My son and his new friend met on the trail to school. As first graders, they were both carrying backpacks full of papers and pencils, wielding walking sticks, and chattering nonstop to their parents. When they crossed paths, they looked up and stopped. They smiled mischievously. A few seconds later, they began sword fighting with their sticks, giggling the whole time.
This might sound like a regular weekday morning—two kids dallying—except for a few standout things. For starters, the scene took place in a rural village in Mexico. And the boys speak different languages. My fair-haired son, Jake, a self-professed gringo, knows only a handful of Spanish phrases, while Sasha, a bright-eyed Mexican-American, speaks fluent Spanish and a little English. On this morning Sasha was walking 45 minutes to school, and Jake was traipsing to the beach, where my husband and I were teaching him that day, using workbooks from his classroom in Colorado. It was our daily routine on a two-month trip abroad.
After this initial meeting, the boys insisted that they “needed” to play together as much as possible. We’d meet on Saturdays—two families on the beach—and the boys would build elaborate houses using driftwood and boulders, speaking English peppered with Spanish. They’d share a snack, which might be a peanut butter sandwich or ceviche made with fish caught that morning.
The blossoming friendship between Jake and Sasha made me think of a question I often hear parents ask: When is the best time to start traveling with kids? Should I take them on big trips when they’re little?
My intuitive feeling has always been that it’s a great idea to get babies and kids into the wild and world. We’ve done so with our children (Jake has a younger sister), and although there are challenges, I’ve watched them learn to become adaptable and open-minded. I believe it’s shaping who they are.
The friendship between Jake and Sasha affirmed my gut feeling. Over time, it became clear that this was more than “child’s play.” Jake and Sasha really did need each other. Jake had been sad to leave his friends in Colorado and hoped desperately to meet kids in Mexico. But the language barrier intimidated him. And while Sasha had been living in different parts of Mexico for several years with his parents, he was having a hard time making friends in this village. He was lonely. The time Jake and Sasha spent together filled a hole they both had, transcending language and culture, cutting to the core of what it means to be human. Watching this blew me away.
When it came time for our family to return to the U.S., it was heartbreaking for the boys. Yet we all recognized that an opportunity had been presented to us; an incentive to reconnect somewhere in the world. Who knows where? Plus, social media makes it easy to stay in touch. In fact, Sasha sent Jake a message via Facebook. He said, “We will see each other somewhere, because we are friends until we grow old. We will be old friends then!” I’m still marveling at the wisdom.