I knew I wanted to bring my kids to the Grand Canyon the first time I laid eyes on it.
It was 2001. I was 26 years old, and my first child wouldn't be born for another four years. But the site filled me with such an unparalleled mix of awe and perspective that I knew I'd need to share it with the people I planned to love most.
Not inconsequential – that's a different feeling altogether, and one I certainly don't support. Small enough, though, to fit into something bigger and older and greater than they are.
I want them to remember that the world spun on its axis before they arrived, and it will continue to spin long after they're gone.
I want them to think about their place in that world. Not at its center, maybe. But at a distance that allows them to appreciate its beauty and potential, and a closeness that entices them to leave it even better than they found it.
I figured the Grand Canyon would do the trick.
The first time I visited, I was with their dad. We hiked the North Rim and the South Rim, and we loved them equally, but for very different reasons. Not unlike the two kids we'd later have together.
I visited the South Rim again in 2013, exactly a year after our divorce was finalized. I went with a dear friend who'd never seen the Grand Canyon, and we both cried equally, but for very different reasons.
Recently, I brought my kids. (Along with my husband and my sister-in-law.)
My daughter, now 11, wanted to kick off her shoes and hike to the base barefoot. I coaxed her back into shoes, and we climbed together onto some rocky outcroppings that offered breathtaking views with just enough danger to quicken your pulse. (The base will have to wait for another trip.)
My son, now 7, preferred the paved trails and security of a guardrail. He squeezed my hand tight during our walk and waited up high with his beloved aunt when my daughter and I descended.
They both loved it.
I felt vindicated in that slightly smug way that you do when your kids enjoy something that's not on a device and not created by Pixar.
I was grateful that they grasped the canyon's enormity and were awed at the way its colors change by the minute.
I was relieved they never checked for Wi-Fi.
Mostly, though, I was reminded that we all need a place that makes us feel small. A place that takes the petty rantings and pointless grievances that occupy far too much of our headspace, holds them up to the light and shows us just how transparent and flimsy they are.
It doesn't have to be the Grand Canyon.
It could be the ocean, a lake, a skyscraper, an open road, a house of worship, a library. It could be a block from your home or half a world away.
It just needs to be bigger than we are.
We spent the night in Las Vegas before we headed to the Grand Canyon. It's a cheap flight from Chicago and a lovely drive east to Arizona, and I figured my kids would enjoy the spectacle.
It was 107 degrees, and we dodged swarms of people on steaming sidewalks while my son debated the veracity of the "police" dressed in fishnets and chauffeur caps. ("I don't think they're real cops," he told us.)
Vegas doesn't clear the noise in your head as much as drown it out with louder, brighter, flashier noise. But it's certainly bigger than we are – the hotels, the crowds, the heat.
I wonder which part of the trip my kids will remember longer: the city weighed down by humanity's heavy hand, or the park protected by its foresight?
I hope all of their travels leave them feeling a little more connected to the Earth and their place on it.
I hope they always come home reminded that they're a small part of what adds beauty to the world – and an enormous part of what adds it to mine.