Friday, April 9, 2010

Traveling in the Blood!

When we were in India we met Rachel Denning who is living in India at RSO with her husband Greg and their four little children. They have an amazing website at www.discovershareinspire.com .She asked if I would send a post for their blog about what we have learned through the years through traveling with our children. It has been fun to reflect and collect and thanks to modern technology, we have digital photography to show for it.  It’s nice to have a permanent record of at least a snippet of some of our best experiences. Here is the post:    

When my husband Richard and I were married, one of the passions we shared was traveling. Another passion involved having a big family. Forty years down the road we have traveled to thirty countries with our nine children.

When we first started asking for advice about traveling with kids, people seemed to give us one of two contradicting bits of advice: (1) Long periods of travel is so disruptive to a family. It’s so important to provide stability for your kids by staying in the same place during their formative years allowing them to feel that they were growing up in a neighborhood where they have lifelong friends and are valued as part of a community OR (2) Just do it! It will give your kids so much breadth and depth, Give up your day job and experience life serendipitously, Let them see the world first hand and experience humanitarian service along the way. And then there were quite a few people who suggested it was prohibitively expensive and complicated to travel with more than a couple of children.

We decided we wanted both the stability and security and the adventure,learning and bonding that travel offers. And we decided that “where there’s a will there’s a way” and that somehow we’d make the expenses and complications work out.

We very carefully planned to have two home-bases - one in Utah and the other near Washington D.C.. Richard, a product of the Harvard Business School, had work opportunities in both places so we had built-in travel opportunities right off the bat as we moved back and forth for several years between these two places with our children going from one friendly community to the other. Richard put in a lot of work hours to generate a nest egg to draw on when we began to widen our travel horizons. There were some initial trips, like the one when we were moving across the country in an old car with two pre-schoolers and a baby with diarrhea, that we would like to forget. And we realized right away that traveling with kids wasn’t all fun and games. No matter how much we tried to simplify, there was always so much “stuff”, so many bottles, diapers and bathroom stops!

But forward we did go…first on road trips in the US and then spreading to the International scene. It would take a book to include all the details but suffice it to say that in the process of our work raising children, Richard and I ended up writing parenting books including a NY Times #1 best seller called Teaching Your Children Values and hoarded up frequent flyer miles from our book tours which helped a great deal in supporting our adventures.

Our first long trip overseas was a church assignment in London where we supervised 200 missionaries at a time for three years. When we left the U.S we had four children and our oldest was five. They still remember this experience as one of their best! Here they are, our oldest two in their Church of England school uniforms, our two year old thinking of his next adventure and the baby asleep somewhere in the house.

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After three years in England we went back to our home-base in Utah. FYI: Ten years later we took all nine of our kids out of their US schools and went back to this house and the Church of England schools so that our younger kids (two who were born there and three who were born after we left) could experience what our older children had. By now the children were older and it was an enlightening education for all…especially our fashion-conscious sophomore in high school who cried all the way to school every day in her “ugly brown uniform” claiming that we had ruined her life, only to come forth in later years declaring that it was the best thing we had ever done for her! Even though our U.S. teachers fretted and often weren’t very nice about our kids missing school, this time for six months, sometimes for one month, we love the Mark Twain quote, “Never let schooling get in the way of your education!”

Usually our adventures were during the three month summer break or over the Christmas holidays. One summer we rented two little side-by-side condos in the little impoverished town of Ajijic, Mexico. That was the first eye-opener for our kids that the world was very different than in the “bubble” where we lived…and that you don’t have to have shoes to be happy!

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Another summer we decided to expose the kids to the really hard work our pioneer ancestors would have experienced by building a log cabin in the wilderness of the Blue Mountains in Oregon. We lived in a teepee while we built and our two-year-old looked like he had been rolled in honey and then sprinkled with dirt by 10 a.m. every morning. In the picture below he had also just been bitten by some bug that left a puffy eye and whoever took this picture put a thumb over the lens, and blotted out a few kids but you’ll get the idea.

