I have spent the last 17 years raising daughters – Grace is 17 and Leah is 15. We have had travels and adventures that, to this day, bring smiles to our faces. Surprisingly, I have spent the last two years raising a son! Elias was an unexpected later-in-life-than-we-thought-possible surprise that has enriched our lives in numerous ways! His presence has given me the rare and unique opportunity to turn my hindsight into foresight. I have been given the gift of learning from the past to enrich the future!
As my oldest quickly approaches her high school graduation, and my son begins to string two to three words together at a time, I find myself more introspective than ever before. I want to seize the opportunities that I didn’t before and avoid the pitfalls that I stumbled into as a young parent. I hold all aspects of my parental life up against this rubric – routines, time management, focus, and priorities. What has become abundantly clear throughout this process is that one of THE. BEST. decisions my husband and I made early on was to make travel with our kids a non-negotiable priority.
I will admit, the thought of traveling with children was daunting at times. It seemed the valuation of worth was an intangible assessment when the girls were between the ages of 2 and 12. Up until the time that they could pack for themselves, adequately apply their own sunscreen, and make relatively healthy choices at mealtimes, it was anybody’s guess on whether or not an outing would feel more like a trip than a vacation!
But despite the doubts and skepticism, we chose to embark on many adventures in those early years. Were there bumps in the road? Yes. Did our travels always turn out the way we had hoped and planned? No. Will I do it all over again? Absolutely.
So that is what I intend to do. I will take my son on flights cross country despite the high probability that there will be at least three meltdowns throughout (his or mine? is the real question). I will pack all the things in five checked bags just to see some sun in the middle of February. I will attempt afternoon naps in different time zones. I will eat in restaurants that might not have Kraft mac & cheese on the menu, and I will trust that my son will indeed live to see another day if they don’t. I will brave the potentials and the unknowns and the hypotheticals all to manifest two simple things: attention and memories.
I’ve learned that attention is one of the most valued, focused ways that one can show love. To give someone your undivided attention is to invest in them as a person. It is an incredibly effective way to say, “You matter and I am happy to give of my time in order to know more about you”. Despite my best intentions, putting down my phone and redirecting my attention to those I love is increasingly difficult in my everyday life. I want to pay more attention to the stories and sagas of the day, but unfolded laundry and dinners to cook tend to steer my eye.
I have realized that the times I have been able to be the most engaged with – to give the most attention to – my family, I have been away from home. I can let loose and become the “fun mom” that I know is hidden under those layers of responsibility. I can ask the right questions to draw my daughters’ thoughts to the surface. I can appreciate my husband’s need for an hour to himself before breakfast. I can give my attention to those I love while on vacation because that’s the point – to do something different, more meaningful, for that short amount of time away from the rigors of daily life. I have seen firsthand that attention pays dividends well after we return home, as well.
It is the memories made on these vacations that hold us over long after the Mickey ears are put away and bedtimes are reinstated. These memories remind us of the first time we stood up on a surfboard, the last time we needed to have our height checked before Space Mountain, and all the times we chose to play a board game instead of staring at our devices. Even the trips that are fraught with delays and sickness can be remembered as the trips where mom and dad each got to spend special one-on-one time with the kids. The memories made on vacation stand out in my mind so clearly, yet I can barely remember what I did day-to-day for the past month! I will continue to travel with my family if for no other reason than to make the memories that are nearly impossible to replicate at home.
Thanks to the hindsight of raising children for the last 17 years, I now have clear foresight for the next 17. My perspective is broader – I know that the short term challenges are worth the long term rewards. I know that what may seem to be an uphill journey will one day be looked back upon as an amazing adventure. I know that there is no “perfect” time to travel with your kids, and that there will always be cause to reconsider the efforts. But I also know, all too well lately, that there will indeed come a time when kids grow up and will desire to pursue other interests. I know that I don’t want to waste a minute of the time that they’re home and they’re “mine.” I want to seize every opportunity to go and see and explore together!
If you are inspired to make the most of the time you have with those you love, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get to planning something memorable!