Anjali’s Reflections at the one-month mark:
As we approached a month since we began our adventure, we thought it would be a good idea to assess our reflections on the trip so far, and we each decided to write our own. Watching the bond between the kids fortify has been an incredibly gratifying experience for me. As an example, while I’ve come to be more lenient with the kids on the number of special treats they can consume, I try to retain some semblance of a restriction. On multiple occasions, I’ve caught Ayaan discover a bar of chocolate in the minibar, but he never eats it alone. He always takes his sister into hiding with him, sometimes under a large desk, other times in a separate room, and shares his find with her! It’s hard to stop their naughtiness…He is always extremely concerned about her well being. One time when what he perceived as a dangerous situation, he asked me to carry Ariana with great urgency to prevent her from getting hurt. Ayaan is a very nurturing and caring older brother, and Ariana is a bold and adventurous younger sister, emulating her brother’s actions and words.
Speaking of which, we’ve witnessed a dramatic progression in Ariana’s speech. When we left Sausalito, she’d mainly communicate with one word requests, two at best. Now, she speaks full sentences nearly all of the time. Ayaan is our translator for the few times that we can’t understand her, since he always understands and knows what she wants. We think Ariana’s exponential progression, while of course due to her age of nearly two, has also been influenced by the time she spends with her family and in particular, with Ayaan. It’s been so fulfilling to get to be there for all these special moments! (Yes, I’m in Bordeaux so it may be the wine talking now 🙂 ).
Onto me….I am finally able to live in the moment, to be in the present, and enjoy it. Before this adventure, I found myself always yearning for something more, longing for time to pass until I could be on vacation again, and until I could spend extended time with my family. I also found myself always rushing…..rushing to work, rushing back home, rushing to catch my flight, rushing to a meeting, rushing home after I landed to breastfeed or see the kids before they were off to bed….This didn’t stop on the weekends. Between an executive job with extensive travel, running a household including planning and preparing all meals and supplies for four, and caring for two kids under three, there was always something I hadn’t done…and I felt as if I wasn’t excelling at any of it. This feeling of never having any time would translate into my behavior with the kids…I would always tell Ayaan to “hurry up”, or that he was “taking too long”….and I had come to regret whom I had become. At this one-month mark, I have noticed a decided elimination in my need to rush. I feel lucky to have the freedom to do exactly what I please for as long as I please…there is no firm deadline or end date to this trip….or to almost anything….knowing that a few months, a few weeks, a few days, a few minutes, or a few seconds (yes, my life was often run on minute or second deadlines) won’t lead to a meaningful negative outcome….is exhilarating!
One of the major drivers in our decision to embark on this adventure was to satiate our children’s craving for more time with their family. When we were working, Ayaan would awaken every morning and his first question of the day was “is it the weekend?”….because he knew that on the weekends, he would get to spend the entire day with his parents and his sister. Unfortunately, 5 out of 7 days, his face would sink as he would hear his feared “no”. One of my mental goals for the trip was to get to the day when Ayaan would stop asking that question, and it brings me immense pleasure to notice that this goal has been accomplished! Ayaan has realized that everyday is the weekend, and he is thrilled!
As I alluded to above, being a part of different cultures has enabled me to become more open-minded in my outlook, and in how I raise the kids. For instance, I used to be fairly strict with the kid’s schedules, and with their diet. Being in Spain for two weeks and watching babies and toddlers play in the park well into the late evening (the parks would be brimming with activity at 10:00pm) made me realize that sometimes, it’s okay to be more lenient on bed time….this was driven in part by the lack of an option (restaurants in Spain don’t open for dinner before 8:00pm) and in part by me reminding myself that the kids are older now, and strict adherence to a schedule may not be as imperative…that it’s going to be okay..
Some of the things that I miss – this may sound surprising – but I really miss a wholesome salad, the kind that I have only seen in America. In most countries, salad is considered an accompaniment and consists of a few pieces of lettuce, sometimes drizzled with dressing, if that. What I miss is a large, satisfying bowl of greens, loading with generous servings of vegetables, nuts, croutons, cheese and a dressing of my choice, like a cilantro-lime vinaigrette…..something that is so wholesome and nutritious, it leaves you completely satiated….
All in all, given the minutia of what I miss, I can happily say that this trip has been one of the best decisions of my life, and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to do it!
Gaurav’s reflections at the one month mark:
It’s been a month since we packed up and left Sausalito, and it’s certainly been an adventure. At this point it’s the longest I’ve traveled at a stretch in my life and it’s just the beginning of our journey. I’ll be honest that when we were taking off I was excited but also quite nervous about the uncertainty and spending all my time with Ayaan and Ariana. I was also a bit nervous leaving San Francisco and the Bay Area after so long.
