The secret to an awesome family vacation

 

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As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!

<cricket>

We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.

 

 

 

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