Temples & Tweens

Hokokuji Bamboo Forest

Hokokuji Bamboo Forest

Imagine a tall, dense bamboo forest. The stalks reach far up into the sky, creating calm shade and a light green glow. You’re walking on a stone path, feeling meditative with each step as the breeze softly rustles the bamboo leaves together. You come to a peaceful open hut serving green tea and think “what a wonderful spot to sit and reflect.”

And then behind you, a tired, cranky voice says, “It all looks the same, can we go now?”

We were so looking forward to a day in Kamakura. The small city, an hour south of Tokyo, was briefly the seat of the military government under shogun Minamoto Yoritomo starting in 1185, and dozens of temples were built during his rule.

With the heat and humidity we’d been experiencing, we curated the must see list of temples down to four. Stocked with water bottles and our Loews cooling towels, we were off!  (A side note about our cooling towels: we look like Boy Scout rejects in them, but the useful comfort they provide makes the embarrassment worthwhile.)

From the get go, the kids were having a rough day. School started back home this week and both kids were feeling sad at not being a part of it.  We know we’ve asked a lot of them (although as Julia likes to point out, we didn’t ask).  We had taken the prior day off from sightseeing to give them chill time so we put tween hormonal bad moods aside and dived into the day.

Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple

Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple


Hasedera Temple

Hasedera Temple

Shujenji Temple

Shujenji Temple

The bamboo forest was our 2nd to last stop and I was really looking forward to it. Seattle friends had described the tranquility of sitting in the forest having tea and I was hoping to experience a similarly zen moment. But with the bickering and whining increasing with each step into the stone paved forest, this was not to be.

We knew we’d have rough days. Earlier in the week, each family member came up with a “calming routine,” something we could do individually to relax when the world or our little family was driving us crazy. This was an effort to have all of us self-cope vs snapping at each other in times of stress. My calming routine was a series of arm stretches and yawns — I did a lot of them that day.

Tsurygaoka Hachimangu Shrine

Tsurygaoka Hachimangu Shrine

After a terse exchange between the kids, Kyle took Sean in another direction and I gave Julia space. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement and could see her practicing her calming routine, a series of yoga moves, over and over. And in that moment, the context of the day was changed for me. I saw that my kids were learning.

We’ve officially been on our adventure a week now and in that week Sean and Julia have converted currency, purchased subway tickets, identified routes, learned basic phrases, and walked into stores and made purchases on their own. I’m really proud of them. But at the end of the day, if all they learn on this trip is how to cope in a healthy way when life gets difficult, that’s called success.


12 thoughts on “Temples & Tweens

  1. Beautiful–lyrical, real, lovely. Hang in there! Love, Dad (@ a Hampton Inn in Colchester, VT, the start of “travel season”)

  2. Hi Rachel, I’m enjoying following your journey and can absolutely relate to the family dynamics. We heard many of those same comments in Myanmar, for example: Mom, how many more temples to we need to see? Arg! Some thing with churches in Europe.

    By the way, I just put up a post on how my kids ‘survived, thrived and changed’ on our trip. It wasn’t always pretty, to be honest, but they did learn a lot about the world and themselves. http://notesfromabigworld.com/2013/09/09/how-the-kids-survived/

    • Jenn, Kyle and I just read your post and it a relief to know that its not all sunshine and roses. Of course, we knew we’d have peaks and valleys but its good to know we’re not alone!

  3. The lessons they’ll learn, that you’ll all learn together, will guide them for the rest of their lives. They’ll probably remember the “cool temples and trees” in a few days, and have totally forgotten the bickering. Just keep walking on your path…. Beautiful writing Rachel!

  4. Enjoyed reading your post. You so perfectly described a day in the life of tweens. I was reminded of childbirth. You forget the pain of childbirth moments after you hear their first cry. When our 3 were in their tweens we took a trip with the kids to Colorado. Noelle asked ” when are we going to a mall.” I can’t print my response. Recently Noelle and I had a good laugh about our Colorado no shopping mall trip. Hang in there….reward is down the road.

  5. Most of the greatest blessings in life we do not have the wisdom to ask for.That is what parents and older folks are for. Fortunately for many of us we had parents who knew they were further down the road than we and could see the curves and climbs ahead. May God increase your crowd who care for the young by imparting wisdom not just stuff.

  6. You are a superb writer! Your humor is great and I love that you are keeping it real. The kids will understand how fortunate they are, once they’ve looked at all of beautiful photos and have had a chance to reflect. Looking forward to your next post!

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