It’s definitely been a special journey so far getting to spend all my time with the kids while experiencing different cultures. They have been awesome and have travelled really well exceeding all my expectations. Every night Ayaan and I used to recap what we did at work and school before I put him to bed. That’s now been replaced with us discussing what we did together that day, our favorite part of the journey, and the next few days of activities. He’s also stopped asking if it’s the weekend every morning which is a huge relief. The most memorable part so far has been seeing the bond and friendship between Ariana and Ayaan develop. They have become inseparable best friends who often “gang” up on me with their naughtiness and cuteness. This is definitely a new development since we began our journey and fascinating to see. Ayaan has also developed quickly into a concerned older brother who is also teaching Ariana everything he can. Ariana’s development in the last 4 weeks has been stunning as she’s gone from saying 1-2 words at a time to full blown sentences and responding in context. It’s cute to hear her say/sing “I like waterfall”, “dada watch soccer”, “I got the owiee”, “wheels on the bus” (with actions) among several other things. It was also great to see them bond with nana and nani, Dhara masi, Kunal uncle and Shloka – quality family time.
We asked Ayaan what his favorite part of the trip was so far and he said “Algarve and Marbella and Bordeaux”, and we asked Ariana and she said “Ayaan and Mama and Dada”.
Both are sleeping and eating fairly well, and doing great in the car which is obviously a relief. One of the learnings for me so far is how different it is to spend 3 hours a day with them as opposed to a full 12 hour day. I’m literally spending about 4x the time I typically spend with them in a given week (not even counting the time I’m out on business travel) – just think about that. It’s absolutely special, irreplaceable and something I’ll never forget. I’m no longer time-crunched and stressed about the small things such as putting them to sleep on time so I can work a bit, or getting them all set in the morning before we rushed to work. Instead I’m spending quality time everyday experiencing new things together, taking them to a new local park or carousel, jumping in muddy puddles, spending time as a family, jumping on daddy’s back, and playing silly games. The other side of the equation has been that I’m spending literally all my time with them (yes they’re a handful at 2 and 3 years), where I haven’t gotten enough time with Anjali alone or to myself as I had expected. Hopefully that changes a bit as we get to Mumbai in a couple of months. I thought I was great at multi tasking and context switching, but doing it every 5 mins isn’t easy. The other thing I’ve learnt is that they are essentially learning everything from Anjali, me, their travels and each other – which is so amazing to see but also requires me to always be on my best behavior which is hard (no desserts, no swearing, no frustration etc). Still working on this piece :). The last thing I’ll say is that managing both kids alone even for a short period of time is quite overwhelming when you’re traveling and not at home.
What have I started missing the most? The weather by far. I completely underestimated how much I love the weather in SF and Sausalito with its sunny, cool, dry days and chilly nights. Europe has been surprisingly very hot, humid with lots of bugs. The other factor has been that my sleep has been impacted a bit by the weather and the changes (remember I’m usually a very heavy sleeper!). I do also sometimes find myself anxious / irritated a bit probably due to the lack of work/intellectual simulation, but meditation has helped a lot. It took me a good 2-3 weeks to decompress from the everyday stress especially with the wrap up before we left – both mentally and physically.
We’ve definitely created memories for life already and captured little moments we would have glossed over in our everyday life otherwise. We’ve already driven 4500km and traveled to 4 countries, but the precious time together has been the most memorable. So thankful and looking forward to the next few months!
Anjali’s Reflections at the three-month mark:
We’ve completed our travels through Europe, and have landed in India to spend time with our families. India will also be our home base as we continue our travels through Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. How do I feel at this stage? Well, it’s been incredible to just be living life! Our approach to travel has transformed. It’s no longer about seeing the next palace or church…travel has become a way of life! From exploration, discovery and adventure to enjoying the little things and just being in the moment! With such extensive travel behind us, there is also no more FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Sometimes, we’re happy to skip a sight to have a relaxing day with the kids in the park or pool…I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to experience this.
As we traveled through 12 countries, we keenly observed the attitude of the people in their approach to our family, a couple traveling with a 3.5-year old an almost 2-year old. Ireland by far won the title of being the most kid-friendly, with its warm and welcoming people, and its pubs where we could enjoy pints of Guinness and cider on tap, replete with kids menus and changing tables. The other two kid-friendly countries were Spain and Italy and we were glad that we had chosen to spend extended time in these two Southern countries, and adopt some of their approaches into our own. The least child-friendly country was France, where we noticed that people had very little tolerance for kids who are ‘misbehaving’ or in my opinion, just behaving like kids – dropping an occasional spoon during dinner, or leaving the dinner table at a farm to gawk at the nearby chickens and cows. Our children are raised as any other American children, with relatively free reign to follow their curiosity. and play liberally as long as they (and their surroundings) are safe. So they explore, sometimes speak at a ‘higher than desired’ decibel level, and drop a few morsels of food while they eat. The French (and even the Swiss and Belgians) didn’t seem to appreciate our parenting approach and we were often asked to discipline our children or keep them restrained to a chair, a nearly impossible task with a toddler and a preschooler!
