Soap and Opera

When I was 15, I spent a lot of time at my best friend, Caitlin’s, house. That year, we were inseparable. We were two peas in a pod, yin and yang, Kenan and Kel. Looking back, it’s entirely possible she just tolerated me, an awkward misfit only child with limited social skills and a controlling complex. And acne (yikes). And braces (double yikes).

Once, after spending the night – a night with no agenda other than binging Taco Bell and watching Pootie Tang for the 50th time – I decided to take a shower. It’s not an uncommon thing to do in the morning, when the dirt and grime from the day before leaves you feeling slimy.

Ready for a good cleanse, I hopped into the shower Caitlin shared with her older sister, only to find that there was no soap. No soap? In a shower shared by two teen girls? The concept was preposterous. Still, the truth remained. I was soapless in, for all intents and purposes, a foreign bathroom. Not knowing where to locate soap, and not yet capable of making the mental leap required to simply repurpose the shampoo (duh), I decided to go for the next best thing.

Carefully maneuvering out of the shower, I moved with the acrobatic prowess of a tiger, touching just one foot to the carpeted floor to reach for the bar of soap sitting on the sink. In my haste to wash and dress, I made just one fatal error: I left the soap in the shower. As I dressed for school, Caitlin approached me, livid. “Did you use my soap?”

I decided the best course of action was to play dumb. “What?” I asked, knowing exactly what she was asking. “My soap,” said Caitlin, “I found it in the shower.” “Yeah, okay,” I admitted, “I used the soap from the sink. I couldn’t find any in there.”

With a look of complete disgust, Caitlin growled, “Well, you can keep it.”

Before I go any farther, I should mention something crucial to the story: the soap in question wasn’t just any soap. It was a bar of Bath & Body Works soap, complete with a scene of a penguin skiing down a mountain covered in sparkles. It was beautiful. And in 2002, Bath & Body Works paraphernalia was the absolute tits. If you got your hands on their specialty holiday soaps, you coveted that shit. I, myself, am guilty of hoarding a bar or two in my bathroom drawer, because they were just. too. cool to actually use. 

Back to the story… it turns out that Caitlin was a bit of a germophobe. In the days that followed the Soap Debacle of 10th grade, I discovered the depths of her disgust. According to her, when soap has been used on someone else’s body, it becomes gross and unusable. At the time, I found this preposterous. I mean, can’t you just rinse off the outer layer, leaving you with a totally clean bar?

I was an only child. My worldview clearly evidenced that I didn’t have to fight anyone for my soap.

Now, though, living with a husband who is blessed with a fair amount of body hair, I must concur with Caitlin. Having discovered one too many furry soaps of my own, I understand the need for a totally separate, just-for-you bar. Sometimes, you really have to walk in someone else’s shoes to comprehend their point of view.

And I have to say, there’s a lot of that going on in my life these days.

Life with kids is a circus in itself, but life on the road with kids is pure insanity. Visits to national monuments are met with whining, trips to remote fly fishing spots mean nothing. History and wildlife are lost on these munchkins. All they care about are snacks and toys, they really don’t give a shit about sunny skies, or sprawling desert landscape that nourishes the soul.

I think a lot, as we travel, about my parents. They took me sooo many places – hiking in Boulder, live opera in London, biking down Haleakala in Hawaii, New Years’ Eve in New York, trips to private inns in Scotland – and I am sure I complained 98 percent of the time. I want to be with my friiiiiiends! I don’t wanna dress up for dinner!

I can’t see.

It’s too hot.

I’m boooooored.  

I like to think that I appreciated these experiences at the time, but honestly, kids are little f*ckers. If my experience of children in any way resembles my parents’ experience of me, I bet I made it pretty difficult for them to really cut loose and enjoy themselves.

Still, they hauled me along when they could’ve easily left me at home. They shelled out extra money for me to join in on their travels (and probably also for extra wine, let’s be honest – we all know how parenting goes). And this was before vaping was a thing, y’all. Talk about torture.

I wonder how many times they thought, why are we doing this? How many times did their friends ask why they were doing it? Why bother taking your kid around the world to see things they probably won’t appreciate, nor remember? I know I wonder that a lot. Sure, we said we wanted to travel more so that our kids could experience other cultures and become… I dunno… less dickish?

But really, they won’t remember any of this. They won’t be able to recall the wildlife, scenic vistas and ancient art. Heck, all they’ll probably take away from this next year is the colorful language used by their parents when they won’t just effing go to bed!!!

So, is it worth it, bringing kids on this journey? Abso-effing-lutely, both for them and for us. Here’s why:

  • Traveling with my parents may not have engendered a strong appreciation for history and culture (at least, not until my thirties), but it taught me that traveling is doable and can be fun. My parents’ willingness to drag me all over creation gave me the travel bug, and if nothing else, I hope my kids inherit the same adventurous spirit.
  • My kids make this trip way more fun. Not ALL the time, sure. Sometimes, I wish they weren’t here (like, on this planet), but they keep me focused and driven to find activities, make healthy meals and stay positive, even when life on the road gets lonely. In this scenario, I’m sustaining them as much as they’re sustaining me.
  • This trip is our means to build a strong tribe. Here in Santa Fe, especially, and again in Costa Rica, we know no one. The four of us are literally all we’ve got, so we’re super motivated to learn how to best work together and manage the collective needs of the group. We’ll also, hopefully, be equally as motivated to move beyond our comfort zones and meet new people. My hope is that the communication and dynamics we establish on this journey will extend beyond the trip itself and that the relationship-building skills we put into practice will teach us how to make (and be) good friends and family members wherever we end up.

Does traveling with kids suck? Yeah, sometimes it does. Some days are hard, everybody whines nonstop and I wish I could flush myself down the toilet to escape the madness. But I’m finally walking in my parents’ shoes and discovering that this side of things offers a variety of life lessons, if I’ll stay open to them.

And what we’re imparting goes beyond a few bad days here and there.

Even if we have to share one bar of soap.

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