There is nothing like traveling with your adult children to make you feel dazzled and impressed that they are truly all grown up, competent citizens of the world. And there is nothing like traveling with your adult children to remind you that they are still your children and sometimes you need to take care of them.
My husband and I were pleased and flattered and maybe a little anxious that our three grown children all wanted to go on a vacation with us this winter. With the youngest now in college, and the oldest at the extreme end of that endless medical training, we were talking about five adults taking a trip together.
This is not something that I remember even contemplating with my own parents, and sure enough, it turns out that there may be a trend here; 20- and even 30-something children may be statistically more likely to vacation with their parents nowadays.
Maybe they wanted to come because we were heading to Taipei on the way to a teaching assignment. Foreign travel certainly has a special allure, and extra potential for mishaps, but you could also play out all the same family dynamics close to home.
The long flight to Taiwan landed late at night, and I had worried we were too many to fit into a taxi, so my daughter had booked a van to pick us up; she had pasted in the obscure street address of our Airbnb apartment, so the driver knew exactly where we were going, and I was the only one who found any of this surprising.
My sons had spent time in Taipei the previous summer, and wanted to take us for the best beef noodle soup, or the best sea urchin bowl. So there were lots of moments when my husband and I found ourselves enjoying the unaccustomed pleasure of being led around by kids who had planned an itinerary, scoped out restaurants on Yelp, and plotted the walking and subway routes carefully on their phones.
We two technologically befuddled parents followed along, playing our part by marveling at the confidence of our guides, exchanging genuinely surprised and almost giggly glances.
We had put in years schlepping folding strollers and disposable diapers onto airplanes, planning trips to include special train rides, building in ice cream stops. Now we were delighted to do as we were told, proud to have raised street-food-eating, cheap-sleeping, public-transport-oriented offspring.
The food was phenomenal, including the almond milk and mango ices (someone was still building in the ice cream stops); the Taipei subway was a dream, and somebody always seemed to know where we were going.
We found a supercheap flight to Bangkok and flew there for a few days. My husband and I, who had visited in 2014, got to lead the troop onto the ferry along the Chao Phraya River to take everyone to the Temple of Dawn and the Royal Palace. None of the children had been there before, unless you count the trip my older son made with us decades ago as a curly-haired toddler (in a folding stroller); we recreated some of those same photo ops with him, now as a bearded man.
Back in Taiwan, there was the moment when we climbed out of the taxi after the long ride to the picturesque seaside town of Jiufen, which is supposed to be the setting of the anime film “Spirited Away.” It was a holiday afternoon, and the road winding up into the mountains had been slow going. But here we were at last, ready to walk the picturesque old street and eat the famous glutinous rice cake, or the taro ice cream rolled in chopped peanuts.
That was the moment at which my younger son realized he had left his cellphone in the cab, and all five of us ran wildly through the streets, peering into the window of one taxi after another, searching for the kindly driver who had brought us all that way. We tried calling the phone, but the ringer was turned off (only clueless parents actually use phones as phones). Finally my daughter decided that we were slowing down the search, and sent us to go explore the town and market with her older brother to keep an eye on us.
So there we were, admiring the vista of mountains and sea, and exchanging parental glances; what could be more familiar than a child who didn’t keep a close eye on his valuables? We shook our heads and felt like the parents again, as we tried to strategize the next steps toward canceling and replacing the phone, and promised each other that we wouldn’t draw any too-heavy morals when the kids got back.
Meanwhile, they efficiently located the cabdriver and effected a handoff as he drove back down the twisting mountain roads (did I mention that the son in question speaks Mandarin?).
So sometimes adult children really can show themselves to be adults, and sometimes you even feel like they’re taking care of you. My daughter, who has more than her family share of organizational ability, arranged pickups and drop-offs in Bangkok as well. And then, on our last night there, she went down to the hotel lobby to print out all the boarding passes for our flight the next morning, and the hotel printer didn’t work, and the desk clerk advised her to go print at the much more luxurious hotel next door.
And as she says herself, she lost it. We were too far from home and things weren’t going according to plan; she had efficiently checked us all in and forwarded all the boarding passes and she was suddenly convinced that we would not be allowed on the flight or be forced to wait on long lines and then check our bags (against the family religion). Her father sent her up to her room, apologized to the desk clerk, who had borne the brunt of her distress, and, because he knew she would not otherwise be consoled, set off into the night to find a place to print the boarding passes. And thanks to the deity who occasionally watches over technologically inept parents, and makes them look as if they can keep the world on track, he followed the clerk’s suggestion and succeeded with the printer at the next hotel over.