We’re back from our Greek odyssey, and in only two California days, the blue-green Mediterranean water and the hot, star-canopied nights eating grilled octopus while stray cats circled our feet seems years ago already. But what memories we made!
Before we left, I was nervous about taking T on such an epic adventure. He hadn’t been on a long plane ride since we brought him back from Africa. I had no idea how my jumping bean would sit still for that long, or how he’d deal with all the transition and unfamiliarity once we arrived– not generally his strong suits.
But we had gotten an invitation to travel with close friends, one of whom is Greek, and it seemed a once in a lifetime chance to go explore the Greek islands with a native. In spite of the fact that Scott was going to be on tour and couldn’t join us, I decided to plunge in.
I encourage anyone afraid of traveling with your kids to just go for it. I’m so glad we did, and not because it didn’t have its challenges. Some of my fears were definitely realized, as Tariku’s manners aren’t exactly European. I was frequently embarrassed, and had to discipline him pretty much constantly, which is my least favorite mode. It was a shock to his system to discover that there are different rules in different cultures. I also think it’s an essential lesson for any human, so I tried to do my best to convey it without shaming him. Some moments I was more successful than others. In the end, it was one of the trip’s most valuable takeaways- to learn to function, even thrive, when surrounded by a different language, different food and different customs.
There are mind-bending layers upon layers of history in Greece, and it was fascinating to be there at such a historical moment, with the banks closed and the whole Greek financial system (and that of the rest of Europe) hanging in the balance. As we visited the ruins of the buildings where democracy was born, we were watching that democracy vibrantly unfold around us, with protests in the square and lively debates in the cafes, the foreign press lounging around smoking on the sidelines.
Our little group was comprised of our friends John and Fred, their two sons, age 7 and 4, and Tariku and me. Our first afternoon there, we dragged three kids under 8 up the Acropolis in the hot sun and the little angels were just wide-eyed with wonder and respect. Bwahaha! Just kidding! They whined and bargained for frozen lemonade the whole way up, while bemoaning the fact they couldn’t throw rocks off the side.
And while the museums of antiquities produced more giggles (butts! wieners!) than awe, the kids were fascinated by the myths. Zeus and his lightning bolt. Odysseus lashed to the mast of his ship in order to hear the siren song. Medusa and her head of snakes.
“Medusa” became the kids’ favorite game It was kind of like tag, except one kid was Medusa and could turn the other two to stone.
At the temple of Zeus, Tariku asked me, quite genuinely, “Was Zeus Jesus’ dad?”
It’s a hell of a question.
And forgive my theology here, please, people, but I told him what I basically believe to be true… That throughout history, people have looked around at the mystery and beauty and terror of the world and have felt God in their hearts. And that they have called God many different things and imagined him or her in many different ways.
“But which is real? They can’t both be real,” asked Tariku. “Is Zeus real real? Is the hydra real? Is Zeus dead now?”
Fair enough questions.
I told him that 2500 years ago people were sitting in the same place we were, and telling the very same stories. Those people are long gone and we don’t remember most of them, but the stories are still just as alive today. So, in a way, myths are real, in that they tell us very important truths. But that’s not the same as them being historically accurate. And that we’re not always sure what’s historically accurate or not, but we can be pretty sure there never was a hydra running around.
“Oh yeah?” he said. “Then what’s THAT BEHIND YOU?! AAAHHHHHH. HYDRA!!!” And with that. he was off down the path, away from the Acropolis and toward the winding streets of the old part of the city, where he found an overpriced trinket of Medusa and declared it the coolest piece of art he’d seen all day. I refused to spend 28 euros on the thing, and he cried so I bought him a gelato instead. Ah, I feel more cultured already.
While the kids were placated with their ice cream, I turned toward the Parthenon. If you face just the right direction, you can almost imagine the flesh on the bones, how it might have looked all those years ago. It blew my mind, that we’re essentially the same people standing here now, iPhones and space travel and open heart surgery and Lady Gaga notwithstanding. It’s hard to hang around Greece and not wax philosophical. After all, it’s where the whole thing started.
We’re still gods and monsters, creators and destroyers, lovers and rapists, spirit and animal.
And we tell the most exquisite stories.