Yes, they are. God’s reward, that is. Grandchildren are god’s reward for not having killed your own kids. I posted a piece called “It Doesn’t Get Better Than This,” on August 5, 2007, which was something of a paean to the joys of grandparenting. Upon rereading it recently, I’m prepared to double down on everything I said or tried to say then. I’ve also alluded to traveling with grandchildren in a series of posts in 2012 under the rubric of “Europe with the Grandkids,” wherein I referenced our familial policy of undertaking a major travel outing with each of our grandchildren on or about their 12th birthday. It’s lost in the fog of a successful history how this practice came into being. Personally, I think I should take most of the credit for it, as it is my wont to credit myself with all successful things having to do with family. On a deeper level, I know this to be not entirely true, but I do it here to remain within form.
In a posting entitled “Why 12?,” written during the above referenced European trip, I gave an abbreviated explanation on why age 12 was ideal for multi-generational travel, at least as we practiced it. I said then and repeat here: “At this age (12) they know everything and they know nothing. They are impatient with our frailties, but attentive to our needs. They are desirous of everything they see, but conscious of their own desire to please us.” Yep, I’m still convinced it was exactly the right age, teetering as they are between childhood and adolescence. We proved it six times over. Now some of you already know that Darling Wife S. and I have eight grandchildren, so there is more to the story on why we took only six trips.
These excursions took place over a period of time (approximately ten years), during which, for S. and I, time did not stand still. The world continued to turn and we continued to grow older, both physically and in disposition. When we traveled with grand-twins Max and Mercer to Alaska (our last of these trips), I could no longer even aspire to following them down a zip line as I had done with Logan in Costa Rica. When we traveled with grandson Tilt to New York, I could no longer tolerate missing my afternoon nap as I had done with granddaughter Annabel in the Galapagos Islands, where every minute was packed with a new and exciting activity. I suspect that Georgia and Hudson on our trip through Europe, and even Sophia in Panama got the worst of it. S. and I had not yet arrived at the understanding that we could not do it all, i.e., everything they wanted to do and still maintain our… well, sanity.
There was always some discussion about destinations. My public position was that the kids got to choose, but I will admit here that this was never fully true. As certain politicos today might say, that was an alternative fact. In general, each trip was planned around a ten-day period during which they could be pried away from their parents and the kaleidoscope of activities that engulf kids today. The sweet spot for our travels seemed to be sometime between spring break and early summer, but not always. We gravitated to warm weather locations that we didn’t wear ourselves out getting to. I also leaned toward places I either hadn’t been (Galapagos, Panama) or places to which I wanted to return (London, Paris). Of course, the kids had input, but if I did it right, I correctly employed the power of suggestion to the point where each kid thought it was their idea, or they at least had major input. Well, maybe Panama was an exception. There was never fooling Sophia. So here’s the complete list:
2008 Logan McGill – Travel throughout Costa Rica
2010 Annabel McGill – Quito, Ecuador then cruising the Galapagos Islands
2011 Georgia McGill and Hudson Fernandes – London, Paris, and the Chunnel Train
2013 Sophia Fernandes – Panama City, the Canal, and the Panamanian Highlands
2014 Tilt Fernandes – Washington DC, New York City, and the Acela Express Train
2016 Max and Mercer Fernandes – Vancouver, Canada then cruising the inside passage of Alaska. Alaskan train to Anchorage. On the cruise we were joined by the boys’ father, Caleb.
You can see that we doubled up with Hudson and Georgia who are the same age, and Max and Mercer who are not only the same age, but are fraternal twins. Actually, it wasn’t an easy decision in either case. The unstated, but deeply felt, intent of these trips was to give us the opportunity to not only get to know each child on a more personal level, but also to create the enduring bond which often occurs through shared travel. We wondered how this would play out traveling in pairs. But it was the right decision in both cases. Georgia and Hudson got along famously, even conspiring to confront me on my aggressive scheduling of uninteresting (to them) activities. Max and Mercer together dominated (in a very nice way) all other kids on the cruise ship by organizing them into posses of constantly active, happy kids doing all those things that kids do.
It’s impossible to recount here everything we did on these trips, but there are certain things that are indelibly imprinted in my memory. The sight of Logan zipping down the zip line in Costa Rica while hanging upside down and backwards. She also informed us one evening that she thought it would be interesting to join the salsa dancing class (which clearly was not intended for 12-year-olds), and so she did.
I still remember with some degree of horror trying to keep up with Annabel swimming with sea lions, using my modified dog paddle. And later that same trip, Annabel stunned and delighted us, along with the cruise staff and a lounge full of passengers, by giving an extraordinary rendition of Abba’s Thank You for the Music during karaoke night.
I can still see Hudson and Georgia with arms akimbo, waiting in the world’s longest and slowest moving line to get in the Musee d’Orsay, and the family consultation at which we all agreed to bypass one of the world’s best art museums in favor of an early morning pizza. And I aIso recall with pride the comment of the owner of a French/Vietnamese restaurant who said as we paid the bill, “Monsieur, these are the most polite American children I’ve ever seen.” A bit left-handed but a well deserved complement nevertheless.
And dear Sophia, who showed sophistication and patience beyond her years as a river guide tried with to get me the perfect position to photograph the iconic Harpy Eagle, while she wondered aloud, “What are we doing here?” This same worldliness also showed with a million questions as we transited the Panama Canal, and then there was her adventurous zip line experience as well.
Tilt loved it all and impressed me with his knowledge of the airplanes on the aircraft carrier in New York. Tilt also became fast friends with everyone he met, including our bicycle guide in Central Park and the docent at Mt. Vernon who wanted to adopt him.
Many of my memories involve what I call the food challenge, which, with our kids, wasn’t really much of a challenge. Well, maybe Georgia, who ate steak frites in Paris for seven consecutive meals. Tilt was the most adventurous foodie of the group. I think our first meal was at a gastro pub in Alexandria, Va. where I noticed fresh oysters on the menu. I asked Tilt if he liked them and he responded that he did. I thought he ate them with a relish, so I continued to order them at every chance for the next eight days, until he finally confessed that he really didn’t like oysters very much. He more than made up for that at our Korean dinner in a very chi-chi Korean place in mid-town Manhattan. I can only say, he ate it all and then some.
We set a new standard with Max and Mercer when S. and I realized that the limitations of our physical capacity might not stand up to the potential rigors of entertaining the twins. Their energy level and ours had clearly gone in different directions. With only little effort, I persuaded their father, Caleb, to join us and perhaps take on the heavy lifting of some of the more adventurous excursions in the wilds of Alaska. Which he did and to good effect. I’ve already mentioned their leadership of the kids posse on board the ship, but I also should mention that the M boys charmed and beguiled every adult they came in contact with…from the crew member that was supposed to organize kids activities, to the maitre d’ at every restaurant on board.
I guess one might say, we’ve experienced an embarrassment of riches in exposing ourselves to our grandchildren through shared travel. Seldom do we now spend time with any of them that some travel memory is not exposed. I wonder how long it will be before we have great grandchildren. Let’s see…Logan is 21 and Annabel 18… Nah. Far better for us to spend our senior moments cherishing what we’ve already done. It doesn’t get better than that.