Parent Daringly And Travel With Your Kids

Let’s raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise children. Because resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise children become resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise adults and the world needs more of those.

Parent Daringly and travel with your kids to raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids.

I am, primarily, a mother, and as such charged with bringing up two men of the future. Today I am going to tell you the story of an ordinary mother and her children, they could be any one of us.

Arriving in Santiago at the end of 800km and 33 days, Melanie, Ben and Harry Gow

Let me introduce you to our characters – here they are. Harry aged 12 and Ben aged 16…

This is us a the end of a walk we took.

For 33 days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km

Here’s the kicker, they asked me to do it.

That didn’t happen overnight, it began the day my parents piled me on top of the luggage in the back of the car and drove for 8 hours to Lake Turkana; a jade green desert lake with a volcano in the middle of it. Populated by Nile crocodiles and scorpions, and blasted by strong, hot winds, it sits in the badlands on the largest rift in the Earth’s crust; and there the cradle of humankind was laid out naked before me.

I didn’t know it was called travel or adventure; I just grew a wide-eyed eagerness for the horizon. I began traveling independently before the Internet, even before Yugoslavia broke down, while the Kibbutz was still a movement and, in fact, I have been traveling since England last experienced 45 days without rain in July and August.

When I had children I knew one thing and that was I wasn’t going to exchange the backpack for a pushchair. I was going to travel with them. Not through a selfish desire to continue what I loved, but a deliberate act of legacy. I’m from Kenya, East Africa and when I came here to the UK I learnt overnight that there are different normals. I know it is one world, that is a fact, whether we see it as one or not is a choice. From the top of any hill you can see the one earth we live on, and I wanted my sons to know this. More than that, I wanted them to learn values like tolerance, compassion, empathy, kindness and gratitude, as well as skills like resilience, persistence and more.

I know that travel has shaped my life, not just because I’m here today telling you about it,  but because it has shaped who I am at my core. I believed in doing it with my children to round them out, I hoped it would build passionate, free-thinking children, who would be resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise people.

When they turned to me and asked me to walk with them for 33 days over a little mountain and across a country for 800km, and they were aged only 16 and 12, I had my answer.

I’m not saying it was easy, it’s not meant to be; travel is that heady balance between euphoria for the new and the fear of the unknown. But, that’s dreams for you.

Ben Gow in arms off the tip of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, with Melanie Gow

My sons have sat in my arms off the southern tip of Africa, India and Australia; and they have seen the curve of the Earth in the horizon, and on to the universe beyond it.

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Very soon the experience of travel as a series of extraordinary novelties begins to transform into meaning.

We racked up 96 hours criss-crossing north to south down India. Sometimes outside the window an unimaginable vastness slid past, soundless but for the old-fashioned clickety clack of a train steadfast on its tracks; white noise for the thoughts of what lives were like lived in acres of red dirt, beaten by heat and wind.

We were between Jaipur and Mumbai, several hours into the heart of Madhya Pradesh, a state that is home to a large tribal population largely cut off from development. We passed patches of trees bent low and stripped naked, cowed by the conditions, interspersed by low piles of layered cowpats, alongside equally lowly homes.

The train banked with a lopsided tilt, and there was a young woman turning over cowpats spread out on the ground, to dry the underside for a natural fuel. I had time to notice the drape of her terracotta sari falling as she bent, the cracks in the heels of her feet, the hair framing her face beginning to turn a wiry grey.

She looked up as the train passed, and I thought our eyes met. She had a round, deep copper face, the face of a woman who labours ceaselessly on the land; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate and self-sufficient expression I have ever seen.

There was a child in her peripheral vision, of five, maybe less, picking up the already dried pats at the edge, and starting a new pile. The sound of my son’s voice brought me back into the carriage, “Father Christmas doesn’t comes here, does he mum?”

He was seven.

“No, I don’t suppose so.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why do you think?”

Far from losing his childhood innocence, his world went from the black and white of certainty to the brilliant technicolor of empathy.

Empathy, compassion, and an understanding that your start in life is an accident of birth.

On the savannahs of Africa they learnt that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.

In the outback of Australia they learnt a person only looks at their watch if they have to be somewhere else.

From the streets of Hong Kong, despite the dragons coming down from the mountains every morning to drink in the bay below the mountain, they learnt we are all more similar than we are different.

In America they learnt kindness, grandiose optimism, and that a sermon is better lived than preached.

