On a family trip to
the Amazon Basin in Ecuador, our guide Milton introduced us to a remote body of
water known as Piranha Lake. Beneath the placid surface lurked poisonous snakes
and electric eels as well as the lake's eponymous fish with ugly teeth.
When Milton announced,
"It's time to swim," he wasn't joking. Seeing our reluctance, he said
piranhas were mostly vegetarian. Except in times of drought, none of these
creatures would likely want to eat us.
My husband Mark, our
two tweens and I made our way to the front of the motorized canoe and
eventually mustered the courage to leap into the murky water. Risky? Slightly.
But that's how it goes when we're away from home.
The act of deciding to
leave home removes us from a cautious mindset and opens us to pulse-racing
experiences that don't typically happen in our day-to-day lives. While in a different
time zone we often step outside of our comfort zone, too. For children raised
in a chronically vigilant society, this can be a good thing.
On my solo travels
across Europe at 20 years old, I did some wacky stuff: Once, without a place to
stay, I spent the night at a drunk train conductor's house in France. Another
time I swam topless for a 1/2 mile through a busy boat lane in the Saronic Gulf.
I wanted to get to a small deserted island on the other side. I came back hours
later sunburned and dehydrated. I wasn't dead, but I was a lot smarter.
I was so desperate to duck out of (my mom's) over-protective clutch that I walked right to the edge of stupid and stepped off.
My family never
traveled when I was a child. My mother regarded any risk as something that would
likely do me in. "Careful or you'll get yourself killed!" Consequently,
I never learned how to balance risk with safety. I was so desperate to duck out
of her over-protective clutch that I walked right to the edge of stupid and
I never say to my
kids, "Careful. You're going to hurt yourself if you do that." I say
to them, "Think about what you're doing and make a good decision."
When we're on the
road, we probably think a little less. But at least we think, as with Piranha
Lake: OK, Milton said the water is safe
and he takes tourists here all the time. Then we ask a few questions. "Hey,
Milton. Has anyone ever been eaten by a piranha on your watch? No? OK. Let's
It's good for kids to
experiment with boundaries with their parents in a different
environment. What do you do when the rental bikes don't come with helmets or the only ride up the hill to the hotel is in the back of a pick-up truck? Children end up learning
what is comfortable and safe, what is slightly risky but OK or necessary to try, and
what really isn't safe at all. It works in reverse, too.
Three years ago while
climbing the ironically named Happy Mountain in Peru, we encountered a series
of Jack-in-the-Beanstalk-style ladders that extended up into the trees and out
of sight. They were slippery and terrifying, and as my kids flew up the first one
without a worry, I stood on the bottom and shouted. "I'll wait down
Then, from above the tree
line, I heard my son's thin voice shouting back. "You can do this Mom.
It's not that bad." And it wasn't.