“Volcanos are earth farts.”
She said as we rounded a curve in our climb up Mount Vesuvius. I had dreamed of visiting Pompeii and Vesuvius for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I watched a documentary on Pompeii and how it was discovered after being buried under ash for centuries. The bodies frozen in time fascinated me, as well as the stone streets and preserved buildings. From that moment, my life was on countdown to visiting the amazing place.
Equally fascinating to me was Mount Vesuvius, the murderous volcano that caused destruction to Pompeii and Herculaneum. My wife and I had prepared our kids weeks in advance before the trip; we read books and watched documentaries about the eruption. The kids’ curiosity was piqued and my wife and I were excited to share the adventure with them.
I had researched details about Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii and I was ready to describe to my kids in great detail the eruption in 79 AD that led to the deaths of around 16,000 people. We were going to talk about Pliny the Younger, a poet that was able to escape the catastrophe and is the only written eye-witness account of the fatal eruption. We were going to talk about the other times the volcano has erupted throughout its lifespan. We were going to talk about the science of volcanic eruptions.
But, instead, we talked about another form of gas emissions.
“Did you know hikers fart when they hike up mountains? Cover your nose.”
With my 2 year old strapped onto my back and sweat pouring down my face, I put aside any frustration I might have felt in being unable to discuss in detail the history of Mount Vesuvius, and dove into my daughter’s impassioned dialogue about farting. I gripped her hand as we dodged around imagined hiker farts in hopes of keeping our thin air flatulent-free. The beauty that surrounded us on both sides passed by more quickly than I wished, but the beauty of our conversation on broken wind continued.
As we reached the top, a gift shop appeared and my daughter suggested that she stay behind and look through the trinkets and other items that cause tourists to shell out their Euros. Her little legs had already walked among the ancient streets of Pompeii and the climb up Vesuvius tortured her. So I obliged and told her she could wait at the gift shop while the rest of us explored the summit.
My 2 year old and I continued up the trail with my wife. From there I could peer into the volcano that I had so badly wanted to visit. I stood along the path and watched steam rising from the cracks and I imagined the eruption that Pliny the Younger described as resembling a pine tree. I turned and saw the surrounding cities in the distance and wondered what it might have looked like to them and my heart became heavy.
I walked back down the trail and found my daughter rifling through the necklaces, magnets, and rings, trying to decide how to use up what was left of her spending money. My wife helped her come to a decision and we continued on down the mountain.
And what was my 10 year old son doing the whole time? Running up and down the mountain, proving that he is an experienced hiker in great shape. And so I was unable to pass on my wealth of Vesuvian knowledge on to him either.
I could have tried to force my kids to listen to my history lecture, but then the whole hike would have probably turned out a lot different and less enjoyable for everyone. My son would have been frustrated with pent-up energy and my daughter would have slid her feet slowly up the mountain, fighting off every attempt to enlighten her about a mountain that she had already spent hours learning about through books and documentaries. And all of that would have frustrated me more. I could have tried to stick to my script, but instead I relinquished control, and we all counted the climb as one of the highlights of the trip.
Sometimes you simply have to follow where your children lead, just take care to avoid the farts from hikers on the way up.