Travels with kids

Many years ago I was at a journalism conference where a much-decorated former staff reporter at a large Canadian newspaper, I think her name was Anne Mullens, said that she had quit the high-pressure newsroom life for one as a freelancer, whereupon she discovered a  thriving market existed for travel-with-children articles.

I am not surprised. Traveling with kids is not for the weak-of-heart or head, takes planning, patience and more pounds of luggage than a childless person could ever imagine.

Mullens came to mind yesterday as we took a relatively easy train-touring day with our friends and their two daughters, the elder an alert four-year-old, and the younger a seven-month-old stroller-bound darling. It was a reawakening to the all-consuming life we once led as parents where the search for washrooms, decent diaper-changing locales and a ready supply of snack foods and entertainment were essential components to the travel plan.

Compared to every other trip we’ve taken this past year, yesterday’s day-trip through Switzerland’s Golden Pass was a tour-de-force. I grew up the older child in a large family and a larger extended family of cousins, spent countless hours volunteering at schools, plus raised two boys who both survived past the statistically dangerous age bracket 17-25, and so while I am not a childcare expert by any stretch of the imagination, I know a thing or two about children, namely: Thing One: They cannot be trusted to behave in a manner consistent with self-preservation. Thing Two: Thing One to the power of ten.

Gstaad, the uber-rich Swiss ski town of $80 Kleenex box cloth covers, $115 coat hangers and $192 polyester scarves where confessed pedophile Roman Polanski was finally arrested in 2009, much to the disappointment of everyone who forgets exactly what he did.

And so I spent most of my day tethered to the four-year-old because if a child wandering away is a nightmare,  even worse is a scenario where a child wanders away in a foreign country where 911 is not keyed into the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure (every zone and emergency service has a different phone code here), and where we do not know how to say in German, French or Italian “Aiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee, help us find a little girl with black hair, brown eyes dressed in a pink plaid kilt and rose-coloured turtle-neck sweater!!!!”

Okay, we know how to say “aiiiiiieeeeeee,” in any language, but the rest would be very challenging to translate.

The four-year-old, understood well the importance of hanging on to her adults – if she had a blog she would probably be writing about how absent-minded old people are and need to be clutched constantly lest they drift off into a souvenir shop, but she understood more than that. In Gstaad, she spied another little girl threading solo through the crowd.

“Where are her parents!” the sage four-year-old declared, more than inquired, as she spun her head around looking for the loose child’s corresponding adults. She spied a likely couple and made a derogatory remark about their lax supervisory skills.

She’s four, but she’s already showing signs of genius.

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