Prior to having children, I was a traveler. My Smartner and I prioritized getting the heck out of Dodge and throwing ourselves into new adventures regardless of safety, financial responsibility, or common sense. When we had money, we rolled like ballers (Puerto Vallarta boutique resort! Private bungalow on a secluded Belize beach!). When we didn't have money, we rolled like tumbleweeds (Glasgow in the dark dead of winter! A roadtrip across Baja in a red PT Cruiser through the thick of contentious drug cartel territory!). Regardless, we rolled. And then when we had kids, we stopped.
A crippling case of postpartum anxiety kept us home for the first year of my older Smartling's life, save for a trip to Hawaii that sent me spiraling straight into therapy upon our return. And, though I traveled a lot while pregnant with Smartling #2, the potential challenges of flying with two kids, one of whom is notoriously fiery, just made me shudder and whisper the phrase "caged heat" in horror. And so we mostly stayed local for 3 1/2 years.
Last week the Smartner, both Smartlings, and I flew cross-country to visit friends in New York. It was the first time Smartling-the-younger had ever been on a plane and the first time we'd ever flown all together. Before the early morning we were to board the plane, I was an overprepared bundle of nerves. My packing list was exhaustive, color coded, and completed the week before we left. I had pounds and pounds of activities to keep the children occupied on the plane. My Smartner bought a tablet to accompany our laptop and loaded both with games and kid movies. Our snack bags were bursting, and our two sets of new kids' headphones were panda- and brown-bear-shaped. We were terrified, and we were ready.
In fact, if I were to be honest, we were more than fine. We were awesome! It was a fantastic trip, this adventure we planned mostly just to get the kids acclimated to the idea of traveling. It was a gamble that entirely paid off, an experiment that succeeded perfectly in its initial trial. The 'lings were happy and great on the plane, even with a headphone malfunction for our little fireball that meant she had to watch most of her shows in silence. They loved visiting our friends, whom they rightly love more than they love us, and they were absolute pros at handling the crowds and bustle of New York City.
It never occurred to me during the conception and execution of our travel plans that we would have a good trip. A satisfying trip, yes. A right proper learning experience in how to travel better in the future, yes. But a great success right out of the gate? You can STILL knock me over with a feather, I'm so shocked that ALL four of us had fun at the SAME TIME. And not some kind of parallel fun like when the littles watch cartoons on Saturday morning while we bigs hide in the office drinking coffee and fondling our phones. We all had fun at the same time WHILE DOING THE SAME THINGS TOGETHER.
It was amazing and, happily, taught me so much about how resilient and adaptable my family is. Sadly, it also taught me about how much I let my fear and anxiety of the unknown get in the way of seeking out truly wonderful experiences.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
It's not that Roosevelt arbitrarily requires one to do what one finds frightening or impossible, but rather that one gains "strength, courage, and confidence" by taking risks in pursuit of greatness. It's not that I had to take the Smartlings to New York in spite of my nervous angst, but rather that I had to face the fear of traveling with them in order to grow. That the trip went flawlessly is the cherry on the sundae, but the substance of it is the satisfaction in having stared down my fears and watched them blink and turn first.
However you want to phrase it, the four of us agree: Doing the hard work in pursuit of the Good Stuff is worth it. It might not be easy. You might not succeed. But the capacity for growth in that courage, in that effort, in that pursuit, and in that doing is worth it in spite of the risk of failure.
The more and longer I live, the more reliably I find that growth is always worth risk. And I'm so glad that, with my favorite people and in my favorite city, I was able to find success, and progress, and courage.