Everywhere they have learnt to love this life, and learnt the power of gratitude to transform a day; they have learnt those values, and those really useful skills… and more; they know they have to be stronger than their excuses.

They have both learnt that you can hang up your shoes anytime, you don’t have to do any of this; you have to decide to get up every day, and get out there. Despondency can set in at times, and you can stew in the juices of your own complaints, but you have no choice but to wrestle the emotional flatline and find the energy to feel for the heartbeat of a day.

The climb up Ocebreiro Mountain, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

Anytime you are afraid you are just at the edge of your comfort zone, you just have to take a step out of it; and nothing great comes out of comfort zones. To save our lives we must risk them, and throw ourselves out into the unknown. It takes courage, but when you are no longer afraid courage is irrelevant and you need faith, faith in yourself.

This has nothing to do with confidence, confidence can be knocked, you need determination, determination allows for doubt and humility, but it is steadfast.

And when you have struggled up the path to the top of the mountain, on your hands and knees sometimes,  you will see from there that there are many ways to get to to the same place. But from up there you will witness the most beautiful dawn, and it will ask you what are you going to do with this one glorious day.

They have learnt that wherever you are, be all there.

Ben and Harry Gow looking out over the Grand Canyon, aged 10 and 7, by Melanie Gow

Whether you are seated at the greatest natural wonder in the world, on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Or on a cold bench a 5 o’clock in the morning, under a street lamp, eating hot cheese and ham toasties straight form the bakers tray in a city somewhere in Spain

Travelling is the practice of being the moment; it’s a kind of elevated purposelessness. 

For kids life exists in the present, or nowhere at all, and while traveling you almost accidentally discover you are able to focus your mind naturally where time meets eternity.

It is important to be present to it, in that awareness you can hear the earth whisper…

It that space you come to know that lasting peace is found inside

Ben Gow, aged 2, with goats on a rubbish heap in Kenya, by Melanie Gow

We have seen the goats feed off the smoking piles of rubbish in the slums of Africa.

But we have also played in the sand in the silence on the banks of an oasis, high in the Thar Desert in Rajhistan, India; and we know that small space inside where we go to hide, is actually where life happens.

Ben and Harry Gow at an oasis, India, aged 7 and 4, by Melanie Gow Pushkar Oasis, India, Wanderlust

That deep inside us is the unique spark of who we are, with an inherent capacity for coming into being. We are alive at the deepest centre of ourselves in a way that is unknowable until we are sitting in it with wonder.

There we see that things are the way we see them.

We have found themselves miserable trying to find shade in the shadow of hay bales on the side of a dirt track in 52 degrees.

Ben and Harry Gow running on the shore of Lake Michigan, aged 10 and 7, by Melanie Gow

But we have also run free with the seagulls on the shore of Lake Michigan and we know that it is not where you are, or what you are doing, or what you have that makes you happy or unhappy, it’s how you feel about it.

We know they don’t have any control over what happens, what we can learn to have is control over how we respond.

Most of all, we know that a closed door lets nothing in.

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What we all want is to make the world a really big place and yet be familiar with it.

To live fully, live lovingly in this world, on this pathless adventure called life with affinity, we must explore unknown territory,

To find any sense of perfection we must learn to read the inner essence of a landscape.  Most of all, we must learn to master our own inner landscape.

We all want this world to be huge, but for us to be familiar with it, Ben on the Camino, by Melanie Gow

We, as adults, know that the simple challenge of living in a world in turmoil can dull that clear-eyed eagerness for the beauty. The pain of disease, divorce, death, the simple brutality of idle criticism or petty gossip, can teach us to be afraid to fight for our dreams. So we draw back, and tell ourselves we are now wise and rational to want so little from life; and we shrink to fit the box we make for ourselves.

From inside our box we hear the sounds of dreams shattering, we can feel the disappointment, and smell the frustration, and hear the broken bones. Many times we watch others endure bruising defeat, and we reassure ourselves that to is they who just need to grow up; and we ignore the dull ache in our hearts.

But, from inside that box we can’t see the fire in the eyes, or feel the knot in the stomach, or know the delight, the sheer delight in the hearts of those who are fully-engaged in The Grand Quest.

So I see it this way, and I have travelled with my sons across four continents, by planes, trains, and automobiles, before eventually walking with them aged 16 and 12 years old, for 800km across over a small mountain and across a country for 33 days.

