I last came overseas with my son when he was 12, three years ago. We went to the UK to reconnect with the cousins he hadn’t seen since he was 6, and his maternal grandmother, who used to live in France. We snuggled in the same guest beds, took tourist tours on open-top buses, and ate familiar foods from home, like fish and chips. We posed with wax loookalikes at Madame Tussaud’s, and got scared witless in the London Dungeon. We played cards, watched crap English TV, and bonded with relatives by telling silly Australian stories (I think they were just enjoying listening to our accents more than anything).
Now he’s 15. Tall, growing his hair, hyper-aware of his daily outfits, and often attached to his smartphone (yup, just a regular teenager). Everything is different. He sets the agenda: I want to go to Chinatown. I want to go to Camden. I want to go second hand clothes shopping. I don’t want to go on a bus tour, I don’t want to do the wiping up “I’m on holiday Mum!”, Yes, I do need to change my shoes if I’m wearing these trousers, and no, I don’t want to go to bed early because you’re tired.
I love him dearly of course. He’s funny, observant, bright, talkative and affectionate. He points out a squirrel running across the park that my older eyes hadn’t noticed. He knows how to make me laugh, and raises eyebrows to me, signalling interesting people. Fills my water glass first when we sit down in a cafe. Takes great photos, even when jetlagged:
He’s empathetic, and worries about the old dog we saw this morning being hurried across the road, dragging on its leash. He ran back to a man begging in Bali when he was only 10, and gave him some of his spending money, after I’d walked on far out of sight round the corner. He’s stubborn as hell (can’t imagine where he gets that from), and pretty responsible (when he’s not being pretty slack).
But it’s different now. I’m not showing him the big wide world anymore; he knows so much about it already thanks to social media. He Googled ‘Best places to eat in London’ 5 minutes before we left the house, and that’s it, we trek across the city to a certain Chinese restaurant so he can try Won Ton soup. An hour on the bus, each way, in the pouring rain. We got soaked. But he got his soup. And we also stumbled across his favourite American clothing store (which I’d never heard of) down an alley, so we had to go in while he browsed the racks, and I stood there feeling very uncool, with the music a little too loud.
This morning the sun is shining, and we’re heading to the London Eye. I’m NOT going up in it. I’m not. I hate heights, and that damn thing takes 30 minutes to do a revolution! It’s a trek across town (bus, underground, walk), but how can I say no? It’s his holiday as much as mine; his exploration; his adventure out of our small regional town.
Of course I’m not letting him decide everything we do. But I have to let him have 50% of the choices don’t I? I seek to raise an empowered, curious, engaged young man, who values the Earth, her people, her experiences… So we have to wander down his paths as well as mine, in his timing, not just mine, for his reasons as well as my own.
It’s incredible to be overseas together. It’s an absolute privilege, and I am very grateful. We may no longer be snuggled in the same bed, asleep by 9pm, but we are still connected and enjoying each other, plus learning new details about our family members, and how we both deal with travel stress. Some routines reestablish themselves immediately (muesli, yoghurt and toast at any given hour of the day being the main one), while old ones from home are put on hold, and new ones bloom.
Throughout it all, he remains my gorgeous boy-man, Then and Now.