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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Last in a series
So what did I as a worldly wise traveler but relatively new grandparent learn after a month and a half riding the rails, soaring the skies and seeing the sights of a great city with my grandchildren, first my 5-year-old and then the one who's 9? Allow me to summarize in a bakers' dozen teaching points for others:
1. Don't hesitate. Jump right in. Do it. There will never be a better time than now to plan and take such trips together, as you certainly aren't getting any younger. Furthermore, now that I know what fun it is, I want to keep on doing it, although I know the time will come all too soon when I simply will not be able to keep up physically with the young ones.
2. It really is affordable. I have been told, and I will raise my hand to witness, that hindsight all too often reveals that raising one's own children was not nearly the fun it could have been. There was school for us adults and beginning a couple of careers before settling down to one. Finances were always in the way as we were paying off debts here and there, building a house and trying to save up for the kids' college education. With grandchildren, money for retirees should be much less of a problem – because you have more of it now and/or because you have learned how to live with what you've got.
3. It really is worth while. Away from all the background of their parents, siblings and friends, they must talk to you. And, just as important, you now have no excuse not to listen to them. Such privileged communication lets you learn where they really are coming from. I am here to tell you that I was not prepared to learn just how savvy my two kids actually are. Furthermore, I am delighted to learn how absolutely nice they are.
4. It really is easy. You don't have to plan a major trip like going to Europe or even spending a week or two with Elderhostel. (See part 1 in this series.) A simple week or two with relatives or friends is just as good. The important thing is for you and the youngsters to get away on your own for a while and have some time where you are No. 1 for them and they are No. 1 for you. I learned almost as much about 5-year-old Max in his first visit to his cousins' home as I did about 9-year-old Stephen in far-away London.
5. Go with the flow as much as possible. When you are out to enjoy a vacation and get to know your grandchildren, it is not the time to take on changing any of their bad habits. Whether it is picking their nose in public or refusing to drink milk, the offending behavior is a topic to be left for another time. On the other hand, it's not the time for them to pick up new bad habits, either. I for one believe in drawing lines very early on – but this is relatively simple, as children are always testing adults to see if they really mean what they say.
My 5-year-old decided to emulate his older cousin's picky eating habits. I took him away from the table without letting him indulge his new fantasy and told him starvation was his choice, because I knew I was reinforcing the dictums of his father and mother. But I did not attempt to force my 9-year-old to eat whatever was put before him, because I knew the policy would fall by the way the minute he returned home. The bottom line is you are there to enjoy your relationship, and there is no percentage in picking a fight – especially a fight you will ultimately lose.
6. Collect artifacts. When you get back home, present your grands with tickets, programs and other memorabilila from the various places you visited together so they will have something to help recall the visit. Encourage those old enough to express their observations and thoughts in writing to keep a daily journal during the trip so they can put together an album with their notes accompanied by your artifacts when they get home.
7. Take pictures which include your grand and you. That way, they can show their friends and relatives proof positive they really were there with you. This one I learned the hard way. On the trip to London, my 9-year-old took 54 pictures of everything except us. The ticket agent at the airport in Charleston took the only picture I have of the two of us – when we got our boarding passes. Sure wish I had a couple more.
8. Accept the fact that kids snack. And snack, and snack. Be prepared to fuel them on demand. They burn all that energy and must replace it. Carry water, cookies, dried fruit, whatever turns them on that has some minimal nutritional value. (Re-read No. 5. Now is not the time to make them eat your trail mix.)
9. Involve the kids in both the pre-planning and the day-to-day decision-making on site. After all, it is their vacation, right? Depending on their ages, they will at least be able to discuss where and how you are planning to go. While they may not appear to understand what you are talking about, their minds are mulling it all over, and they can ask some really good questions later on. The important thing is to give them time to marshal whatever resources they do have and to study the situation at their pace. And with a computer, the older ones can research the subject matter as well as you – if not better.
10. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Teach those who don't already know it when and how to call 9-1-1 and ask for assistance. Teach them how to call home, including using the country code if you are going overseas. We all think we are indestructible, but we also know fate can step in at any time. Both of you need to carry good identification. The grand must understand who is a reasonable authority in the area you are visiting (policeman, bobby, etc.) and have the confidence to seek out such a person and express his or her needs. Also, very important: Teach them to stay by you at all times, and then as a part of the deal be willing to go off with them when there's somewhere they want to explore.
11. When practical, accompany them to the toilet and have them accompany you. In other words, don't send them into a public restroom on their own or leave them waiting outside alone while you attend to nature's call. This is a potential trouble spot in any community, and they need to understand, in terms that they can understand, why they must be careful. If they are too old to share the stall or of the opposite gender, wait outside and watch the restroom door. If they appear to be taking too long and there is no traffic, open the door and call to them to be sure they are all right. In today's world, precaution is not the same thing as paranoia.
12. Be sensitive to the youngsters' needs. They have a different clock, constitution and outlook on life from yours. Remember that you are there to have a good time with them. They know how to play, as they have spent their entire lifetime honing this skill. You have forgotten how and are trying to recapture the hang of it. Let them lead you. If you feel they are becoming too demanding, call a "time out" to recuperate. Tell them you need to rest for a while and have them plan the next event while you catch your breath. It is amazing how understanding kids can be of their elders' infirmities. Perhaps it is because they are also well acquainted with exhaustion – it is the way they usually end their day.
13. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

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