Arriving in Santiago at the end of 800km and 33 days, Melanie, Ben and Harry Gow

Here we are 800km and 33 days from where we started, far away from when we left our front door

Travel is not about rest and recuperation it is a challenge to your life back home, and it doesn’t so much change you as unwrap you.

Although you may loose a little sleep, you’ll bank a thousand memories; and travel is actually a space in which you can let children fail, make decisions, think, be, gaze at the cosmos and understand our place in the universe.

Deep inside it changes their idea of living, and what life is about.

If we want to grow the leaders and dreamers of the future we have to give them resources, to build resources we have to give them experiences, to give them experience we have to take them by the hand into the world beyond our normal.

Travel equips them to be successful by a radically wider definition than we usually measure achievement by. It’s about growing as a human being, a craftsman, and a thinker. It’s about basing feelings of success on your own efforts and who you are at your core.

It has been the best thing I could do for my children, and it is the best thing I could do with them.

But however we do it, let’s raise resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids.

Because resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise kids become resourceful, centred, fully-engaged and wise adults and the world needs more of those.

One day you too may find yourself walking with your 12 and 16 year old, for 33 exceptional days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km, and it’ll be their idea – if you play it right.

If you would like me to come and talk to your institute, conference, school, or community please contact me here and we can arrange it.

A Tedx Talk About An Extraordinary Journey

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

I tuned into Twitter at about 1 o’clock in the morning to find a Tweet from a professor at the University of Nevada who said he was showing my TEDx Talk to his students studying leadership that day, and that’s how I found out it was online.

I thought it was the most wonderful way to discover it was out there, and now I can tell you more about the event; I was utterly privileged to take part on a TEDx run by a school, that was only the second one to gain a TED license worldwide.

Sir William Perkins School run the event with the full inclusion of their students; the girls work on the event, presentation and technical side, recording all the video and audio and then editing every talk. I am so proud school children put my TEDx Talk video together, I hope you agree they are amazing.

For me to give my first TED Talk about the walk I led as a parent, with my sons, to an audience of parents and children was just fitting. To know the students were gaining so much experience directly involved in the production was so pertinent.

I am also incredibly proud it was first seen in a classroom all the way across the world from me, in Reno, Nevada. A class led by Bret Simmons, Nevada Management Professor, to his MBA class as an example of the book they’re working on, “Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change”, by Robert E. Quinn, the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan.

This talk was given at a TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

Imagine What Could Change If We Give Our Children The Space To Decide What Kind Of Adults They Want To Be

This was the last time I saw my boys.
The next time I saw them, they were men.

This scene of two boys walking off down an ordinary backstreet in the middle of nowhere in particular seems unremarkable, but it holds the story of a life-changing moment.

Six kilometres out from Carrión de los Condes, down a side street in Villalcázar de Sigra, we stopped in a little bar for a much-needed drink. I felt like I had been walking since the 13th century; we had been getting up at 4.30am every day for me to sew the blisters on my feet, leaving the thread in to drain the fluid during the day, and setting off before the dawn to cover 30km before the midday heat.

I was grateful for a break. When I stood up to get back on the road again, there was a searing pain in my knee so sharp I sat right back down again.

Next to our table was an advertising board with a taxi number on it. Harry looked at me sideways and said, “Maybe it’s a sign.”

Amused that he used this to his advantage, I gave in and agreed we’d take a taxi. Both my sons turned to me and said: “No, you’re taking a taxi, we’re walking.”

This was the last time I saw my boys.

The next time I saw them, they were men.

Eighteen months ago, on that ordinary Tuesday night when we sat down with a plate of sausage and mash with gravy in front of a DVD and 123 minutes later the boys stood up and said they wanted to walk 800km to Santiago de Compostela, this is what I wanted to make happen for them.

That night we had put on The Way, a film by Martin Sheen that is essentially about a handful of middle-aged people walking and talking.

It is a fictionalized account of a man who walks this 9th century pilgrimage, known as The Camino, after his son dies in the attempt; and the stories of those he meets on the journey. As the end credits rolled both boys just knew they wanted to walk it, and we had to do it together. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that before, where you’ve just had to do something. No reasons why and no rational explanation, you just want to do it.

Watching them walk away, I realised that this was why I had walked all this way.

Nothing quite prepares you for watching your sons grow up in front of your eyes; knowing you will never quite be the same person again.

