Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get


excited kid on plane flickr

Culturally, my kids are half Canadian. All of their Canadian relatives spend the greater part of the year surviving on Skype and electronic photos to keep up with their speedy growth. So, when our finances and schedules allow, I know that I must plan a return to my home country to give my children contact with the other half of their genetic code. Particularly for my parents (their laolao & laoye), it’s torturous to have such a huge distance between two of their four precious grandchildren. If I didn’t take my kids back to see them, it would be the ultimate anti-filial act, something very important in Chinese culture.


When I tell people here in Beijing that I’m taking my two children back to Canada, the most common response is, “Alone? How can you manage travelling by yourself with two kids?” The truth is, I’ve done it before. Many times. But, frequency doesn’t make it any easier. I usually just nod, but I don’t take their amazement as a compliment. They’re right — it’s hard. I don’t deny it.


This year, as luck would have it, my husband was able to arrange his schedule to travel back to Canada with us. While he couldn’t stay for the whole duration of our visit, having help during the long 13-hour flight, even if it’s just on one leg of the journey, was a source of great relief. There’s nothing like having to take two children with you into the plane bathroom. Or, worse, trying to solo manage the simultaneous feeding of two children from slippery and precarious meal trays.


But, all that is just an afterthought.


Here in China, as I watch my children grow into their distinct personalities more and more every day, inserting Canadian cultural traditions into their world has become increasingly challenging. While my three-year-old daughter speaks to me in English, her Chinese is already more fluent. This is thanks to our childcare providers and my mother-in-law’s consistent presence in their lives. And, despite my many efforts, she and her brother both have what is deemed “Chinese tummies”, as they are simply more accustomed to Chinese food as opposed to Western food. I worry that the older my children become, the more Canada and all things Canadian will seem strange or temporary, or worse, just a travel destination rather than their second home.


My son is only 21 months old, and he’s not yet speaking much in either language. A word here and a word there in both English and Chinese, but there doesn’t seem to be a preference apparent yet. Nevertheless, I see my daughter default to speaking to her brother in Chinese rather than English, even in my presence. I encourage her to speak to him in English, but encouragement doesn’t always yield results. And while it’s not all about language, of course, I know that I have a lot of work cut out for me, the Canadian mommy living in China. I am the sole English speaker in this house.


So, regardless of my husband’s ability to accompany us on a flight home to Canada or not, I have a responsibility to take my kids back to their other home country. Even though my son was born in Canada, cultural traditions are not easily transported to our country of residence: China. Perhaps there are some that I naturally bring to my parenting style or my home décor, but in general, they are growing up in a country that is not the one I grew up in. For them, China is more their home and that’s how it will always be until we decide to move the family to Canada permanently. In other words, there’s only one answer to the question of whether or not I can manage to take them back on my own: yes.


I must.


To get through the long flights, I have adopted a new mantra: time passes. Sometimes it takes the form of: “Eventually, we will arrive.” The flight will touch down on the soil of our destination, eventually, and some semblance of order will resume. Until then, one moment at a time. This mantra keeps me more patient and less stressed about it all.


This summer was my third journey with two kids and these haven’t always been unbearable. Sometimes one child sleeps for awhile. Other times, the kids surprise me by being quiet and pensive, easily entertained and well behaved.


Of course, there are also the exhausted moments when they simply want to torture the person sitting in front of us by pulling on their seat continuously or opening and closing the tray tables on constant repeat. There aren’t always understanding flight attendants when my daughter remembers where the service button is located. On our last flight, I had to apologize several times to the not-so-cheery flight attendants and then quietly scold my daughter for not listening to her mommy.


All in all, I think travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.” For me, it’s the exact opposite: returning to Canada is 100% about the destination. No matter how troublesome and exhausting, it must be done. The vision of my own parents waiting for us anxiously in the Toronto airport with nearly a year of anticipation stored in their arms, anxious to wrap them around their growing grandchildren, is enough to keep me focused on my mantra.


Besides, once we are there, it’s such an amazing opportunity for the kids to learn more about themselves through their extended overseas family. While witnessing them grow into their identities makes me a very lucky mother, witnessing them have the chance to do some of that growing back in my home country makes me that much luckier. Particularly seeing them play with my two nephews — their only cousins — makes every uncomfortable moment of travelling with two children absolutely worth it.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Overheard on the Beijing Subway When People Don't Think I Speak Mandarin

The awesome stuff I overhear like what these two Chinese women think of foreigners.

Si­, Yes: Raising Bilingual Twins

Language acquisition in three-and-a-half year old, bilingual twins.

Almost African: My Childhood as a Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

The freedom of growing up as the only Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids

Why it's critical all parents read books that reflect diversity


Ember Swift is a Canadian living in Beijing who gave birth to her first child in January 2012. She is also a professional musician and writer who has released 11 albums independently, toured internationally and writes for several international publications in addition to keeping three distinct blog series active. Her official website is located at http://www.emberswift.com

Leave us a comment!

  1. Comments10 Ways to Influence Your Child’s Pride in Culture - Vanessa Jencks   |  Sunday, 07 February 2016 at 7:01 pm

    […] with not fitting into a culture that places so much value on unity and homogeneity. Refer to this eye opening post by a fellow writer about the very real struggle for expats, especially with those of bicultural […]

  2. CommentsJuliet Perrachon   |  Thursday, 26 May 2016 at 1:20 pm

    This article was shared in a community I run to connect globetrotting parents and everyone LOVED it. You should join us! We all relate to your experience. Many of us, including me, are in the same boat. I travel with my 2 year old all the time to visit family from the US to Europe and my co-founders travel to Turkey and from Mozambique to Sweden, France and the US – just to give an idea. I’ve always LOVED to travel, but when I had my son, I never had the choice to stop traveling, it was always going to be a part of life so it never occurred to me to stop traveling like some parents have chosen to do. Hope you can join us and thanks for writing this. Our community is currently on Facebook at Club Bebe Voyage. 🙂

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] in their homes even if the US is an anomaly. Here are two articles on co-sleeping (click here and here) and one “Dear Abby” (click […...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Raising Bilingual Children