I continue to be thankful for the memories we are creating as a family. I’m extremely proud of Ayaan’s growing independence – he can now shower and wear his clothes and shoes on his own, and is able to walk/hike for extended periods of time in national parks. I’m looking forward to family camping trips once Ariana is ready. Ariana’s speech continues to flourish, and is clear enough where we no longer need Ayaan’s translating services. In fact, some of the things this just-turned-two year old says has Gaurav and me staring at each other in awe, going “did you hear what she just said?”. I’m thankful that Gaurav has recorded these special words for us to cherish forever.
As you may imagine, spending nearly three months with two young children sometimes brought forth challenging moments, and our attention was always needed since we were traveling light with almost no toys, except for a few favorites. As a result, Gaurav and I were left with very little alone time. We decided however, to allow each other the time to practice meditation which was extremely beneficial in giving us the patience and calm we needed to provide our kids with the constant love and attention even in the midst of a tantrum, or a meltdown (Ariana had a few of these)! Meditation also allowed me to introspect, and took me away from the chaos and time-deprived world I lived in before.
During this time, I began to look at my life a bit differently. I realized that my life and my career no longer needed to follow a linear path, one where we are ‘climbing the corporate ladder’ and looking for an upgraded version of the materialistic thing we already owned (a bigger house, a better car, etc). I began to realize that I wanted the flexibility to pursue what I was passionate about, and build a life that makes me and those around me happy.
Gaurav’s Reflections at the three-month mark:
I can not believe it’s been 3 months already with the two little monsters! The last two months have been very special as the four of us have got to spend seven straight weeks as a family and it’s definitely brought us closer together. In fact Ayaan now sounds like a mix of Anjali and me saying things in the same tone as we would. He’s a fluent speaker now, very contextual and with the most amazing questions that stump me. Ariana is now an adorable angel who is highly talkative, mimics her brother and loves being independent. Some of my favorite Ariana phrases are “let’s go the park with the slide and the swing”, “I want to go see the church”, “where is Ayaa?”, “I wanna see the water mountain”, “Sorry, I wouldn’t do it again, mama happy”. And she loves singing Johnny Johnny and Ba Ba Black Sheep. They both have adapted to this nomadic lifestyle and every morning they look forward to their day of exploring churches and parks and spending time together. My favorite part of the day is having a sumptuous breakfast and having a bath with them (rather than giving them a bath) – things you just can’t do when you’re working.
We ended this first leg knowing what we already knew – nature, beaches, mountains and countryside is so much more fun with kids than cities. We also built an appreciation for our life back in the states with them and how America is so special and welcoming to diverse people. We did fairly well with the food mixing in non-European meals that helped a lot. I think we have evolved as travelers after 2.5 months on the road appreciating the smaller experiences, the time together and diversity, over the top tourist sites. I’m also proud of us as a family that we’ve been able to live a minimalistic lifestyle with 10 pairs of clothes, very limited toys and a very reasonable budget.
It was very nice to spend time with friends who traveled to Munich and Copenhagen to meet us, and see another beautiful part of the world in Ireland with my parents. It’s been amazing seeing Ayaan love India in the few weeks we’ve been here really making the most of his time with both sets grandparents, trying all different food, going to yet another school and enjoying the festive celebrations! Ariana too has loved it here, although she is happy everywhere, and loves “going to the school.” For me it’s been very nice to be back in the monsoon, meet with friends, spend time with family, get some me time, read and relax a bit at CCI playing sports and using the health club. It’s been busy and Anjali and I are still looking for the elusive time together, since that culturally isn’t the norm here. Our upcoming trip to Jordan without the kids should satiate that.
Things haven’t always been smooth where it was the heat wave in Europe, rough travel days, too many flights in a row, adapting to living in India and with our parents, or the stress from the sale of our house, but I think we’ve done better than we had expected and remain extremely excited for the rest of our travels in South East Asia, Mauritius and Jordan (my 50th country!). We’ve booked our travels through November and while in the midst of our journey have started contemplating what the future may hold for us. It’s nice not to have to rush into it and prioritize life for now!