Riding camels in Morocco. Photo credit: Taylor Johnson
1 / 2
Photo credit: Taylor Johnson
2 / 2
It was 10 p.m. at night. My 9-year-old daughter and I were lying on our backs staring up at the glorious night sky that was shimmering above the sand dunes of the Sahara desert. In the distance, I could hear the melodic chanting of a Berber drum circle (we were spending the night in their camp). I could still smell a whiff of cumin from the delicious chicken Tajine we had for dinner. Pulling my daughter closer, I asked, “What was your favorite part of the day?”
My favorite was easy: It was that moment. The Milky Way glittered above us and the sand felt pleasantly cool under the vast sky. I waited in anticipation to hear hers: Was it riding the camel across the dunes, which was by turns comical and magical? My husband named their camel, Doug, which somehow made the whole trek hilarious. “Slow down, Doug” he would call. Or, “Doug, look out for that beetle.” With each exclamation, my son and daughter would laugh and laugh.
Or perhaps it was surfing down the sand dunes on an old snowboard. Not even landing in piles of camel dung at the bottom squelched the kids’ enjoyment. They only stopped when it was too dark to see.
She finally shared: “My favorite part was the car ride here . . . because then I could read Harry Potter.”
I was blindsided. I knew that visiting a developing country would be out of everyone's comfort zone but come on! Riding a camel should rate higher than a drive. With a deep breath, I tucked her into bed. But inside, I was seething! This is the most expensive vacation we have ever taken and her favorite part was the CAR RIDE!
Looking back, I should have seen it coming. It was obvious to me that she was overwhelmed by the crazy chaos of Marrakesh but it never occurred to me that the awesomeness of riding camels wouldn't overpower her natural tendency to hate change.
It never occurred to me that the awesomeness of riding camels wouldn't overpower her natural tendency to hate change
The next morning we got up early to enjoy the sunrise and ride the camels back to our hotel. “Isn't this amazing,” my 7-year-old son asked? “It's cold,” replied my grumpy daughter. My husband and I cringed. We had no idea how to handle this eye-rolling bundle of negativity . . . and we were only halfway through our trip.
Later that day, we stopped at a fortified village from the 17th century, a breathtaking labyrinth of houses built right into a cliff. I was in awe. Not my daughter. She was chilly. Unless it was sunny, then she was hot.
A little later, she found a souvenir she wanted, a curved Berber knife, with a bone handle. “Mom, can I please have this?” she asked. My response was not my best parenting moment. “Why would I get you a souvenir for a trip you don't like?” That stopped my daughter cold. And after that, she did try a little harder.
That night, as we sat down for yet another dinner of Tajine (which even I was getting sick of, by this point), I glanced at my daughter. I saw the anxiety and stress in her face. I should have realized sooner that she wasn't being a pill on purpose.
I pulled her aside and gave her a hug. “Sweetie, it is okay to have a hard time,” I said. “It is okay to be overwhelmed and to not like the food but we are here. I need you to try to focus on the good.” I realized that it was too much to expect her to keep all of her complaints and stresses to herself. After a few minutes, I came up with a solution — a solution that had worked well in our home with worries.
With tears in her eyes, she nodded. She was relieved to finally be heard.
“What if every night we have Negative Time?” I asked. “A time where we can cuddle and you can tell me everything that was hard. But during the day, I need you to have a more positive attitude, okay?” With tears in her eyes, she nodded. She was relieved to finally be heard.
After that, when her negativity came out, I would gently remind her to save it for our “Negative Time” and then ask her to name a few interesting things around her that she wouldn't have seen if we hadn't come to Morocco. This (coupled with the anticipation of earning her knife souvenir) seemed to keep her in a relatively happy space for the rest of our vacation.
On the last day, I hit the parenting jackpot. My son started to complain about his feet hurting and my daughter (without any prompting from me), put her arm around him and suggested that he look for five positive things. “Looking for the good, really does help you make the best out of bad situations,” she knowingly added. That moment made the entire trip worth it.