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My greatest asset for this adventure was that I had never camped out in my life – I had no idea what I was getting myself into! What fun we had with the wonders of nature, finding bear tracks, working hard and learning to cook, first with Dutch ovens over a fire pit, and then on an old cast iron stove that we moved into the cabin when it was almost finished. There was no electricity and our refrigerator was a hole in the ground filled with ice cold spring water.

Our adventures through the years includes a summer in Japan, during which our kids had a chance to attend Japanese schools for a day and learning just how different a culture can be from our own. Our little first grader’s class ended at half day, which they neglected to tell us. He was terrified to go in the first place and not seeing his parents come to collect him at the end of a scary morning was his worst nightmare. Twenty years later, he is selling a terrific software program that teaches elementary age kids from other countries to speak English. His best story is telling them that he knows exactly how it feels to be surrounded by kids who are speaking a different language with no idea of what is going on and subsequently what an invaluable product this software is for the schools to help their kids acclimate to their new life! Who would have known?

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After a few more years of going from an adventure back to a home base, either in Utah or Washington D.C. (actually McLean, Virginia) we started thinking about not only traveling for the sake of experience but also for the benefits of doing humanitarian expeditions while we were at it.

As our children grew older, our opportunities for travel became even more exciting. Each of our children has had the splendid experience of serving an eighteen month to two year mission for our church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). After applying to go on a mission, 19-21 year-olds in our church receive a letter in the mail near their birthday that informs them where they would be giving their service. Sometimes during and sometimes just at the end of our kids’ missionary service, the rest of us have taken a trip to the country where they are serving. Richard and I with the help of the kids did seminars, often through interpreters, on methods for improving family life and we had the opportunity to give service while we were there. Our first two daughters went to Bulgaria and Romania, respectively so we had a chance to meet wonderful people in those countries as well as to serve in orphanages there. Dear friends organized a way for us to stay for a month in Romania during this time just after Eastern Europe was opened to the world. There we, along with our seven younger children, worked in an orphanage for children with special needs. That memory is forever emblazoned on our kids’ minds and hearts.

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Other children’s missions included England (3 went back to our mission from so many years ago), Spain, Brazil, Chile and Japan. In each case we took as many children as were home at the time and let them share the experience of the mission with their siblings. This dedication to our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ has profoundly shaped their character and solidified their love for serving others as well as experiencing new cultures.

JOY JOY JOY The family at the wrong address, preparing for th

By then, not only traveling but humanitarian service had gotten into all our blood. Our youngest daughter was 12 when we went on our first official humanitarian expedition to a third world country with a group called CHOICE Humanitarian. One year when we were truly sick thinking of getting more “stuff” for Christmas, all the kids agreed that they would give up their Christmas if we could get them a ticket to Bolivia to help villagers on the Altiplano of Bolivia (14,000 feet) to bring water into their village for the first time. We left on Christmas day. With other families in our group, our goal was to finish the trenches begun by the villagers with our picks and shovels and lay enough PVC pipe from the water source on the hill to the village. When the pipe was installed, they’d be able to get clean water into the village for the first time in its history. The villagers supervised and we all worked toether diligently, including an 80 year old grandmother as we chipped away at the rock hard soil. After working for days during every minute of daylight with only our meager hand tools the villagers ceremoniously turned on the first water tap ever in their village on January 1st. The villagers were thrilled but the looks on our kids’ faces were priceless!

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After our hard work in the village, we traveled to Machu Picchu where we loved soaking in that incredible historical monument to human ingenuity. It was so spectacular to climb the mountain in the background and feel as though you were on top of the world, that one of our sons (the one looking spaced out..gazing into the great yonder on the back row) took his adorable girlfriend back to that mountain top years later to ask her to marry him!

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Here we are with other members of the expedition. Those memories just don’t fade!

That was so much fun that the following summer we took the kids to Africa for another project in a remote village in Kenya. We built a cistern to catch water for their use during droughts, slept in the schoolhouse in sleeping bags under mosquito nets, built desks that the kids had earned money for before we left home and learned to make bricks for a new schoolroom.

