On the second day after arriving in Tokyo, after a hellish couple nights of jet lag with Kai and Nikko waking up at 2am; after me almost biting Eddie’s head off after he let the boys fall into a Sleeping Beauty kinda slumber at 4pm(!) again; after us already having had three meals by 11am; and after Kai complaining over and over again about how much he didn’t care about the annual lotus blooms at Ueno Park and would rather play stickball in the locked baseball field, our family was headed, yet again, to eat.
On the way, we ran into a very sweet couple from the Pacific Northwest. They stopped and chatted, admiring our kids, and then admitted that theirs (who were the same ages as ours), were home with their grandparents in the States, while they spent two leisurely weeks exploring Japan. Alone.
Was I jealous? You bet. How could I not crave two weeks of sleep, and drinking at bars, on barstools, and eating whatever (whenever) I wanted? How could I not want epic alone time with my husband to finish a thought, or sit in silence and read, or have sex, in a bed, when we want? How could I not be jealous of their leisurely strolls through the gardens of Ueno Park, or exploring a shrine without their kids commenting on how bored they are?
But the funny thing was the looks they gave our kids. The longing. The extended gazes at little Nikko trying to balance on a railing, and the innate reaching out of arms when he teetered, caught himself and continued on. You see they too were jealous, and actually said how much they wished they could show their kids Japan and how brave we were for having taken this journey with a not quite two year old and a son who turned six in Tokyo.
I often thought of this couple as we toured Hakone’s hot springs, my husband and I tag teaming the baths since the kids complained that the hot springs were too hot; or as we toured Nijo Temple, with our kids, red faced and annoyed at having to be quiet and not touch anything, or run, or be kids.
But I also thought of them when my kids were giddy about eating gyozas, or at a baseball game, or hiking to see snow monkeys, or playing at the Hakone Open Air Sculpture Museum, or riding on bullet trains, or practicing their Japanese. I felt that even though I would, on most days, give anything for a magic wand to deliver me into silence and serenity for a mere moment of going pee without a child screaming, “Mommy!,” I would never ever trade this chance to see the world with my children.
You see, I’ve been to every continent but Antarctica. I’d hitchhiked through Japan, camped in the Kenyan bush; a man tried to marry me in Egypt by offering a bunch of goats and camels. I’d backpacked through Europe a handful of times, been chased through jungles by monkeys in Vietnam, danced in Brazil’s Carnivale, and the list goes on.
Now is the time for me to experience the world with childlike wonder. Challenges and all.
It was appropriate when on our last night in Kyoto, we were sitting by the river watching fire dancers and chatting to a group of students, and the couple from the Pacific Northwest appeared, holding hands, on a sweet romantic stroll along the river. They approached, we exchanged travel tales, and wished each other sweet journeys home. And as they walked away, their eyes stayed on us far longer than I wished to have their freedom.
The take away: I’ve got a short span of time when my kids want to be with me. When they stop, I’ll leave them home with grandma. For now, I’ll brave the struggles. For my family, the beauty of taking my kids far outweighs the freedom of leaving them home. Even on the worst, most exhausting, days.