|Oh, Popcorn. What have you done to the nice cathedral?|
This is never so clear as when travelling, and even I, who have no children of my own, feel tremendous GUILT when I travel unless I am travelling with B.A. or my travels have earned money to bring B.A. This is because it seems to me horribly unfair that I get to travel while B.A. has to stay behind and work.
I cannot go into a pretty church without thinking how much B.A. would love to see this pretty church and how much more he would appreciate it. In London this year I completely avoided pretty churches. Instead I visited friends, which didn't make me feel terribly guilty, as maintaining social ties (e.g. sending the Christmas cards) is one of my jobs. I didn't feel too guilty in Belgium, either, since I was visiting family, but I feel too guilty just to go off to weddings in Poland without B.A. It is true that it costs half as much for one person to go abroad than two, but it always seems to be me who goes abroad, and that is just not fair.
Travelling with B.A. spares me from vague guilt, but brings with it acute guilt about my bad temper, for travelling in countries where I am supposed to know the local language often turns me into Hitler. I was a positive lamb in Belgium and German, for my brother and sister-in-law are fluent in French and my brother's German is fresher than mine, so I never felt the heavy weight of linguistic expectation. I just followed them about and admired their fluency. Poor B.A. has not experienced such lamb-like behaviour since we went to Barcelona and he trotted out his high school Spanish. I speak no Spanish, so I just sat back bright-eyed in tapas bars and admired B.A.
The other drawback to travelling with B.A. is that he never wants to go to Poland. He has been twice, and he feels that this is enough for now. Naturally I always want to go to Poland, which he finds mystifying, but I have to wait until someone wants to pay me, or else I am crippled by guilt. It's no good telling him that Krakow is the Paris of the 21st century, for he isn't much interested in Paris, either, and even thinks London is too big, etc. He is a patriotic Scot, and the only city that comes anywhere near rivaling Edinburgh in his loyal affections is Rome.
Fortunately, I too am fond of Rome, but you see what I'm getting at here. When you are Single, have the money, and want to travel, you don't have to ask or compromise or worry about an innocent man suffering from your filthy temper or arguing with you about where to go. You find a willing friend--or tour group--or Single-safe destination and just go.
Travelling as a parent, however, is even more restrictive and guilt-ridden than travelling as a married person. When B.A. and I went to Barcelona, five years ago, we joined my brother and sister-in-law and their babies and their married friends and their baby, and we rushed off to look at the mediaeval splendours while the parents slowly assembled their children and supplies and went to the beach, babies screaming and howling, gypsies nicking stuff from the strollers, etc. One of the married friends had his passport stolen from a stroller. ("We've had a lot of problems with Romanians," apologized the police, adding insult to injury, as the married friends were Romanians.) I do not think my poor brother and sister-in-law or their friends saw very much besides the beach, whereas B.A. and I got as far as Monserrat.
("Most unfair," said my visiting mother right now. Too, too true.)
This year in Belgium, I saw the realities of travelling with children aged 5 and 7, as my poor sleep-deprived relations chased them down, dressed them, washed them, fed them, chivied them into the car, and drove them either to parks, which the children liked, or to amazing cultural treasures, which the children tolerated. As their legs are short, the children could walk only short distances, which meant finding parking very close to the parks or cultural treasures, and as their stomachs are small, they usually had to be fed as soon as we arrived anywhere interesting, which usually meant restaurants close to the cultural treasures. And being children, the children objected to the delicious Belgian cheeses, charcuterie, etc. presented to them outside chic wine bars and had to be filled up elsewhere with cheese sandwiches.
This was no hardship for me--I ate the delicious cheeses and anything else the children rejected--but I could see that the generation gap was wearying for my poor brother and sister-in-law, whose pleasure in seeing the wonderful plazas and churches of Old Europe was greatly alloyed by feelings of guilt that the children would rather be at the water park. And the guilt itself was complicated by feelings of frustration as the children kept up a steady stream of criticism and demands, e.g. "I don't like this. Dad, I don't like this. Can we go home? When are we going home? I want ice-cream. I don't want to go in. Do we have to? Dad, do we have to? Awww! I HATE this! Mamaaan? Mamaaaan? Are we having ice-cream now? When are we having ice-cream?"
Naturally I would put myself before a speeding train to spare either child any lasting suffering, but my sympathies were entirely with their elders, who both work very hard 48 weeks of the year to keep the squealers in food, shoes and karate lessons. The first time I saw Cologne Cathedral, I burst into tears of joy, so I am sorry my brother was not allowed a similar experience. Instead he was overwhelmed with embarrassment when a beadle chastized his five-year-old daughter (presumably in German) for climbing on the pews.
[Imagine illustration of fat German man wearing red and black robes shouting at tiny, grinning blue-eyed, brunette, bob-haired moppet here.]
Of course, I suspect my brother and sister-in-law would not have had it any other way, for parents seem to have a magic ability to cope with, accept and even value that which would send anyone else to an insane asylum. And now that I think about it, the worst of the shared jokes of my niece and nephew, consisting of substituting "Foo-foo" and "Goo goo ga ga" for proper words, would have driven B.A--an only child with one solitary childless uncle--out of his mind with misery. Thus, the more hysterical our niece and nephew got in the back seat of the little car ("That's not a TREE, that's a FOO-FOO!"), the less guilt I felt that I had left B.A. at home.
In this way, the children certainly added a lot to my experience of Belgium--whose top attraction for this doting aunt was the children themselves anyway. If, however, I had wished for some sort of amazing adult-lady adventure, climbing up mountains at dawn, or sailing down the Meuse, or dancing the lindy hop on the battlefields of Waterloo in the moonlight, I would have been thoroughly disappointed.
In conclusion, whereas Singles may very much sigh after Married life (whose restrictions do paradoxically free the mind) and the Nulliparious may indeed wish for children (whose creation and care are the primary reason for marriage), there is one place where Singledom absolutely trumps Married Life and Parenthood, and it is on the road.