The older I get the more I notice children when I travel. I blame this on turning 30 and having my biological clock go into overdrive, which apparently now means every child I see elicits an “Awww” coo from me. And now I’m turning 32. It’s going to be out of control.
Of course, the upside of this is the fact that children are quite adorable and should be noticed when traveling. Not only are they cute, they can also tell you a lot about the culture of a place.
My favorite travel memory with children, though, didn’t take place across any oceans, but rather the wild plains of eastern Montana last February at my Grandpa’s farm. It was a snowy day and I was sitting in the warm cocoon of my Granny’s kitchen at the kitchen table – which has been around since before i was born – trying to get some writing done.
It was an odd time to be at the farm. For most of my life, I’d only been to my grandparent’s farm for holidays and weeks during the summer. Having grown up in Minnesota and living most of my adult life in California, they were the times that most made sense to go. Those times at the farm were also often full of my many relatives during the holidays (my grandparent’s have ten children and I have 18 first cousins with more sure to come. Then there’s all the second cousins and first cousins once removed and…well you get the point.) In summer there’s always a big energy surrounding the farm due to the many crops that need planting and harvesting, and many other things I’m sad now to say I never bothered to learn that were often being discussed in the kitchen . The point is, there was usually a lot of activity going on around that table.
And this time there wasn’t.
I was in Montana thanks to my sister Jacole and her tendency to live in developing countries overseas. This time it was Cambodia and she was leaving in a few weeks and it was my last chance to see her for a long while.
So there we both were, in Montana, at the place we’d been to countless times, but with a much smaller percentage of the people. It was wonderful to have more one-on-one time with my grandparents, but the calmness and peace was a little…too quiet. It was unnerving. I also get this way when visiting my husband’s incredibly kind and wonderful family in Michigan. Would someone please make some noise! Actually, can a dozen people please make some noise! Why aren’t you people yelling at each other more! These thoughts are usually followed by What is wrong with me? and I always breathe a sigh of relief when my nephew Joey decides to tackle someone. (Though a calm husband and in-laws are probably wise for me to have, as my mother has told me on more than one occasion. Apparently she thinks I have a flair for the dramatics. To which I tell her…well, where do you think I got that from?)
So I was quite happy when my cousin Bridget and her two children tumbled through the door and into the kitchen in a bustle of kiddie hellos and shouts, and were soon followed by my aunt (Bridget’s mom) with the kids of my other cousin. (I think these would be my first cousins once removed but who knows…actually if someone does know please enlighten us as I don’t think my family has ever been able to agree on this one…) . Within minutes the adjoined family room was strewn with building blocks and toys with the adults looking on or playing as well.
Ah, much better. With the noise, I was immediately able to concentrate better on my writing. I take this to mean once I have children I am going to be ridiculously productive. Am I right? (Please say yes.)
At one point little 3-year old Anna came up next to me. My cousins are very skilled at making the world’s most adorable children. Anna looks like she should be in a Gap Kids ad and has the cute personality to match – sweet with just a hint of toddler mischievousness. Though she was still a bit shy around me – the long lost Californian cousin she had met only twice before – she had no qualms about going up and starting a conversation with my Grandpa, her great-grandpa.
I half listened to what she was saying, which was something to do with My Little Ponies to which my grandpa seemed to be very interested in hearing about.
I grinned. My big, burly farmer man of a Grandpa had probably entertained hundreds of tales over the decades from toddler daughters, granddaughters, and now great-granddaughters going through a pony or Barbie or some other girly stage. There are and were ALWAYS children in my grandparent’s house. A benefit of having 10 children over the course of 22 years means some offspring is always procreating.
Despite being at the helm of a small army of children and grandchildren and running a massive farm in Montana – which is not a stress-free business – it’s hard to remember my Grandpa ever not making time for the kids of the family in the evening after a day of farming or during the winter months when he probably just wanted some peace and quiet and there were always a clan of children running around screaming. Instead he usually seemed amused and entertained by the commotion (oh, maybe THAT’s where I get my increased work ethic in busy, loud situations). And, of course, if we all got too loud growing up he’d just yell louder than all of us to turn the noise down. And when Grandpa yelled, we listened. He had all of our respect. Because be always respected us.
And here he was listening to Anna with that same bit of respect and amusement he’d given all of us older grandchildren. As she chatted away she put her hand on the table for a moment. My Grandpa (who did I mention also has a mischievous streak) placed his hand on top of Anna’s. She squealed and immediately pulled her hand away. Grandpa and I both laughed at her surprised reaction.
He grinned at Anna and put his hand down on the table again.
“Now put your hand on top,” he said.
She looked at him suspiciously, but did as he asked.
He raised his other hand.
“Now leave your hand there and I’m going to put my other hand on top,” he instructed as he placed his second hand over hers. “And now you put your other hand on mine.”
She followed the directions and as soon as she put her hand down, Grandpa pulled his bottom hand out of the pile and put it in top.
Anna immediately giggled in delight, pulled both her hands out and placed both of them on top of his.
Grandpa and I laughed again. “She almost had it!” I said.
Grandpa patiently went through the game with her a few more times while I watched. Anna’s tiny, perfect hands were completely lost within Grandpa’s large hands, which were permanently tanned and weathered from a lifetime of working outdoors to provide for his family. If it wasn’t so damn sweet, the sight of her dainty little hands amidst my Grandpa’s large, gentle ones would have been comical. My heart swelled that I was here to witness this interaction and I immediately made a mental note to visit more.
I thought the same thing a few hours later when my Uncle Bart’s one year old daughter – and my first cousin – Morgan was sleeping. (She was no doubt worn out from our Uncle Brent’s start of an activity that involved jumping onto a large bouncy ball from the window seat of the living room and went on for an hour. (Chaos people. It’s a very important part of family life, i tell ya.) Morgan’s head of impish blonde hair rested on my Grandpa’s chest as he laid back on his favorite recliner chair. I looked closer and saw that he was also asleep.
And I, his oldest grandchild staring at his youngest grandchild curled up in his lap, marveled at how lucky I was to be born into such a large, loving, dynamic family. So on my 32nd birthday this year, that’s what I’m thankful for; the delight of children and the family I was born into, the family I married into, and the future family I may one day have.