Spectacular failures make for great stories.
I added this idea to a Facebook conversation this morning about letting our fears of the unknown control our thinking. Fear of the unknown, of failure, of losing, of being uncomfortable, of embarrassment, of discouragement, of not being good at something – these have all influenced my choices over the years. I know they will always be a factor in my life, but too often they became the deciding factor.
I still struggle with these unknowns, but my 3 month summer adventure helped me shake their influence. Choosing to travel to Europe for 3 months felt like closing my eyes and diving into the deep end, all the while wondering if I could actually swim. Frustration and exhaustion, even depression, sometimes plagued my steps.. Traveling with three children and an ever optimistic spouse proved tremendously difficult at times. I’m certain that traveling with me was even more challenging.
I remember getting on a crowded Mega bus at 3 am from Iowa to Chicago, nervous and anxious. My kids picked the top back of a double decker, a choice I do not recommend. We arrived in Chicago with 3 exhausted kids, hours until our flight, and no idea of how exactly to get to the airport. We trudged through the train station and up busy sidewalks, overloaded with luggage, and grateful for the kindness of a stranger who showed us the way. This was just the beginning of one of the longest days of my life.
There were dull days in France (I know!), with no transportation, fast food, or friends.
I navigated Paris with 2 other moms and my 3 kids, carrying a 2 year-old much of the way, to reach the Eiffel Tower via subway and lots of walking. I wondered if I could do it halfway there and realized it didn’t matter because turning back wasn’t an option.
We fast tracked the Louvre because our 4 days in Paris simply were not enough and we had to settle for the Mona Lisa and not much else.
We passed Paris street vendors with amazing creations to get to a location in time, only to find it closed for construction and everyone too tired to enjoy the sites we passed in our rush.
I pushed my husband to his limits when we departed France for England. The lack of planning angered me. I hated the food options. I dreaded the unknown. I took it out on him and we spent much of the airport wait not talking.
The first time I mapped out a complex trip via train and underground alone with 3 kids in London proved as challenging as expected, and then some.
Every time we took the kids sight seeing, one or more broke down at some point during the trip.
We spent a day seeing Shakespeare sites, treated the kids to ice cream last minute, ran to the train station, and missed the train, causing a boring, 2 hour wait.
Sometimes I craved familiarity in an aching sort of way.
There were the days we stayed in because it wouldn’t be fun to take our kids out and we missed out on possible adventures.
There were the days we left the house despite our kids and we wished we’d stayed home.
Delayed trains. Rerouted trains. Grounded planes. Missed transfers. Catching the wrong bus. Endless walking. Unexpected expenses. Getting lost. Language barriers. Hunger in unfamiliar places. Figuring out how to ask a French pharmacist for lice treatment.
And then one Sunday, I got off the bus and my too large maternity skirt dropped to my feet in front of a crowded bus of strangers.
I vividly recall standing in a customs line at the end of flight to Dublin. I was 7 months pregnant. My back and feet hurt,. My kids were beyond bored and sharing a giant, sticky lollipop. The line appeared never ending and the clock ticked away the time until our flight departed. By then, I just shrugged, shifted my feet, and dug deep for patience. This wasn’t my first rodeo.
We finally made it back to the states and picked up our rental car after a cabbie couldn’t locate the Hertz address. A few minutes into a confusing drive and Ella vomited in the back seat. I caught what I could with my hand, then sympathy vomited out of my window. We stopped at a gas station to clean up, thanked the heavens for leather seats and baby wipes, then headed home only to realize that the GPS was set to “walking” mode.
As I type these memories, I’m smiling. And this is far from a complete list.
Here’s the thing, though. I look back on those experiences and I remember the difficulties, but they are all wrapped up in the larger experience. The fears that came true and the ones I didn’t anticipate. They were hard experiences, but they were new experiences. My experiences. Our experiences. I wouldn’t trade them or change them. I’d go back and do it all again in a heart beat. I only wished I’d done them sooner.
And our trip without any spectacular “failures”? It wouldn’t be half as interesting of a story.