When I used to travel solo, I enjoyed pushing myself beyond my comfort zones. I would often say: “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”. Now that I have travel companions who are small and inexperienced, I notice that my boundaries have shifted in interesting ways.
It’s not that I participated in recklessly dangerous activities or blazed particularly hazardous trails. I would simply feel timid about the unknowns that I was facing, or nervous about being alone in the huge world. An example that comes to mind is when I called home upon arrival in Kolkata, India; my father was glad to hear that my plane had landed safely. He was not so thrilled when I told him I was afraid to leave the phone booth, which was surrounded by curious men whose faces were pressed up against the glass, staring at me.
These days, while adventuring, I must also consider the limits– both physical and psychological– of the children who are in my care. It seems an obvious point, but I know how easily it can be taken for granted that our kids and babies will just tag along wherever we want to go. We have occasionally pushed our twins too far: by taking a flight at their normal bedtime, for example, or expecting them to sit in a stroller for days on end while we explore a new city. Changes in climate have also knocked our children around in ways we hadn’t expected.
But the new boundaries are not only related to the experiences of the children; my own perceptions are affected by having them with me.
Last week, on a whim, I pulled off the main road and stopped at “The Historic Shot Tower”, a tourist attraction that has caught my eye each time we’ve driven past. It’s situated near the coastline and looks a bit like a lighthouse, but perhaps taller and narrower. I thought it might be fun to take the children for a climb up inside it to see the view over the water.
I paid the entrance fee and wasn’t able to read anything about the history of the unique structure (“the only remaining circular sandstone shot tower in the world“) because the boys were restless and eager to begin the ascent. Through the door from the main factory we went, into the belly of the tower which was drafty and creaky.
Looking down was like peering into a bottomless drain pipe.
Looking up was like gazing through an enormous telescope.
The stairwell was enclosed only by chicken wire, the steps themselves were simply narrow planks, and each felt flimsier than the last. The small, unglazed window openings were far apart.
The children skipped ahead, eager to look out each window (although the view that interested them was of cars passing on the nearby road, not the picturesque sea on the other side).
As our height increased, so did my heart rate and blood pressure, it seemed. I didn’t want the boys to run ahead, but when they stayed with me they clung to my clothes and made the going very slow. When all three of us stepped together, I feared the stairs would not hold our combined weight.
I’ve never been afraid of heights and have rarely felt claustrophobic, but I started picturing dreadful scenarios and I realised that I needed to make the children feel safe even though I did not. We made it halfway up before I became so anxious that I insisted we return to our starting point at ground level.
I can’t remember feeling so afraid. They thought it was a jolly jaunt.
Since then, we’ve encountered flames thrown skyward during the Dark Mofo festival that gave everyone a fright and terrified the children. Now that they can articulate more of their fears and needs, it’s fascinating to observe them discovering their own levels of comfort as we experience the world together.
Meanwhile, their presence continues to shift my boundaries and test my limits. I may need a new travel motto.