On the Road Again - With Two Children
THE bells were striking noon as tourists and parishioners filtered into York Minster, England's largest cathedral. In a pulpit high above the central altar an Anglican priest intoned a midday prayer. Around us people slid into pews and bowed their heads. Meanwhile, my husband and I were desperately trying to interest Greg, age 5, and Erica, 20 months, in the animals that were carved into one of the crypts in a side altar. ``Look!'' we whispered. ``Look at the lion! Look at that blue flower in the staine d-glass window!'' To no avail. Greg kept yanking my hand, asking when we could go to the park. Erica kicked in her father's arms, refusing to be deterred from the forbidden pleasure she'd only moments before discovered - banging her stroller against one of the cathedral's echoing stone columns. Her cries of frustration filled the nave, and we fled. This is the stuff of parental combat stories; but in fact, the tantrum in the cathedral was a rare occurrence. As we ate soggy fish and chips in an overpriced restaurant later, having failed so miserably at introducing our children to the grandeur of one of the world's great cathedrals, I realized I had nonetheless become a convert. I really liked traveling with children. Our visit to the minster had been aborted not because children and cathedrals don't mix, but because we'd neglected one of the cardin al rules of travel with young children: Never take them sightseeing when they are hungry.Skip to next paragraph
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These were rules we discovered during the three weeks we spent in England a few summers ago. They seemed to fall under a general rubric: As long as you anticipate their needs, you can have a wonderful vacation traveling abroad with your children.
I was not always so optimistic. Like many parents, after the birth of our second child I'd become skeptical about the feasibility of adventures beyond an hour's drive to the beach. Indeed, it took my husband most of the previous winter to convince me that the four of us traveling together could have what might remotely be conceived of as a vacation.
The two of us had been to England several times before, and I had definite memories of what such a trip entailed: uninterrupted mornings in London's museums and bookstores, evenings in the theater, dinners in Indian and Chinese restaurants, and long walks in the country. It was impossible to imagine children fitting into such scenes.
What I failed to anticipate were the other, equally compelling scenes, into which we were drawn precisely because we were traveling with children. Greg did not care that the son of William the Conqueror is buried in Winchester Cathedral (``killed by a stag in the forest,'' reads the laconic description on the tomb), but he and his sister showed us other attractions: a mirror reflecting the transept's ancient columns, a black spaniel sniffing the park benches outside.