It was just a few short years ago that my husband and I took a very memorable trip to Europe. We traveled accompanied by our children, including the newest addition to the family: our baby daughter just shy of five months old.
The trip was challenging in many ways. Long plane flights, long walks, luggage-toting, frequent adjustments to new sleeping arrangements in hotels and guest houses...
The trip was not for the faint-hearted. Each child was tasked with toting their own suitcase and/or carrying a backpack, etc. I carried my baby almost continuously for two straight weeks. Time strapped into her car seat was very limited (only a couple of taxi rides and one rental car trip required it). We traveled almost exclusively by train through France, Switzerland and Germany, baby in my arms. We didn't even consider taking a stroller. It was hard enough to get on and off the Paris metro with a baby and her siblings not to mention a bulky stroller!
Our littlest one loved the trip. She constantly had new things to look at. It was the dream vacation for a baby who has not yet had the inclination to crawl.
Some friends with similar-aged children thought we were crazy to attempt such an adventure. One, whose baby was the same age as ours, said, "I can barely make it to the grocery store. How did you make that trip to Europe?"
During some of the more difficult moments of our trip, when things seemed momentarily overwhelming for this traveling mother and her young family, I found inspiration in the memory of my great-grandmother's journey from Europe with her toddler to meet her husband in America, who had left several years before. Ilona (Bence) Ujlaki, known to me as Grammy Ulaky, had faced her trip alone with her young son. His illness and his resultant stay at Ellis Island had to be a trial extraordinaire for a young mother, only age 24. Surely, if she could make it through that ordeal, I could make it through my journey. I pressed on knowing that my struggles were not half as difficult as hers.
Now, several years later, I have additional inspiration in the perseverance of motherhood: my great-grandmother Maria (Németh) Tóth. Like Ilona, Maria had crossed the Atlantic alone on her way to join her husband in a new country. She, however, had three young children with her - plus a baby!
You may have read the post about my discovery of baby Lajos' name on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania passenger list originating in Hamburg and then again on the list at Ellis Island. I was amazed to find the name of a family member who I had never heard existed. After further contemplation, I am even more amazed at the fact that this poor mother, my great-grandmother, survived such a trip with her young children and baby and made it to America with her sanity intact.
Imagine this: one adult with four young children ages six, four, two and five months. No disposable diapers. Not even a toilet, for goodness sake. No bag full of extra cookies, snacks and juice boxes. Probably not even decent meals or clean water, if enough water was even available. Fifteen straight days in the steerage section of a ship after a cross-continent trip by train from Hungary to Germany.
Don't forget to consider the fact that along the way Maria faced difficulty in communicating with fellow passengers, train and ship employees, and workers at the ports of Hamburg and Ellis Island. I wonder how many Hungarian speakers she actually encountered along the way. It must have been a relief to speak with someone in her native tongue.
I know from traveling with young children that no trip is easy. But what I know about the journey of my great-grandmother Maria (Németh) Tóth is almost unthinkable to me as a mother. In pondering the struggles that she must have faced on her journey to America, I can only hope that somehow she received special grace from God during her trial and met a few kind and helpful strangers on her way.
I never had a chance to meet my great-grandmother, known to her family as Grammy Toth. If I could do so today I would thank her as a great-granddaughter and a fellow mother: with thanksgiving for her perseverance during what was possibly one of the greatest trials of her life. Her courage and sacrifice made it possible for our family to begin a new life in America.
This article was originally published on March 10, 2008. It has been reposted here in honor of women's history month.