Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Being There

I was in the eight -grade the year Six Flags Over Texas opened.  My father took me with my best friend.  He paid our way in and generally walked along with us or waited for us at a bench while we rode all the rides.  After I grew up I remembered that day and remarked how boring it must have been for him.  I’ll never forget what he said, “You have no idea how much fun it can be to watch your kids have fun.”

And that is why we go to football games and band concerts and host end-of-school parties and drive kids to the mall.

There is a really cool video of what I want to share today but it was taken with Emily’s phone and that is where it still lives. I’m not sure it will ever make the move to cyberspace so let me describe it.
Both granddaughters were born in May—one on May 3rd and the other May 31st so we tend to celebrate both occasions on Mothers Day.  First we gave the girls their ho-hum birthday gift cards (it is incredibly hard to shop for teenagers and all they really want is gift cards to their favorite places.)

Then, we handed them four packages.  This is their birthday presents for NEXT year, we told them.  The first one went to Elisabeth who can open a package faster than the speed of light.  Inside was a travel book for a trip to Paris.  Her grandfather immediately put it into words, “We’re going to Paris!” 
The look on Essie’s face held enough energy and happiness to last me a lifetime.  Then a book for Sarah.  “We’re going to Italy”.  There were two more books:  London and Switzerland.  But after the first two books the city alarm sirens went off warning everyone of flash flooding.  It was enough to make Emily stop recording and we don’t have the videos of the rest of the surprises.
Looking through their aunt's photos of her last trip to Europe
 

 
The whole thing started on, actually, a fairly poopy note -- with Beaven declaring he didn’t think he had any more long trips to Europe in him.  This declaration came at the end of a conversation about some yardwork I had suggested.  He started listing all the things he’s getting too old to do.  Something like that.
For some reason, this made me want to go to Europe with an intensity only one step short of packing my bags.  And since in my fantasy Beaven would be staying home feeding the cat I called up Elizabeth, the only other person I know with the funds and interest to accompany me. In our research we soon found a trip geared to families with children that, hopefully, skipped the obligatory lecture on Renaissance Art in the Uffizi Gallery.  The trip now included Sarah and Essie.  We started making plans for next summer, giving us time to save money and schedule her time from work. It would be so easy to split the costs evenly between us. I like to keep my math simple.
As I suspected, once Beaven got wind of it, he was on board like it had been his idea all along.  Regrettably, I can’t remember the chore I wanted him to do that he didn’t have the energy for that started this whole ball rolling.
Beaven understands what my father had told me years ago; that it can bring indescribably joy to watch your grandchildren have a whole new world opened to them. And he is not about to miss this opportunity. The girls are at a prime age to learn what the world has to teach them. And sooner than we’d like, they will lose the luxury of an open schedule when college and jobs enter their lives.
Travel to other countries has a way of opening your eyes and your soul.  It really is not much more expensive than all the cruises that are so popular these days.  I have seen more than one grandparent buy their grandkid a new car just because they managed to graduate from high school.  I would by far prefer them to drive around in a beat up old clunker if it meant they could have the opportunity to see Michelangelo’s David in person or go to the top of the Eiffel Tower or feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.
I would love for them to walk past a manhole cover in the streets of Rome and see the initials “SPQR”, the abbreviation for “Senatus Populus Que Romanus”  -- Latin for "the Senate and people of Rome," a phrase that’s been used since 80 BC.  That’s Before Christ, folks—80 years to be exact.
They need to know that the stuff in history books really happened. 
This is the same reason I wanted to go to the Grand Canyon.  There is something about BEING there that makes a difference in your life.  Seeing through your peripheral vision is far more than a panoramic photo can provide.  It’s putting your feet on the same cobblestone road that Michaelangelo walked on his way to the Sistine Chapel to paint a fresco on the ceiling. Walking along the Champs Elysée under the same Arc de Triomphe that the soldiers paraded after WWII.  And seeing the bullet holes from that war in the stone of the nearby store fronts.
I grew up just a few miles from the spot where John F Kennedy was killed.  When I was in high school we would often drive past that spot and watch the tourists.  They had come to see for themselves.  It’s part of what drew so many people to go to New Orleans after watching the hurricane destruction on TV.  You have to be there in person.  Football fans might say the same about paying thousands of dollars to sit in the nosebleed section of the Super Bowl when they could see better at home on TV.  Or attending a concert instead of listening to the music on a playlist.
Some people call this “the Power of Place."
Sarah and Elisabeth will learn far more about history, geography and civilization by being there than anything they could see in a documentary or read in a book. They will learn more than how much a Versace purse costs.  They will know what the street in front of the Paris Versace store looks like.  They will know how big the store is, whether the floor inside is tile or carpet, what the weather outside the store is like in June, if the traffic is noisy, how many people walk past its door, what the air nearby smells like, and how far the nearest café is. 

If they are to be the future of our world, I want them to be prepared to engage with that world--all of it.

And you can bet I will teach them how to say, "Je voudrais chocolat negro."

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