Those who know me well might remember how adamant I’ve always felt about not taking small kids on big trips. Car rides through the Ridge Route to visit Fresno? No problem! A family road trip to Palm Springs or Santa Cruz? Absolutely! The stress and logistics of taking a several-hour plane ride with babies and/or toddlers to go to some exotic location? Never did it — wasn’t my idea of a good time. (We did take a family trip to Hawaii when my youngest was almost 5 ... it ended up being totally doable and fun.)
So when my husband proposed that my daughters and I travel with him to Armenia for his yearly medical mission there, I didn’t quite jump at the chance. “How long is the flight? Is it safe? Will I be able to handle myself — out and about, while you’re working — without speaking the language fluently? Most importantly: Can our kids handle the jet lag? Will they even remember the trip itself?” I was not interested to shell out thousands of bucks for a family experience our girls might potentially forget by the time they’re 10. My old-school parenting voice also kicked in: “What business do 8- and 7-year-old children have traveling to the other side of the world?”
After lots of consideration, my questions and opinions faded. We’ve since taken our 15-hour flight to Yerevan, Armenia and have returned. And I am changed. We are changed.
The trip was a perfectly-swift combo of watching my husband’s medical volunteerism, exploring our cultural homeland with cousins, visiting a center for kids with special needs and inhaling freshly-baked Armenian lavash (bread) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I had a hunch our experience would be unique, but was blindsided by how swept away I became — by my heritage, by my kids.
It was my daughters’ and my very first journey visiting our original roots, and we bonded in a most unpredictable way. The hundreds-of-years-old churches we sang in, the fascinating histories we learned about the region, the local families conquering medical challenges, the joyful fervor of a renewed, old city full of hope and energy instantly opened our eyes and hearts. (And don’t forget that lavash.) We’re ready to go back.
Through semi-taxing day trips, we absorbed a deeper understanding about our beliefs, our ancestors, ourselves — which I fully expect to enrich our family life. My kids proved me wrong about still being too young to navigate demands of international travel. I proved myself right for vehemently waiting to tackle a trip like this until now.
Friends and followers would comment on pictures I shared via social media — “What a fantastic trip you’re having!” Here’s the truth: We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if my daughters were not ready for it — if they screamed their heads off on the plane, needed diaper changes, still required naps, etc. The trip was successful only because I refused to bite off more than I could chew, as a parent, before I had confidence we could do it without struggle.
This trip grew us up in the exact right way, at the exact right time, because we waited until everyone could handle it. Them. Me. All of us. Don’t let yourself get pressured into vacations if you suspect they might not turn out positive for everyone — including you, moms — because the line between magical and miserable is more delicate than we realize. Timing is everything when it comes to making family memories ... especially with kids on a plane.
Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of TheFABMom.com. She is a Los Angeles based TV/media contributor and author of book ‘The FAB Mom’s Guide’ for first-time pregnancy.