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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Family Roles
February 27, 2011 - 4:21pm

Our family recently returned from a trip to Paris and London. At home, we have our share of stresses and strains, many of which I've documented here, but on vacation we mesh extraordinarily well. This is partly, of course, because we are removed from many potential sources of conflict, as we are all together 24/7, and so Bill and I don't have to worry about Ben's whereabouts, and we're not angsting over professional deadlines, overdue schoolwork, messy rooms and the like.

More than that, though, our personality traits and cognitive strengths complement each other in travel. Ben has an astonishing ability to figure out and use systems, including transit, monetary and measurement systems. We can arrive cold in a strange city, and within minutes he will have discerned the quickest route to our hotel, the most efficient means of buying tickets and boarding the train or bus and whether we need to bundle up for the journey. He also has a great geographical memory. Our last visit to Paris was four years ago, when he was twelve, but he was able to guide us to restaurants we had enjoyed previously, and he remembered the locations of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo at the Louvre.

Bill is possessed of a deep understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of each place we visit. Just as important, he is able to explain the succession of the French monarchy or the evolution of the British shipping trade in a way that is both comprehensible and interesting to a smart sixteen-year-old and his impressionistic mom.

My gifts are more communicative. I'm fluent only in English, but my French and Spanish are serviceable, I can make our basic needs understood in Italian, and I have a smattering of other languages. Even in languages I'm completely incompetent in, I have no shame about plunging into conversations using a guidebook, wild stabs, and pantomime. It usually works out pretty well. I love getting up early, going down to breakfast, and spending an hour or so chatting up fellow tourists and wait staff before my family comes down. I talk to ticket sellers, museum guards, and fellow patrons at bookstores and cafes. Because of this, I tend to be a good resource for "insider" information, tips for experiences that aren't commonly found in guidebooks, dishes that aren't on the menu, etc. I tend to be social in everyday life as well, so we often get together with friends I've made at home or online when we visit another city.

Next month, Ben will take his first European trip without us. His school jazz band was accepted at an international jazz festival, so several kids, along with their teacher and a parent chaperone, will fly to England for a week. I know he will have a fabulous experience. He will enjoy not only playing and listening,but talking with other musicians and learning new techniques and historical and cultural facts from them. He doesn't need Mom and Dad to guide him through this.

And of course, once he is on his own in a few years, Bill and I will resume traveling by ourselves. We managed to bumble through strange cities before we had him to lead us, and I know we'll manage again.

But I hope we'll also have many more of these shared journeys, and that his own life partner, and kids, if any will bring their own unique gifts to the mix.


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