Sometime late last year, I found some spare time in my work schedule. My daughter was slightly more than 2 years old, and I noticed her awareness of her world has gotten more astute. I always have this desire of imparting my experience and knowledge to her, and the best way in my opinion isn’t telling her, but to show her the world myself.
I realized I had this block of 8 days available in front of me, and I promptly bought air tickets for the following day, a Christmas eve.
We didn’t bring mum with us as she needed to work, so it became a great excuse for a mini adventure for father and daughter.
The rules were simple.
- I wanted it to feel casual, rugged and roughly planned. I made it a rule to reserve rooms one day in advance, so it kept the itinerary spontaneous and fluid.
- I wanted to stay away from bigger cities as I wanted to spend isolated time with my daughter and not just go on a usual tourist route.
- I vow to keep an open mind and also to allow my little one to dictate how the trip goes too.
In a nutshell, I think it was one of the best trips I had in my life, and definitely one to remember with my daughter.
We ended up cycling along the eastern coast of Taiwan, hung out with baby animals in a farm, went onto boats of fishermen, chased for trains, climbed hills and sheltering together from a storm and had more giggles than tantrums.
This is what I learnt.
- Toddlers have sophisticated ways of communication. They are way smarter, more emphatic, more understanding than I initially thought. I found that it was far easier to communicate with her using adult language and rationale. We were together in a strange land, and often that puts both of us out of our comfort zones. The sooner we realised we were an equal team and needed to depend on each other for moral support and affirmation, the faster the situation improved for the better.
‘Wives and mothers, if you want your partner to understand how it feels to be one, convince your husband to take a trip with the child without you.’
- Most fears were unfounded. When I first mentioned this trip to my friends and family, the first common questions (and assumptions) I got were, ‘How does the child get her afternoon nap?’, ‘The child needs her mother!’, ‘This is not normal routine for her. She can do it when she is much older!’. I suppose these are valid reasons, but we also find ourselves living in an increasingly protected world where everything from forks to table edges to flooring have been designed child safe at a premium and marketed to the fears of parents. I understand that parents including myself want the safe side of everything, but the problem is we need to take a little leap of faith for interesting life experiences. Take a little risk, but make sure there is adult supervision. And adult sensibility.
- It is better for the world to center around the parents, and not around the children. In Asia, where I am based, there is a tendency to give everything you have to your child. It is of course expected, and there is also some rooted thinking in Confucianism. However, in Beijing where I live, I see a lot of parents making sacrifices for their children, yet I see the children become spoilt and pampered at a relatively young age. I couldn’t stand seeing 3 or 5 year olds slapping their parents and grandparents in public, and I certainly don’t want my child behaving that way. By taking her to different environments and experiencing different facets Taiwan had to offer, she quickly learns to adapt to our kind of world.
- It is an incredible experience for the father. Really. I didn’t experience the 9.5 months of having something in the stomach, and though I always acted as a cheerleader by the side, I think I felt left out of the overall experience. My daughter naturally sticks to the mum more, and father is always a second option, or a third. On a dedicated trip out there with my little one with minimal distractions, I finally had the opportunity of being a full parent. Yes, I have to change the diapers, feed the milk, put her to sleep, but this is all pretty easy. The great thing is I managed to be a parent and support for her.
- Yes, it makes you appreciate the mother and your life partner a lot more. I still don’t know how mums do it, but I have deeper appreciation for them now. Wives and mothers, if you want your partner to understand how it feels to be one, convince your husband to take a trip with the child without you. Suddenly you are aware of every single thing that happens. The two signals before she gets into a tantrum. When a quiet yes means a no. It is the little things that men (okay, maybe just me) miss out on a toddler, and I did mention that their personalities are already extremely sophisticated at this age.
- It builds a lasting friendship. We had a very healthy relationship before this, but the trip really made us appreciate each other more. Since the trip, I felt that we were able to draw common memories and experiences, and it has certainly brought us closer together. Mummy agrees, so thats a good thing.
Stefen Chow is a photographer/film maker based in Beijing. When he isn’t doing mini adventures with his children, he photographs for the biggest companies and magazines in the planet. He also summited Mount Everest when he was 25. His work can be seen at stefenchow.com