Having just returned from a weeklong holiday in Mexico with my 15-member family, I am reminded of how important it is to find sanctuary in the midst of excitement.
A week before the trip, I was feeling anxious about how I was going to orchestrate my children’s activities and fulfill their different wants and needs amongst a group of 15 adults and children, while still fitting in some quiet time of my own. It seemed like a tall order, yet without these elements, I could foresee chaos and stress. Not exactly a holiday.
Learning to travel with my three children in a large group without a second parent around has been, at times, excruciating — especially as they change and grow so much between each annual trip. No one strategy fits everyone all the time. Having to adjust and come together with various personalities in close quarters is challenging in the best of circumstances, but when you add in that my family was the only single-parent family in a mix of all nuclear families, well you can imagine how easy it was to feel alienated. I wiped tears off my boys’ faces more than once. But guess what? It’s all good.
What I have come to realize is that life lessons present themselves in many different forms. For my boys, it was important they learned how to stand up for themselves, how to respectfully disagree (a work in progress), how to integrate with various personalities, and ultimately, how to create their own fun.
Isn’t that what life is about, anyway? Many times I was tempted to step in and save them from painful conversations and conflicts, but in the end, I told myself this: Don’t get defensive. Don’t be over protective. They need this. Give them the space and time to surprise you.
Ultimately, years will pass by and all my boys will remember are the wonderful memories of these trips and the closeness of an extended family. The ATV rides in the jungles with our siblings and cousins. The speedboat thrills — we won’t talk about the time “some of us” were stuck in the middle of the ocean. Shooting hoops in the scorching heat, then jumping into the aquamarine pool to cool off before heading to the swim up bar.
Life is really good. I like to believe that these memories will be ingrained in my sons’ minds, and will become part of their adult make up. The boys remember to feel grateful. They recognize how privileged they are to have grand parents who choose to invite them on their annual family vacations. Not many kids their age can say that. We’re truly blessed.
How can you invite in sanity during times of travel stress?
Taking the time to give thanks brings it all back, full circle. In addition to writing my daily gratitudes during my early morning solo beach dates, I asked each family member to write down three things they were grateful for toward the end of the trip. Even my 4-year-old niece participated. (You can have the little ones draw pictures if they can’t write). I have saved all these snippets of gratitudes and will ask everyone to share them in a future family gathering to remind us of how good we have it.
Take advantage of the kids club! I know I have felt guilty when I’ve dropped my boys off there, but it really was only for a couple of hours and the kids loved it. Don’t be a party pooper. Go enjoy a date with your partner or grab some much needed me time.
Build in some one-on one-time with your kids. I had to do this often with my rambunctious 7-year-old to keep him from getting overly excited in the large group. But in the process, I was rewarded with some precious exchanges and hugs and kisses.
Create thrills and surprises. Kids (especially my boys) LOVE surprises. Hands down, the ATV and speedboat rides were the highlights of our trip. Now, let me explain something. I am NOT a sporty or particularly adventurous mom (in other words, I’m boring). But I knew my boys would love this excursion that my brother so brilliantly suggested (he is the one with all the crazy ideas). So I gulped my fear and jumped in. What an amazing bonding experience! My 7-year-old was my partner in crime and man was he at his best! As we all know, there is something to be said about the power of teamwork. Take advantage of it.
Now that I am back home feeling rested, relaxed, and oh so fulfilled, I am left wondering where to next year? Bali? Maldives? Australia?
I like to dream big.