As loyal readers will know, my family of five is currently on a six week road trip around the United States before we begin our new life in Texas. We’re in week three and it’s been 90% wonderful and 10% sibling bickering, unexpected traffic, and unreasonable requests for snacks. We’ve camped, been hosted by friends, and stayed in hotels over the past 17 days. We’ve visited national parks, big cities, and in-between. It’s definitely been an adventure and it’s been so much fun.
And we’ve taken our kids plenty of places that have stretched them. We’ve taken them places I’m sure many people would argue that children don’t “belong.” But I don’t really listen to people who tell me where I should and shouldn’t take my kids. I believe children should be at weddings, restaurants, airplanes, and other places human beings gather.
Last week within 24 hours, we took our family to three places that might be considered a little crazy for young children to go: on a 2 hour guided tour through a cave, to Vespers at a Trappist monastery, and to a fancy hotel.
Last Monday we started our day at our camp site at Mammoth Cave National Park. The shorter kid-friendly guided tour into the cave was sold out, so we threw caution to the wind and went on the two-hour more strenuous hike underground including 500 stairs.
Would the two-year-old freak out? Would the three-year-old be able to handle that many stairs? We couldn’t know until we tried. And you know what? They did awesome. We put the two-year-old in the Ergo and the three-year-old walked up and down every step without complaining. It was an incredible experience and the kids were so proud of their accomplishment. The Park Rangers were helpful, the other visitors to the park were kind, and a good time was had by all.
After lunch we drove straight to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery, where we met up with friends we knew through Twitter who gave us a tour. Then I took the three-year-old and six-year-old to Vespers (evening prayer) in the church.
I was a little nervous because my kids aren’t little angels in Mass. Trappists take a vow of silence and I didn’t want to give any monks a heart attack. But lo and behold, we entered the sacred space and while I ended up needing to hold the three-year-old to help with her wiggles, my six-year-old-always-in-constant-motion-firecracker son was still as a statue. He followed along with the prayers provided in the little booklet and was captivated.
Then we got to visit Thomas Merton’s hermitage and ate dinner with two of the monks. The kids hunted for lizards, ate obscene amounts of watermelon, and someday will understand what a privilege it was to be there. They monks noted how joyful and lively the children were and what a gift they are to our families. Their shenanigans made the monks laugh until they had to jump in their ATV to make it back to the Abbey in time for Compline.
We left the Abbey to continue on to Louisville where we spent a couple of nights at The Galt House which is a beautiful downtown hotel.
While we were there the kids practiced hotel etiquette like walking quietly inside the hotel (especially at night), using inside voices while in our room as to not disturb other guests, and how to act while waiting for and taking the elevator. They were the only kids I saw in the hotel, but I was so pleased with their behavior.
Because the thing is, when you take your kids places, they learn how to act appropriately. Because we’ve taken our kids to restaurants their whole lives, they know that if they are too loud and disturb other patrons, we will remove them and take them to the car. So they don’t do that anymore. Yes, of course they need to be reminded about inside voices, staying in their seats, and saying thank you to servers. But eating at restaurants is in their skill set now.
The same thing goes for churches. We’ve taken our kids to Mass since they were born. It is often a struggle. And my apologies Queen of Angels parish in Chicago for my 2-year-old’s behavior last Saturday. But she’s learning. And she did a lot better at daily Mass at St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN this morning. And by next year, she might be as well-behaved as her older siblings in Mass because she’ll know the drill.
I’ve learned over the years that there are people on the internet who hate the idea of having to be around children. They believe public spaces are for grown ups and kids should stay at home. But I haven’t run into many of those sort in real life. Most people our family encounters smile when they see us, go out of their way to be helpful, and give me hope that humanity hasn’t lost the idea that children are precious gifts, not inconveniences.
So take your kids places. It doesn’t have to be a cave, an abbey, or a fancy hotel. You don’t even have to leave your hometown. But let them experience new things. They have every right to be there. They will grow and learn new skills. And the vast majority of folks you meet will be glad to see them.