When my oldest was three months old, I flew to her grandparents feeling like I was headed to certain disaster. I was sure I hadn’t packed everything this colicky baby needed for soothing, that we would both get an incurable virus on the plane, and that I would not be able to figure out how to get the car seat in the rental. Like every new parent threshold, traveling ups the game. Going to the grocery store is hard enough, let alone crossing state lines. When I shockingly survived that first flight, a teeny tiny seed of confidence began to grow that maybe, just maybe, we were going to be ok.
Flash forward ten years, and two more children later, traveling has been embedded into the culture of our family life. We take long road trips in the summer and fly all over the country visiting extended family during school breaks. While memorable destinations have included glorious glaciers in Alaska, giant Redwood trees in California, and beautiful beaches in Mexico, it was our most recent trip to the Washington coast when I realized I had arrived at the most sacred spot yet.
It was a place within myself that was finally free: of worry, control, and expectations.
Trying to control every aspect of traveling and worrying about things going wrong never helped because inevitably, it did go wrong! We have had food poisoning in Santa Cruz, meltdowns in Disneyland, sleep strikes on 7 hour plane flights, wasp stings on islands, broken toes in the desert (not to mention the golf cart incident), and ear and eye infections in every time zone. We’ve forgotten underwear, swimsuits, favorite stuffed animals and passports. There was even the time security was called on us because our one year old was screaming so loudly. (It did not look good when the guard saw us playing cards right through it.)
I had finally reached that place that could look back at the adventures we have had and savor it all- the highs, the lows, the disasters, and the gems. In doing so, I could embrace the present adventure and truly let go.
When we work so hard and look forward to that family vacation, it can be natural to set expectations high. We think just because WE deserve it, our kids should naturally cooperate, sleep well, and shower us with gratitude. The truth is, routines get out of whack, they are overstimulated and sleep deprived, and someone is usually too hot, too cold, or too hungry.
With time on my side and experience under my belt, I started showing up to our trips with more acceptance and less striving for perfection. With this, I was able to enjoy the smaller moments: a board game with my 7 year old while the baby napped, a soak in the hot tub with my 10 year old, or a cup of coffee on the cabin porch. These moments grew in currency as much as the big tours and experiences.
I have realized that worrying and over controlling for problems that may never happen just isn’t helpful. There will be toileting accidents, sibling squabbles, and delayed flights. I can be as prepared as possible, stick to our family guidelines and some structure for routines, and I still will make sure to bring baby wipes and the medicine cabinet everywhere I go regardless of their age. Then I MUST let it go and just enjoy the ride. I only have seven more summers with my oldest and I refuse to spend them disappointed. What I will do is choose quality connection and use the inevitable traveling challenges to model flexibility, a sense of humor and solving problems with grace.
So what’s our next destination? It doesn’t matter, it’s all about the journey.
“I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly deeply seeing you.” ~ Daring Greatly, Brene Brown