Vacation rules

by Kristin on August 10, 2010

in Love, family & community

At Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

We’re just settling in at home after our big, West Coast family adventure. It’s easy to too-quickly abandon the reflective vacation afterglow for the pressing needs of home and work, so I’m countering that by writing this post.

One of the things I love most about vacation is how it mixes up your usual routines and settings, causing you to see your life and the world in new ways. I learned a lot while we were gone, not the least of which was this: Two weeks is a long time to spend in close, all-day quarters with four people you love. But that’s OK, and it feels good to recognize and publicly acknowledge that fact, without the Mama-guilt that says you’re supposed to love and treasure every golden, sun-lit moment with your family.

Here are a few additional reflections—prompted by my vacation (and sorely needed in my everyday life).

There’s freedom in letting go of the life I try to so meticulously control.

Sometimes letting go means leaving physical things behind, like my computer (which my kids were thrilled about). Other times it means kicking my high expectations out the door for a spell—not updating my blog three times a week and responding to comments, like I usually do. Letting go also means trusting things you care about to others, and choosing not worry about them. My in-laws (sister and parents) graciously shared the care of our pup, and two friends cared for my garden. Ultimately, I had to let go of my reliance on the clock, too—on routines and schedules. It’s fine to have a general plan for each day, but immensely freeing to be able to hold that plan loosely.

Shrugging your shoulders at dread is the best response.

Maybe “dread” is too strong a word, but I’m a person who gets very much caught up in anticipation—both the excitement and the dread. When it came to anticipating a two-week vacation with Jason and all three of our kids, I couldn’t help but worry. How would we navigate all of the logistics between here and Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, hotels and camping and the take-over of my brother’s small house? How would the girls get along while spending so much time together—particularly in tight quarters like a tent and the backseat of a car? How will I survive without my daily doses of alone time? Post-vacation, the only answer I have to all of that is “you just do.” You navigate, communicate, and survive—usually better than you could have ever envisioned. Worrying about it gets you nowhere.

Granting permission to be frustrated diffuses frustration.

Before our vacation, I played out various potential frustrating moments in my head, along with how the girls might react and how that might make me react. I knew the temptation to feel annoyed and try to shut down their complaints would be great, so I made them each a travel journal that could give voice to both excitement and frustration. There was a page to take note of “The best things about traveling for two weeks,” along with a page for the “Not-so-great things about traveling for two weeks.” There was space to record the treasures they bought along the way, and another space for those things they wish they could have bought (and the things they wished they had brought from home). I think, in the end, it was a way for all of us to acknowledge “This trip isn’t going to be picture perfect in every way, and that’s OK.”

Even “mistakes” can be turned into adventures.

On the day we were scheduled to leave San Francisco and make a seven-hour drive to meet my brother in the Redwoods, things didn’t go quite as planned. First we got waylaid by our desire to visit Chinatown, which we thought we could do “quickly” after breakfast. Next we were delayed by the rental car, which wasn’t ready for us when it should have been. Then we were stymied by the size of that rental car, in comparison to the five people and pile of stuff we needed to fit inside (luckily Jason is a trunk-packing master). The day proceeded with road construction, traffic jams, car sickness, and general discomfort, in spite of the gorgeous coastal views.

When we finally reached Jedadiah Smith State Park at about 10 pm, a few hours after we had hoped, we dutifully followed Google Maps’ directions—apparently right into the park’s most obscure entrance, a one-lane dirt road that wound through the giant trees, some of which were close enough to touch out the car window. We twisted and turned through the forest at 20 miles per hour in pitch-darkness, only able to see the magical scene framed out for us by our headlights. There was no place to turn around, and no signs to assure us we were even on the right track. But instead of dismay and annoyance, we were entranced by the beauty and unplanned adventure. Finally, about a half hour later, just as we were wondering if the road would ever end, we saw signs of civilization and found our way to the campground, where my brother was waiting with the tents set up and a fire ready for cooking dinner.

At the end of our vacation, when we asked the girls what was most memorable, they mentioned the magic of this late-night drive. I hope we will all be able to think about life’s detours and “mistakes” differently, because of it.

The road we traveled that night, explored again by day.

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  • Kirstin

    Welcome back! It sounds like an awesome trip. I LOVED the journal idea–I’m definitely going to keep that in mind. It takes a lot of the pressure off to internalize the idea that everything isn’t going to work out perfectly, but it’s all part of the experience. Creating a space for the kids to do precisely that is genius.

  • ed cyzewski

    It’s funny how even on vacation we can set schedules, plans, and goals to the point that we aren’t able to relax. I should see vacation as a blank slate that can be used for relaxation. Instead I get uptight about things being “just so.” It’s certainly a process to learn! Thanks for sharing your story here. I love the idea of a travel journal. Maybe I need to start one for myself next time…

  • Kristin T.

    Kirstin, yes, I think that’s it—as kids, we so often feel like we’re supposed to internalize disappointment (at least that’s how I felt, and how my kids seem to feel). Just knowing this less-than-perfect reality is out in the open—part of the experience, as you said—helps. (You should definitely consider making journals for your next vacation. My kids really got into it.)

    ed, it can take quite a while to really unwind, can’t it? And when you’ve traveled to a particular place to enjoy certain sights, the pressure is on even more to make the most of your time. In that sense, I was glad we planned a two week vacation rather than trying to cram everything in to less time. It allowed us to do things like spend a whole day reading and napping on a rustic Oregon beach, which we really needed. (Each year I live, I learn a bit more—and with any luck I apply it. :)

  • Ray Hollenbach

    The Brits go on holiday from four-to-six weeks at a go, and can’t understand how Americans can fully relax in a mere 7 – 14 days. The caricature of a family leader cracking the whip the rest of the family so “we can enjoy the vacation” is commonplace: we once visited Sea World, where (so my wife says) I pushed other children out of the way so my kids could pet the dolphins–we had driven hundreds of miles to see them (damit!) and I was going to be sure we got our money’s worth. I’m better now.

  • ed cyzewski

    Of course you’re better now Ray. You got to pet the dolphins… ;)

    I was the driven nut on our last vacation at Prince Edward Island. I spent so much time driving from beach to beach that I didn’t sit very often. That taught me a HUGE lesson. Sit… on.. the… beach.