IN THE EYES OF BABES
The Importance of Family Vacations
Time exists in the wind, on fleet feathers that steal our family days and turn our babes to adults before our very eyes.
Tempus Fugit, as they say…
So tiny and fragile in their first breaths, our progeny will always be our little babies, but in a single transient moment, infancy and dependence is replaced with boyfriends, cars, university and little babies of their very own.
It seems only yesterday that I was watching my girls’ first steps, hearing their first words, and introducing them to the wonders of this expansive world. Our early migrations were as thrilling for me as they were my two daughters. Like festive celebrations and birthday rapture, introducing young ones to different lands and cultures fills one once more with the excitement of innocence, and through our children we are reinvigorated.
As parents, of course, we wish the very best for our offspring, and this extends to offering them the richest, most abundant and globally-educational infancy we possibly can.
But there comes an age when teenage despondency and independent maturity begin to take hold. Now aged 12 and 15 respectively, my two girls have traveled with me across continents, through countries and in and out of myriad experiences, each as thrilling to them as they were to me in the sharing. I’m sure other parents reading this will empathise with me in the heartbreaking realization that these days are numbered. As my daughters bustled in from their weekend outings with friends, I glanced up into two older, wiser, make-upped faces that I swear weren’t there the last time I looked, and I wondered to myself, ‘where did the time go?’
With COVID having stolen the last two years of worldly opportunity from us, it made me realise just how important it is to embrace these final years of childhood and make the very most I possibly can of them before they are gone forever… or at least until the grandkids arrive in a decade or so!
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As parents, we are both obligated and devoted to doing the very best we can for our children. In their first months and years, life can be placed on hold, with the necessities of diapers, daytime naps and a wardrobe larger than our own requiring more daily logistics than a major military operation. However, we mustn’t let complacency overcome opportunity.
While studies have shown that life-long memories only really begin from the age of seven, we start forming substantial recollection from three years old . Children can recall events experienced at a very young age, but as they grow older, they suffer what has been coined childhood amnesia; they lose the memories of their first few years. However, not everything disappears, and the more gravitational events retain a lasting impression in their young minds. Added to this, we develop our formative impressions of the world in youth, so the richer, more diverse and more culturally aware you can make their childhood, the greater understanding, appreciation and compassion they will have of the world in later life.
Children see the world through a lens of innocence. It defies race and gender and inequality; it ignores the tribulations of the world; it sees only beauty and wonder, and these are traits worth both indulging and nourishing. Everything is magical in childhood, so to experience something as profound as a family safari can truly be life-changing, even in our first few years. So once your children become strongly aware of the world around them at the age of three or so, a family safari will never be a wasted experience.
Much as this is wonderfully rewarding, it speaks nothing of the parental perspective, and this is what I am so reluctant to relinquish as my girls march so resolutely into their teenage years. When we think back to sharing anything with our children – from a first step to a first birthday, first word or first day of school – it is with a profound fondness. Yet even before loving recollection, the moments themselves radiate with delight. We find joy in their experiences, no matter how mundane they may seem in an adult world. They wonder curiously over the most matter-of-fact objects, they illuminate at the sight of leopards, elephants, even dogs and pigeons and ants!
They show us all that we have forgotten, and in that unity, that irreplicable oneness of parent and child, that world of two into which we plunge ourselves, we too see these things in the most magical light.
No one can understand what it is like to be a parent until it is happening to them. And once you find that absolute gratification, you never want it to end. It takes you to a different place and makes every moment iridescent.
As they grow, so too does their separation and while the love remains as powerful, the magic fades away. You still adore your little babies, despite them rolling their eyes and shunning your embrace when you shower them with affection, and they love you no less, but that united excitement and ebullience in every single moment slowly diminishes.
Multi-generational family safaris are a wonderful way to connect and share an experience with those you love. When you are grown and have children of your own, it is still a joy to reunite with siblings and parents and venture together to foreign landscapes and amazing sights.
But sharing a family safari with young ones can never be reclaimed or relived once those years have passed. Your older progeny will have the knowledge and education to know all about giraffe or Victoria Falls. They will have seen the speed of cheetah, the power of lion and the prehistoric visage of rhino in a dozen or more documentaries. Seeing it in person will always be many times greater than anything a screen or book can offer, but this prior knowledge diminishes the wonder… and we all know how despondent and underwhelmed moody teens can be!
Finding these childhood moments, immersing in their splendor and establishing an extensive library of memories is a gift that no money can buy and, if you allow it, time will steal forever. I will never forget the look on the face of my youngest when she saw her first elephant, or the radiant pride I felt to see my eldest playing with Himba children in Namibia. I was born in Africa, spent my first 28 years there and have returned countless times, yet every time I took my daughters, it was as if I was seeing it again for the very first time, that I was a child by their side, gazing in awe and wonder at those magnificent landscapes and creatures.
Particularly when you have very young children, a family safari can seem somewhat daunting and, obviously, with one or two extra companions, the cost increases. But with the right planning – or an expert Travel Designer’s assistance – it becomes an investment that is as rewarding for the entire family as it is utterly priceless. Like myself, many of my team have families of their own. We have traveled extensively on family safaris and investigated the best venues and experiences for all ages. This is vital when planning your family safari, providing you with the most accommodating adventure that will entertain everyone and create the most magical memories possible.
When my girls returned home last weekend, a lump caught in my throat as I wondered how many more of these magical experiences we might be afforded before childhood is stolen from us all… and I pledged to make the very most of every remaining moment I possibly can.