What I learned while travelling home with my kids

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen that we’ve just got back from a month in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from. It was our first time back in four years. We’re grateful to have been given the opportunity to have an overseas holiday as a family and to help our kids grow their connection with a country that is a part of who they are. I’ve no idea when next we’ll make it over, five tickets to the Caribbean is a hefty goal but as I readjust being back in Cornwall, here are a few reflections.

Home is where I’m raising them

This is the first time I’ve been back and known that Trinidad and Tobago is no longer my home. The deep ache I felt when we landed  there on a visit four years ago has dulled considerably. It’s a beautiful country. I am grateful for the childhood I spent there and for its ongoing place in my life but I’m also relieved to no longer feel so torn between places. I miss the people I love who live there but home is where I’m raising my children. So much life has happened in the thirteen years I’ve lived in the UK. I have little concept of what life as a parent or even simply as an adult would look like if I lived there. It’s bizarre that simple chance can change the course of your life this way.

Jet lag is worse going West to East

We experienced this two years ago when travelling East for my brother-in-law’s wedding in Thailand and we get hit with it every time we’ve come back from Trinidad. Now that we have three kids who are finding their way through it, it’s quite something in this direction, not least because they are ALL on different schedules right now!

They want to know about my past

I was really surprised by how many questions my seven and four year olds had about my childhood: what I did, where I went, what it was like. My four year old, especially, was in a constant stream of this. I don’t know, I never thought about this trip meaning learning more about me. And actually, I also realised that I don’t talk much about Trinidad and Tobago at all and about my memories. When I was little, I loved hearing about the “old time days” from my parents, peppered with anecdotes from when they were children but I’ve supplied so few of my own. Could this be because I’m not surrounded by cultural and physical markers that would jog old memories for me?

It’s hard meeting people and sightseeing

Gosh, I should know this as I find it exhausting as an adult. Yet, I had such big expectations of the kids and then had to pull back and to give them a break when it was all too much.

I am done travelling with preschoolers

Man oh man, I know from a fair bit of experience that you can do long hauls with little ones but I’m sure glad I’m unlikely to ever have to again. Between the multiple outfit changes for everyone and the overnight journeys where working out sleeping positions is a game of Twister, I think we’ll give it a rest until my youngest is at least four, should we get the chance again.

Every child is different

That said, all our travels have convinced me that how one child travels at a certain age does not dictate how another will. My first two struggled terribly with long haul flights as babies. My youngest was perfectly content to and from Thailand at 5 months old. Travelling with my eldest at any other age has been a dream. She in no way prepared us for things that came up with the younger two.

Mosquitoes are utterly relentless

At this stage I have tried everything that does not contain DEET. I am convinced that the only two things that work in rainy season are covering up and DEET. Please feel free to share magic secrets if you have any.

Kids can connect across cultures pretty easily

It’s been so brilliant seeing my kids play with other children while we were out there and connect with adults who made the effort with them as well. At some points, meeting new people was just too overwhelming but a lot of great memories were made, friendships sparked and even more reasons to keep in touch.

I revisit my own childhood

There is a sense in which I revert to being a child myself when I go back which is such a complex experience  to navigate now that I’m also in parent mode when I visit. It’s little things like this being the first visit on which I’ve driven a car. But it’s also the much bigger things, like having to shelf confronting some painful personal issues because the priority while out there was keeping it together for my kids. And there’s the stuff that come up with straddling cultural expectations. For instance, my children call adults whatever we call them and it no longer comes naturally to me to refer to everyone as “auntie” or “uncle” and that’s certainly not on Laurence’s radar.

It’s possible that they may choose to live somewhere else someday

I always, always leave wishing we didn’t live so far away from my family. This time was no different in that respect. But this time it fully came home to me that my kids might also choose to migrate some day, that I might have to hold the future loosely, with simple trust.