That's the two of us, with everything that we needed for 8 days of mini adventure. Luo Dong, Taiwan.
Sometime late last year, I found some spare time in my work schedule. My daughter was slightly more than 2 years old, and I noticed her awareness of her world had gotten more astute. I always had this desire of imparting my experience and knowledge to her, and the best way (in my opinion) isn't telling her but to show her the world myself.
I realized I had this block of 8 days available in front of me, and I promptly bought air tickets for the following day, Christmas eve.
We didn't bring Mom with us as she needed to work, so it became a great excuse for a mini adventure for father and daughter.
Thats us on the flight. She always prefers the window seat.
The rules were simple:
1.) I wanted it to feel casual, rugged and roughly planned. I made it a rule to reserve rooms one day in advance, so it kept the itinerary spontaneous and fluid.
2.) I wanted to stay away from bigger cities so I could spend isolated time with my daughter and not just go on a usual tourist route.
3.) I vowed to keep an open mind and also to allow my little one to dictate how the trip goes, too.
In a nutshell, I think it was one of the best trips I had in my life, and definitely one to remember with my daughter.
We ended up cycling along the eastern coast of Taiwan, hung out with baby animals in a farm, went onto boats of fishermen, chased for trains, climbed hills and sheltering together from a storm and had more giggles than tantrums.
Christmas Dinner Special. Hua Lien, Taiwan.
This is what I learned:
Toddlers have sophisticated ways of communication.
They are way smarter, more emphatic and more understanding than I initially thought. I found that it was far easier to communicate with her using adult language and rationale. We were together in a strange land, and often that puts both of us out of our comfort zones. The sooner we realized we were an equal team and needed to depend on each other for moral support and affirmation, the faster the situation improved for the better.
Little Chow figured out why buskers do the performances they do, and she became eager to give them money each time.
Most fears were unfounded.
When I first mentioned this trip to my friends and family, the first common questions (and assumptions) I got were, "How does the child get her afternoon nap?", "The child needs her mother!", "This is not normal routine for her. She can do it when she is much older!"
I suppose these are valid reasons, but we also find ourselves living in an increasingly protected world where everything from forks to table edges to flooring have been designed child safe at a premium and marketed to the fears of parents. I understand that parents including myself want the safe side of everything, but we need to take a little leap of faith for interesting life experiences. Take a little risk, but make sure there is adult supervision -- and adult sensibility.
The world should center around the parents -- and not around the children.
In Asia, where I am based, there is a tendency to give everything you have to your child. It is of course expected, and there is also some rooted thinking in Confucianism. However, in Beijing where I live, I see a lot of parents making sacrifices for their children, yet I see the children become spoiled and pampered at a relatively young age.
"Wives and mothers, if you want your partner to understand how it feels to be the default caretaker, convince your husband to take a trip with your child -- and without you."
I couldn't stand seeing 3 or 5 year olds slapping their parents and grandparents in public, and I certainly don't want my child behaving that way. By taking her to different environments and experiencing different facets Taiwan had to offer, she can quickly learn to adapt to our kind of world.
It is an incredible experience for the father. Really.
I didn't experience 9 months of carrying her in my belly, and though I always acted as a cheerleader by her side, I think I felt left out of the overall experience. My daughter naturally sticks to her mom more, and her father is always a second option (or a third).
On a dedicated trip out there with my little one with minimal distractions, I finally had the opportunity of being a full parent. Yes, I had to change the diapers, give her milk, put her to sleep -- but this is all seemed pretty easy. The great thing is I managed to be a parent and care for her.
Yes, there are times she can be a little naughty. Perfectly normal and mostly tolerable. I always remind myself that this is a trip I will never forget.
Yes, it makes you appreciate your child's mother and your life partner a lot more.
I still don't know how moms do it, but I have deeper appreciation for them now. Wives and mothers, if you want your partner to understand how it feels to be the default caretaker, convince your husband to take a trip with your child -- and without you. Suddenly, you are aware of every single thing that happens. The two signals before she gets into a tantrum. When a quiet yes means a no. It is the little things that many men (okay, maybe just me) miss out on a toddler. And did I mention that their personalities are already extremely sophisticated at this age?
It builds a lasting friendship.
We had a very healthy relationship before this, but the trip really made us appreciate each other more. Since the trip, I felt that we were able to draw common memories and experiences, and it has certainly brought us closer together. Mommy agrees, so that's a good thing.
She really loves the ocean. I showed her where we were on a map, and realized if you looked straight ahead far enough, you would see the West Coast of United States of America.
Stefen Chow is a photographer/filmmaker based in Beijing. When he isn't doing mini adventures with his children, he photographs for the biggest companies and magazines in the planet. He also summited Mount Everest when he was 25. His work can be seen at stefenchow.com.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.