportunities for alone time away from home, even for an hour or two. Tweet me at @PaulEisenberg.