The Rocky Mountains sat behind us, huddling like giant notaries, as Mary and I drank beer and ate barbecue and confessed to each other that neither of us wanted children. Our moving forward in marriage depended on that pact, we agreed. Yet, for the next seven years, people—family members and friends with kids and strangers in grocery stores—bothered us to have kids anyway.
Mary and I moved from Salt Lake City to Champaign, Illinois, back to Salt Lake, and then to Tacoma, Washington, throwing suitcases in the trunk on a moment’s notice and taking road trips across the Upper Midwest or through the national parks of Southern Utah, only returning home when our jobs demanded it. We jumped on planes, drank in airports, and took taxis to hotels by the beach where we fell onto our beds without any worry. The only people we had to take care of were each other, and we were really good at that.
Maybe it was that people eventually gave up on us having kids. Maybe it was because we had won the fight, and everyone—minus the random woman in the grocery store who asked why we hadn’t had children—stopped pressuring us. Or maybe it was just our time, our love, our outlook on the world, our want to have a child with equal parts of both of us (something we would find out later is impossible). But we, like two brightly colored birds crossing in the sky and stopping to touch wings—gently and beautifully and without fight—agreed upon trying to have a child.
One night soon after, we promised each other, no matter what it took, that we wouldn’t stop traveling. We wouldn’t wait until it was easy, until our child could take care of him or herself. This pact replaced the first pact we had made beneath the Rockies.
And so, in 2012, 10 months after our son’s birth, we booked a trip to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Before taking off, on a whim, we walked into Wal-Mart and walked out with a black and red umbrella stroller that cost less than $15. Lukas had grown out of the stroller that held his car seat, the type that clicked into the base in the car. We bought the new one as a temporary solution. We needed to transport our son around when he did not want to be carried. I unfolded it. It fell outward onto the ground, its plastic, hollow wheels making a cracking sound against the pavement outside Wal-Mart. We placed Lukas in it and strapped him in. He leaned back into the canvas and rode to the car without a struggle.
With our son in tow, we spent a nearly a month in the tiny fishing village of Chelem. We ate dinner at the sea-washed restaurants near the beach, the sandy and salty winds stripping the paint from the concrete walls, and we bought our groceries from the tiny shop on the corner of the town square. Our son rode on my back up the stairs of the Mayan pyramids and crawled on the stone of the temples, and we explored Mérida, a culturally rich city to the south of Chelem.
On the edge of Chelem’s town square sat a market, three rooms by three rooms, which greeted us with barn-door like entrances that slid open at random times during the day and week; the roof had been opened up to let in light. I kicked the plastic lever on Lukas’ stroller, and Mary dropped him in. The plastic wheels wiggled along the road and up the path into the market. Two women walked around a fruit and vegetable stand, spraying water on top of the produce.
The women looked at us, and then at Lukas in his stroller. In a second’s time, they had shelved their hoses, run around the fruit stand, and dropped down and crouched in front of our boy. Balancing on their toes and sitting on their heels, each held out a pieces of mango and papaya.
“Guapo,” one said. Lukas, a shy baby (and still shy now, at 6), turned from her and dug his head into the canvas behind him. She smiled and rose and showed us around the stand. I confused everyone with my rusty Spanish as they pinched Lukas’ cheeks and ran their hands through his blond hair. The women sold us fruit and vegetables, and we walked out of the market with a bag full of freshness, not knowing what half of it was.
On the trip, it wasn’t easy. Lukas did everything a 1-year-old does. He struggled in his car seat during long drives to the ruins. He complained when we wouldn’t let him crawl on the bug-populated grasses of Uxmal or eat the giant mosquitoes that landed on his arm. The fear that traveling would never be completely enjoyable again rose up inside of me. While we loved having him with us, I began to accept the fact that the easy times of travel, walking hand in hand and laughing, were gone.
But we kept keeping our promise. Two years later, on our way to Copenhagen, Denmark, we stopped in New York City for four days. The newly erected National September 11 Memorial & Museum had opened only weeks earlier, and Mary, more than anything, wanted to tour it, to walk the hallways and to read the placards and to stare at the art and to get lost in what she had always loved, digesting the world through the art and writing and tributes of others.
Our son was having none of that. The moment we stepped into the museum, he wanted to touch everything. For the same reason that we, as adults, love to spend time in museums—the richness of the human experience on the walls and in the glass cases, shown in bright colors and in uniquely crafted shapes—Lukas loved what he saw and wanted to grab all of it. After we calmly reminded him, “No, we can’t touch this,” and “That’s not for us,” 20 times, the little boy began to get frustrated, his cheeks burning bright red and his eyes welling up. Then came the tantrum, and soon our quick exit from the museum. Mary did her best to remember all she could while we walked through the crowds and to the exit, having seen so little of what we wanted to see.
We went to Greece last year and tried New York again in January. Our first day in Manhattan, the remnants of memories from our museum fiasco still lingering, we walked through the doors of the American Museum of Natural History. This seemed much more suitable for a child’s taste. (As parents, we try to learn too.)
Lukas no longer needed the stroller, but we purchased him a little notebook so he could have something to hold while he walked through the massive hallways, beneath the archways that stretched above us like a stone umbrella.
Lukas immediately spotted the mummies. He walked up to the first one, wrapped and decayed on a table and within a thick glass enclosure. His 5-year-old breath fogged the bottom of the glass. The security guard walked up behind him but didn’t say a word. Mary and I both reached out to touch his shoulder to bring him back from the glass, both of our hands hovering over him but not quite making contact, doing our best not to jump the gun.
Our son pushed his thin blond hair out of his eyes with one hand and reached into his pocket with the other, grabbing the pencil and notebook. He sat down in the middle of the museum in front of the exhibit and began to draw the mummy. His little hand worked back and forth on the page, he blew his hair out of his eyes, and he glanced at the mummy before returning pencil to paper. The security guard stepped back, gave us a smile, and complimented us on our well-behaved son.
It would eventually take us two hours to get through Egypt, another two to get through the dinosaurs, and another two to walk out from beneath the belly of the massive blue whale on the basement floor. Mary and I would hold hands and walk slowly behind our big kid. We would smile and relax and laugh. But in that moment, once he was comfortable with what he had drawn, Lukas stood up, grabbed both our hands, and led us around another corner, his eyes wide and ready for what was to come.