We are that family who likes to give our children the sort of things that do not come in boxes (most of the time) and adventures are our most preferred option. Like I have talked about in some of my previous posts, travel is the one gift that as you unwrap, as it takes over your surroundings, it makes an imprint on you, changing you forever. That was in my husband’s mind when he decided to buy tickets for the five of us to go to Colombia in lieu of a party for his momentous fortieth birthday.
Colombia had been waiting for us. It had been on our radar ever since my dear friend moved there following her Colombian husband. They were supposed to be there only for some months but those months have now amounted to four years and it was time that we went to see them.
Our findings suggested that we explored more than one city while we were in the South American country and it made sense that if our first stop was going to be Cartagena, right at the beach, the second one to be Medellin, the city surrounded by mountains and greenery that has been our friends’ home.
Since we were going to be on the move, we decided to pack lightly. The usual one big suitcase that we would check-in, two carry-on roller suitcases, backpacks for us adults, and for the first time in nine years, no stroller. This last piece of information is important because our preschooler, the baby of the family, is not the walking type. She likes to be on a stroller or carried most of the time. She still takes naps when she’s been pushed around so we knew this was going to be the one particular challenge to overcome during the trip.
I packed the Ergo Baby in which she still fits, just in case, and went along with the plan. This frugality in our packing allowed us to go swiftly through the airport and only 30 minutes after landing, we were already at our hotel, ready to explore.
It is magical to witness the look in my children’s eyes as they start to take in the new sounds, the music, the smells. Our first daughter is rather observant but not one to say much in the moment. She keeps it in until she decides to tell you how she noticed even the color of the shoes the hat peddler was wearing. Our middle child, our son, is the one who still acts like a puppy, as I like to describe; he jumps around and climbs everything he can climb -from benches to short walls-, he’s the one who would be describing things as they interest him, the one ever-ready to try new foods. Then lastly, our preschooler who usually tries to follow her older brother. She would do whatever he does if she can, so she’s easy to get to try new foods. She also would tell you how tired she is from walking -even when you have been carrying her for the last 5 blocks.
The walled city with endless souvenirs to buy, the pool at the hotel, our first encounter with our lovely friends, the boat ride to the islands, the day at the beach, our stroller-less strolls, the sounds of Cartagena are all gifts that we were all able to unwrap and savor together during this part of the adventure. Cartagena tattooing itself in our hearts. However magical and romantic of a place, I think the most important part of the trip unraveled in Medellin.
We landed there to be greeted by our friend who had arrived the day before. She was ready to regale us with anecdotes, with touristy bits and pieces of information, with her performing the task of the tour guide in a country that now shows to be the greater piece of herself -Colombia had been waiting in her for us to come, to teach us all her love for her new country. It was a wonderful day for us all as we met our hosts’ extended family and were, at last, able to visit with them and their children in their new home.
Everyone enjoyed having time with our friends in their house in the mountains, but perhaps above all of them myself. This visit represented so much more to me. It was the first time since I reconnected with my girlfriend of almost two decades, that she was hosting us, in her home. Welcoming me into her kitchen where I was able to contribute chopping veggies for dinner; welcoming me into her living room where I was able to win over her three-year-old son who, since last time I saw him, was now able to tell me stories; welcoming me into her day-to-day life as a way to understand the stage of motherhood she currently finds herself in.
I wonder if this happens to my friends when they see me in pure mommy-form, but there was something very special in seeing my friend, comadre, confidant and cheerleader in this role. Her two boys wrapping around her legs and torso, conducting half conversations between them and I and my children who also love her and wanted her attention. She danced the dance of chaos that young children bring beautifully and it was such a joy, the biggest gift to me, to witness her in her home, in her element for once.
Seeing my friend in this early stages of childhood with her boys showed me too that the stages of childhood that we have graduated from with our two oldest children, are still very present in our youngest. It was hard to avoid the comparisons. While my oldest is posing questions about the unfairness of life as she saw humble housing next to rich ones, my middle child wondered why the fruits and plants were different than the ones in Pennsylvania, and the youngest was just happy cuddling with her godparents, eating chorizo y morcilla.
It is important to meet every child where they are at, not rush them to grow and to be like the others in the family clan. If this important in the quotidianity of life, it is even more important when you are teaching young children to adapt their needs in new environments. I repeated this to myself many times as we walked only for a little bit when my preschooler would already be asking to be held missing her stroller. My husband and I held her willingly and gladly. Childhood is too precious to be rushed around.
Colombia had been waiting for us with its natural beauty and our lovely friends. It turned out to be the best gift we could have gotten for my husband’s fortieth and a most extraordinary place to celebrate our oldest’s ninth birthday! Now imprinted in us all, we come back with our hearts full and our minds filled with fun memories ever more aware of our children’s individuality and the particular stages they find themselves in.