─ “Thirty-four, thirty-five… and thirty-six”, exclaimed Jules, lifting her head away from the piece of paper where she had been listing the islands we had visited so far. I looked at Gabriel, who was running around the yellow limestone terrace where we stood, and asked: “Out of those thirty-six islands, how many did our fellow cyclone here visit?”. Jules looked again at her piece of paper and after a few seconds came back with an answer: “Thirteen already!”
It seems it was only yesterday that we turned Jules Verne Times Two into Jules Verne Times Three (admittedly, in a mathematically challenged fashion) but this blog has existed for more time with Gabriel than without him. Time is due then to look back at how travelling with a kid compares to travelling without one.
A few years ago, before Gabriel was born, Jules and I were having breakfast on a tiny seaside place in one of the Galapagos islands. Our table was flanked by a sea lion, leisurely rolling around in the sand, and by a pelican, eyeing our eggs on toast.
When the owner came up with a plate of fresh fruit, we asked him what it was like living in such a place. ─ “It’s not the dream you probably think it is. I spent my whole life here, walking up and down the same old dirt road, saying good morning and good afternoon to the same old neighbours, and shooing away the same old sealion that likes to sleep in the middle of my restaurant”.
Fast forward to Gabriel, and we now have a different understanding of what the restaurant owner meant. Much like an island, travelling with a kid is an insular experience. It is perhaps less about travelling than it is about temporarily uprooting your daily routine to a new place. Getting a glimpse of that new place can only happen in the narrow gaps between naps, feedings, and dirty diapers.
However, much unlike islands, kids grow. As they do, the gaps between daily routines become wider and wider, and so do the opportunities to explore a new place. Those escapades of exploration are now joined by an also growing torrent of questions. Some questions are annoying, some are mortifying, and some are fascinating. The ratio of annoying to mortifying to fascinating varies widely from one day to the other.
While we were walking down the old narrow streets of Valletta, Gabriel stopped, turned left, turned right, and then twisted around to face us.
─ “Why are all these houses the same colour?”, he asked.
─ “They are all made of limestone, which is pretty much the only rock that exists here. Because Malta is an island, it would be hard to bring big, heavy rocks from elsewhere”, answered Jules.
─ “What is an island?”
─ “An island is a piece of land surrounded by sea on all sides.”
─ “Do we live in an island?”
─ “No, we live in a continent.”
─ “And continents don’t have water all around?”
He had us cornered. What was indeed the difference between an island and a continent? The three of us sat down on a nearby bench, took out a phone, and looked for an answer. As it turns out, there isn’t one, or at least a very convincing one. The difference between a continent and an island boils down to size, with the threshold defined somewhere between Australia – the smallest continent – and Greenland – the largest island.
In summary, what has parenthood taught us so far? One, that kids are like islands that grow. Two, that they make a lot of questions. Three, that it’s fine to not have all the answers.