I could never have imagined I would watch them do it. When I woke up that morning there was no indication that this would be the day. As I bought three bottles of soft drink from the bar, it never crossed my mind that it was going to happen right then.

It’s extraordinary how some significant moments are so quiet you would hardly know they were there.

As a parent, we want to conjure a wind underneath our children’s wings, not so they can fly but for them to soar high with passion and joy. I have no end of failings as a mother but in walking away they showed me I had done all right, and I understood that this was the reason I had come on this walk. I was truly at my happiest.

When they left me in that bar to set off for a town, they had no more information than the name of a refuge I would try and get us into. The town wasn’t an easy one, it was moderately large and our accommodation was off the main street, tucked down a side road. I resisted the temptation to tell everyone to keep a look out for them and decided to let them figure it out…
And they did.

singing nuns of Carrion de los Condas, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

That evening we met up again in the simple reception of the convent refuge, with the singing Augustinian nuns, the gorgeous singing nuns from Columbia. Strangely moving and yet absurd. When they sang Amazing Grace, even the strongest cynic would have folded.

After this the guys went to sit outside a bar in the sun and called my sons over to join them. They had their first boys’ night out with the best men, from a dozen different backgrounds, men with values and a sense of wonder and fun, who treated my sons as equals.

You don’t get your first boys’ night out again, so I left them to enjoy the banter and the sangria they were being bought and wandered off to the church, as I had heard it was worth visiting.

It turned out there was a service for the feast day of The Assumption, a significant day in the Catholic calendar celebrating the belief that Mary was taken into heaven without having to live out her natural life, because she was the mother of Christ.

The priest gave a sermon that I could understand every word of for some reason, about the importance of mothers and the grace of the relationship between mother and child.

This sermon on this day was a powerful coincidence.

By the time the softly-spoken, Columbian nun accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar, singing, “Everything Changes Except Love”, I was in tears.

When that sweetly-smiling nun went on to give a speech about Hope and started handing out little paper stars the sisters had cut out and coloured in while praying for us, I gave in and cried – for the next three days. With pride for my sons, gratitude, joy, relief, a feeling of coming home to myself.

Imagine what could change if we give our children the space to decide what kind of adults they want to be; because nothing will ever be the same again.

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An Exceptional Day

I really was there clinging to every transient moment just like that bee; desperate to suck every last drop from the day. And, it was an exceptional day.

A bee shouldn’t be able to fly and it certainly shouldn’t be able to hang off a delicate butter-yellow flower with petals as thin as silk. But I found this one yesterday evening, clinging to this little cup while it swayed in the breeze, determined to suck up every drop of nectar,

There was nothing particularly special about yesterday, but it was an exceptional day; the weather was balmy, we ate supper out in the garden, and my sons made me laugh till I was helpless with tears.

They are these gorgeous human beings, whose company I love. They are taller than me now, and have done more to shape who I am than I imagined when they were born.

I know it is the best job in the world, and I am so happy I’ve made an effort to be here every day with them. But, I wonder if I really spent enough time in those moments with them? Was I there, really there, or was I busy getting stuff done?

We looked out at the garden together as we ate and drank and joked. We remembered the hours sat in the tree on a plank of wood lodged between branches that we imagined actually was a tree house. We shook our head at the memories of the pirates that fought the seas from the climbing-frame. And I sighed over the plants that had to die at the hands of little dinosaur-hunters.

I remember my father building a tent from plant canes and sarongs with them when they were 2 and 6, and I served a picnic. I wish I could remember what the sandwiches and apples tasted like, I wish I could remember what we talked about, and I really wish I could remember going in to look at them sleeping that night.

Now they are old enough to watch the same movies I like, they are always showing me their favorite links on the Internet. They are not afraid of disagreeing with me; they call me out when I’m unfair. They think for themselves in utterly surprising ways, they are funnier than I am, and sometimes, just sometimes, I need them more than they need me now.

Yesterday, looking at them, I couldn’t believe how fast it has gone.

I know it’s the refrain of all parents but it doesn’t make it less true. I hope I can always taste the burnt chorizo from the first barbeque they cooked. I hope I will always remember the facial expressions as they bounced off each other in banter. I hope I can hear exactly what their voices sounded like saying, “I love you” as they went to sleep.

Already those memories are fading, but I really was there clinging to every transient moment just like that bee; desperate to suck every last drop from the day. And, it was an exceptional day.