My husband and I were walking by a children's park in the Eixample quarter of Barcelona when we realized that we were ready to start a family. Seeing the beautiful Barcelonians-cosmopolitan and youthful-pushing Bugaboos past Gaudi's modernist Casa BotllÓ, we saw what it could be like for us. We had planned on waiting a year before starting a family, maybe visiting India first. But seeing those parents in Barcelona-so urban and yet, with children-we decided not to wait. We came back to Chicago, and soon two lines on a pregnancy test told us we would be pram-pushers as well.
As we planned for the new responsibilities, we realized that we would need to decide how we wanted to raise this little peanut. When we had our wills done, we added special instructions: any request our child had for funds to support travel were to be obliged. We figured, if for any reason we were gone, we still wanted to give our baby the world.
Vivien was born the next August and we continued living in the city. We prepared to keep our travel going. Vivien's first passport picture was of an apple-headed 8-month-old in a purple fur-collared sweater. An island getaway to Jamaica provided her first blue stamp and with that, our new family was ready to explore.
Vivien was a champion traveler from the start: sleeping on the plane, splashing in the ocean, napping as we relaxed on the terrace. She loved being adored by the staff and we loved having her with us. We still relaxed and swam, shopped and had seaside dinners, but we now added in stops at the children's area and walks past the dolphin cove. We found ourselves more open and talkative with the locals, other guests and staff.
Our little traveler was the catalyst for creating these new interactions.
After that trip, we had no problem filling up that darling little passport. Vivien accompanied us on trips all over-domestic and abroad. From New York, San Francisco and Orlando to Argentina, Uruguay, Italy and Germany, Vivien was our travel sidekick. After long days of exploring, shopping, visiting museums, parks and cafes, Vivien would fall asleep next to us in her stroller at restaurants or to the buzz of television cartoons in French, Italian or Spanish.
While this felt perfect and normal to us, we discovered that many people who found out we took her with us on these trips were utterly confused.
"Why would you take her there now?" they would ask. "She'll never remember it."
This comment made me defensive at first. I felt blessed that we could explore these different countries and cultures, continuing to live our dreams even with a child in tow. Vivien was happy and thriving. I wondered how to respond. As I thought about it, even I couldn't recall all the details of each of our trips. If you can't remember your trips, could it be argued that it's pointless to go?
We disregarded the questions and continued to travel. We visited Thailand and Vietnam, and Vivien compared her size with the large toes of the Reclining Buddha and practiced bowing to friendly wait staff in Saigon. We stockpiled United frequent-flier miles and hotel points and flew to visit friends in Germany and family in Lake Como and Venice, Italy.
I watched Vivien maneuver rides at Chriskindlmarkt in Frankfurt and giggle at old aunts in Italy who indulged her in chocolates. When her little best friend moved to London, we took her to visit and they danced around the Orangery in Kensington Gardens. And I'll never forget the delight in her eyes as she emerged from the Paris metro and saw the Eiffel Tower, more alive and real than when she first admired it watching the Disney movie "Ratatouille."
Her passport expires at the end of this year. It's now filled with the stamps of the 13 countries she has visited in her five years on earth.
If her travels leave absolutely no memories, I'd be surprised. She regularly stuns my husband and me with little remembrances out of the blue-and if we are looking through photo books, she usually can recount way more than either my husband or I can. And while the memories are, indeed, treasures, I have no doubt that what has left an imprint on my daughter's mind is not so much in the photos or the memories, but in the process of the travels themselves.
She is ultimately-as indeed, we all are-a product of the journey.
Jennifer Anton is a Chicago mom and freelance writer.