Thirteen hours in a mini van with three kids, my husband and my parents. That might make some people sweat. After travelling with the kids so much last year (see blog post here!), I’d faced enough challenges that I felt I had a grip on this family-travel-thing . I started packing the day before we left, gathering enough clothes for the kids that laundry wouldn’t need to be done while away. Sun hats, sunglasses, shoes, sandals, sunscreen and everything else. I was nonplussed about the whole thing and was just looking forward for a change in scenery.
This year marks a new perspective on family travel for me. I no longer dream of quiet afternoons reading on the beach or sipping tequila at the bar. I don’t hype up expectations by imagining incredible adventures with my obedient children. I also don’t dread meltdowns or terrible weather. Rather, I just try not to imagine any details at all… when my mind drifts to those future days on the beach, I remind myself to just think of the fun and chaos, the salty air and the taste of fresh seafood. My kids are at the age where they might actually remember this trip, so lets let them soak things up. And if they’re having a melt down, well, I want to melt down too… and after 36 years, its still difficult to control that, especially when I’m away from home. So why not just let them, and not worry about it?
What’s chaos anyways but a diversion from expectations? And if I step back and watch it all, really, it can be great. Maybe a change of plans was needed, maybe I (oops) made too many plans or placed too many expectations (oops again) on the day or on my family. What’s happening here? What is everyone saying or doing? Wipe the slate clean. What does everyone want to do right now? Ignore the beach and play a board game? Read ten chapters of Harry Potter? Even when the weather is damn near perfect and light is gorgeous and I have this picnic packed and ready to go?? Sigh.. OK. Lets do this. I’d love to read Harry Potter for the next three hours with you… because at home I would be too busy with housework or the garden or emailing to take this time and just be with you.
In the end, it went incredibly well. When trying not to get too excited about the trip, I found I had such mediocre expectations that I was pleasantly surprised throughout. The long drive there went so smoothly, even my folks were impressed. Lots of games and toys were stowed away and brought out at each pit-stop for something new to keep them entertained. Only a few wining calls from the back of the van, “Are we there yet?”. We read and read and read aloud, which is one my favourite memories from my own childhood while driving across the country in a van. My folks and I reminisced about that trip some 30 years ago… smiling about driving through the night and setting up tents in the dark.
Newburryport might be the most quaint, ideal-ic town I’ve ever been to. Its like St.Johns, Newfoundland but with more money. Salt worn wood houses with large yards, rolling English gardens and white picket fences. We attended the dedication of my sister-in-law’s niece in and old white washed church where a dove flew through the rafters. I realized at that moment I’d never taken my children to church and thought this was a perfect introduction. A beautiful space filled with light and love and family, and with words that resonated beautifully within my questioning heart. Children’s questions came and answers were found. We wandered the winding downtown streets and ate ice-cream.
A day-long family gathering began taking its toll on my kids… rather than take them back to our air b&b or pacify them infront of a screen, we stole them away to the closest beach. The tide was out and it the unfamiliar stench gnawed deep in my nose. But the kids took off their shoes and ran through the sloppy black guck to the waters edge where their faces beamed and filled with new life again. We stood back and watched them delight in the creatures they found, the texture of the sand and mud, in the warm stinky pools left behind. It was the best part of the trip. This beach I would have driven past if the kids weren’t so adamant and about going. They proved my expectations wrong.
The rest of the trip was filled with laughter, new friends, great food, glorious sunsets, a couple more meltdowns and long drive home again. Road trips were one of my favourite things as a kid. I don’t remember my parents being stressed about them, I just remember the new sounds and sights and sharing these new experiences with those I loved most dearly.