A couple posts ago I mentioned I’d write some more about how travel has affected us today. Being in the U.S. for a solid 11 months has really revealed how differently Dusty and I feel about the “normal” things now. The most revealing of all has been pregnancy. While I believe it to be true that all pregnant, first time Moms are bombarded by the same influx of comments, criticisms and pregnancy horror stories, these things seem to be bothering me more than most. At least it seems that way. I’ve been wondering, “Hey, How’d We Get Like This?” I feel like we are so far off the reservation when it comes to babies and raising children that I needed to look back and figure out why.
If I think back to before we left on our first backpacking adventure, had I been pregnant then, I would have done everything differently. I wouldn’t have thought twice about getting good and numbed up for delivery. I would have gone to my regular doctor and not thought twice about their practices or procedures. And, while I still would have not preferred to receive a baby shower, I would have accepted one anyway because that’s what you do. So, how did I change my mind so drastically in just 2 years?
I can think of three distinct experiences that have contributed to a shift in child rearing perspective. I’m sure there are many more life lessons learned along the way that have contributed, such as the change in our eating habits and learning to live with less stuff. However, these moments were crucial child centered turning points spawning a wave of questioning.
People Travel….With Kids!?
One of the first things probably anyone does when they want to accomplish something big, is learn how others have or are doing it. When we were preparing for travel, one inspiring tale we came across was that of the Bumfuzzle couple. At the time I began following their blog, they had recently returned from a 3 continent journey on a VW bus (one continent being South America). Previous to that, they accomplished an epic 4 year journey around the globe, via sailboat. Their story began at a bar in Chicago where over some beers, they decided they were going to sail around the world. Neither of them had ever sailed a day in their lives. They did it and survived. At the time I started reading, they revealed that they were pregnant, but their nomadic lifestyle was not going to change. They drove their car down to Puerto Vallarta where they delivered a baby girl. What were these people thinking? Having a baby in Mexico!? They now live on a boat with two children. I remember reading their stories and thinking, “These people have got some balls.” But yet, they’re just a couple from Chicago. No different than say maybe a couple from Cincinnati. Their story truly inspired us to think outside the box when it came to giving birth to our baby girl. We even considered heading to Mexico. But as it turns out, with a baby on the way near Christmas, we preferred to be home.
Another blog, Man vs. Debt, was also inspirational. The Bakers, from Indiana, had sold their stuff (just like us!) and went on a journey to Australia and New Zealand….with their one year old daughter in tow. When we began our travels, we were told on countless occasions that we should get the traveling out of our system before we had children. We silently disagreed and chuckled to ourselves, knowing we could in fact travel with children if we really wanted. It’s not impossible. We’ve met Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt at a premiere in Wilmington, Ohio for his new movie. We know it can be done.
Nowadays, we’re not as shy about sharing our intention to travel with a child. Knowing us, our friends and family don’t doubt it. What would have previously been responded with, “You can’t do that!” is now just met with a suspicious look. We half jokingly tease people by saying, “Babies don’t care what country they are in.”, which is typically met with, “Yeah that’s true…”, followed by a, “at least until they can XXX.” Insert some milestone: walk, move around, turn two. We’ll see and get back to you on that one. Until then we’ll continue to dream and plan.
Having children wasn’t on my mind when we began backpacking two years ago. I did have a niece and several nephews, though. I began to notice differences between how people I knew were with their children compared to that of the locals we came across on the road. An obvious difference I noticed was the lack of stuff. We never saw a stroller. Ever. Every woman carried their baby or small child in a sling. Often times we saw babies being held by women on a motorcycle. Obviously, there’s no room for a car seat on one of those. And finally, no diaper bags which meant no diapers, no toys, no snacks. One thing I did notice that was universal, was whining. :)
I recently had a conversation with a family member who was questioning my request to not receive a baby shower. While the many gifts would have been appreciated, I did not feel it was necessary to acquire all of the typical items one receives at a shower. This family member expressed their concerned that I was not going to have the things that babies “need”. I pointed out that in many of the countries we have traveled, babies don’t have those things and are just fine. Their answer to that was, “Where? Third world countries?” I knew what they were getting at. In the mind of a person who has never been to a third world country, my guess is they believe nothing is done correctly there, hence the third world status. In my mind, one thing third world countries are great for learning is simplicity. First world status may mean a more advanced economy and higher standard of living, but that also sometimes means overcomplicating things and developing technologies where technology isn’t needed.
Even Pooping Is Different
The final revelation came when we were in the middle of nowhere Bolivia. Near the Chilean border, we stopped at a bunker type hostel for the night. The accommodations were meager. The beds were mattresses laid on top of slabs of concrete. The hot water was produced by a water line that ran through the chimney of a fireplace. The water would barely pass for luke warm by American standards, but the owner was proud. It’s at this hostel where I witnessed a small boy, maybe 3 years old, pooping on the ground outside my door. The sight of him squatting there in the middle of the driveway shocked me to no end. He used his hands to cover his dirty business with dirt, like a cat would in a litter box. His dad came by seconds later with a shovel and removed the pile. No scolding or reprimanding. It seemed normal to him.
I could not get over this for many days. Finally, I realized, there’s no way this boy could even attempt to be potty trained like we know it. To be honest, they were lucky to have toilets. In fact, we had to squat over a hole at a different location in Bolivia. Even if they were lucky to have toilets, they had no toilet seats. How could a small child learn to go on a toilet with no seat? They’d fall in! After coming to this understanding, I came to grips with what I had witnessed. I realized I just had to get over my own cultural expectations.
From this I learned that EVERYTHING, even POOPING can be done differently. While I won’t be teaching my own child to go potty in the driveway, and probably won’t be carrying her on the back of a motorcycle, I can appreciate that things can be done differently than what I’ve learned in the U.S. Not only have I learned to be open to different ways, I’ve also learned to question the norm. Now, I find myself questioning everything! This could be my curse, as I find it more and more difficult to have any type of discussion with friends and family members. Discussions such as maybe not having a stroller are met with such resistance that I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut. Well, I try, anyway. Sometimes I can’t help myself but to challenge people to see what they’ll say. Which maybe needs to be the topic for the next Minor Differences post.