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At a makeshift medical clinic our kids learned first-hand how to get rid of the scabies that dotted almost every villagers’ legs especially those of the children. Six hundred people from surrounding villages were lined up by 5 a.m.every morning for medical care in hopes of, at the very least, getting an aspirin! We had two nurses, a couple of medical students and a dentist with us. Mothers came to me with their baby’s stomachs swollen to bursting thinking that because I was a white woman I would know how to help. It was both heart-wrenching and incredibly life-changing for all of us, especially our teenagers.

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After our work in the village making friends and learning about the 3rd world 1st hand, we had arranged to spend the next week on a safari on the Masai Mara and then a week climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Everyone made it to the top and though I still have a bad knee to show for it, I wouldn’t give up the experience for all the good knees in the world! Here we are the kids with our guides at the top, 21,450 feet! Richard and I were about an hour behind.

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After each of our fun adventures that combined humanitarian service with a once-in-a-lifetime experience at Machu Picchu or on Safari or even climbing MT Kilimanjaro we asked the kids what they valued most. There was a resounding chorus as they all agreed that it was the humanitarian experience in the villages!

With service in our blood, the next summer we built a health clinic in a rural Mexican village and the list of fun and exciting humanitarian projects broadened until we found ourselves recently in Southern India where we met Rachel and Greg Denning, who are the creators of this amazing website and blog. They are adventurers extraordinaire and watching them create a life of adventure and service for themselves that so few would be brave enough to embrace is truly an inspiration!

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Even though we are now empty nesters, the “traveling blood” continues to flow in us as well as our children and their spouses. In January after a speaking tour on parenting in the Middle East and India Richard and I had the wonderful opportunity to be with Greg and Rachel at a remarkable NGO called Rising Star Outreach begun by some giant humanitarians to help the poorest of the poor of India in the Leprosy affected colonies and their children and grandchildren in Southern India.

One of our sons was married in September to a wondrous woman and they are on a nine month humanitarian honeymoon. They began in Mozambique with an NGO called Care for Life and are finishing at Rising Star Outreach in India. What they and so many others have done to change the lives of these little children is truly remarkable! How fun it was to join them and then be joined by our youngest daughter and her roommates (in the picture below). Our son who is very tall is in the center, his wife is to the right, Richard beside her and our youngest daughter to his left. Greg Denning is on the far left.

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There is just nothing like seeing your “baby” daughter surrounded by beautiful Indian children whom she is teaching and who love her. Or to see her beaming at the opportunity of sitting by a woman with leprosy who hasn’t had any fingers to cook for her family, do her children’s hair or even scratch an itch for twenty years. The lessons in life from travel and humanitarian service reaches far beyond what can be written or explained. It’s a feeling from the heart!

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So even though we’ve had some incredible adventures with our children, we did go back to our home bases after each one and our kids had the opportunity to play on high school basketball teams, develop lifelong friendships, go on choir trips and be ready for the ACT and SAT tests when they were ready to enter college. All have now graduated from various colleges including Wellesley College (3 daughters) Brigham Young University, Utah State University, Weber State University, Harvard and Columbia. There are so many ways to travel with children and make it a lifelong successful, enriching and life-changing experience. This way seemed to work best for us!

With that traveling blood still flowing freely throughout the Eyre family, from January to March this year we had our two children and a daughter-in-law in India, a son on a humanitarian mission in Ethiopia, a son and his wife who just returned from living in New Zealand, a son and his wife visiting Puerto Rico, a son and his wife visiting Mexico, and our daughter and son-in law (who spent their honeymoon doing a humanitarian project in the Philippines) traveling with their three little children to Disneyland (just to prove that there’s always room for frivolity)!

All thirty five of us love being together for a family reunion in July at our “other” home base at Bear Lake, Idaho!

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The lessons we have all learned from traveling is something that just can’t be learned in a classroom and can’t be explained in one blog entry. It is so much more than we ever envisioned or even imagined in our wildest dreams! We have recently asked our children to write their favorite memories of growing up with Richard and I. Every one included our family traveling adventures as most memorable and something that truly shaped their lives.

4 comments:

Noah said...

mom I loved reading this. These are great memories, thanks SO much for giving them to us!!

Rachel said...

That's a truly horrible picture of the Dennings ;)

Rachel said...

That's a truly horrible picture of the Dennings ;)

Rachel said...

That's a truly horrible picture of the Dennings ;)