After the Vacation

For March Break this year, our wee family was gifted a vacation to Costa Rica, along with my partner’s extended family. It was a trip of a lifetime. I learned a few things about myself, my kids, and how to hold on to it.

I need to tell you first that in another life I was a hippie at heart, and feel like in an alternate universe I’m a surfing beach bum. So while I loved the adventures and walks in the mountains, I am truly one of those people who feels most at peace and relaxed on the beach. So I was able to enjoy my time away from home. I’m not going to pretend that travelling with kids is relaxing, but I did find ways to slow down and be mindful.

Luckily for me, we spent a week on a glorious beach, surrounded by lush rainforest, monkeys and sloths, and the most vast array of butterflies I have ever seen. It was a sensory overload but in the most fantastic way. I was able to eat fresh mango, see butterflies each day, hear the birds chirping, feel the warm salty water on my body, and smell the sweet orange blossoms. As a body and sensory based therapist, I definitely practice what I preach. We brought back a few treasures to help us hold on to this trip away. And now I can locate a specific place in my mind’s eye when I am needing to calm down or distract my monkey mind. These 2 DBT based tools are so great to help with a mind that is stuck or having racing thoughts.

I have mentioned already my love of surfing, or rather the idea of it. I have only done it a couple of times and my body is not quite the typical surfing body. I say this because I had an insightful talk with myself while in Costa Rica. I had wanted to take a lesson there. But then I saw a photo of me in my bathing suit and thought of the crowds of people that would bear witnes to my lesson. I also realized that my 20-year old self was the surfer, not the 40 year old one. I chose instead to body surf and boogie board. And you know what, that made me pretty darn happy too. I squealed with laughter and joy and realized that my body now birthed two babies and is 20 years more wise and strong. My initial shame around my body turned into a moment to enjoy the present. I also realized that I don’t want to model body shame or hesitancy to do things I love. So I put on that rash guard (to help me keep my bikini on in the killer waves – I have no idea how people surf with bikinis!) and I jumped on my boogie board.

Gordon Neufeld talks about how vacations can be a great opportunity to create a deeper connection with your kids. It acts as a time to get away from our daily life and the distractions that can get in the of the bond with our kids. Daily after-school activities, play dates, and time spent on gadgets are replaced with jumping in waves, spying sloths and eating quick-melting popsicles together. The key word is together. We took a couple of toys that the kids like but for the most part, the toys stayed in their bags. This really worked for my son, the eldest of my two kids. He said “I love you, mom” so often that my heart was bursting at the seams. While he has said that at home, it has never been to the same degree. The hugs and hand-holding were also so special. I see first-hand the merit in this purposeful time away as a great time to go deeper with your kids. It may fade sooner than I want it to, but I’m so happy to have gotten it regardless. That photo there is of me snorkelling and my son excitedly spotting me in the water.

Travelling with extended family can be a blessing. My kids got ample time with their cousins, and we created our own village of support. One thing I recommend is making a point to get time away from your kids. This helps you re-charge, especially in such a small space as a hotel room. I was able to indulge in a surf date alone with my partner, go on a spice tour sans children, and do a morning meditation routine most days. If I didn’t get this time alone, I don’t think I would have been as present and happy. It can be hard to navigate this request with family, but when you can share the responsibility and take turns with childcare, everyone wins. My kids were just as happy at the pool while I sampled vanilla products. So don’t shy away from asking for help, it’s your vacation too!

It was my daughter’s birthday while we were away. She was not happy about being on an airplane on her birthday. While we tried to highlight how special it was, looking back I don’t know if it was worth it to go then. Or at least I needed to prepare or celebrate it differently. We are a family that really values our birthdays. We all play hookie from school and work on our special days. For Miss M this year, we rushed through the day to get to the airport. As the youngest member of our family, I’m sure birthdays are even more special to her. Instead of showing her that Costa Rica was more important, I needed to focus on her. That is one regret I have. Luckily she is resilient and the most fun-loving person I know. So, she bounced back quickly.

My daughter is our resident risk taker, and she is a fierce, independent and friendly child who I’m raising to trust her body and instincts. Sometimes that instinct can be in direct contrast to what I need from her, but that’s another story. I noticed in this trip that she is clearly more peer-oriented than I thought, and some of her risks are in relation to her peers. That’s not exactly what I want so we had some head to heads while away. I also had to take pause and notice my own shyness or hesitancy, so that it didn’t influence her. She takes no shit from others, including her parents. One example of this was when we were on a cruise and there was a water slide that went directly into the ocean. I at first thought she was too young, small, and not a strong swimmer. She saw the slide as a great obstacle to have fun on. So, I took a deep breathe and stepped in her shoes – she is not me after all. And she slid down that super fast slide. Three times. But with my agreement and encouragement, and a great safety net in place.

We have been back 3 days and I am starting to feel the daily grind already. I have written before about the impactful going on vacation has on our mental health. So I’m going to work extra hard to keep the Costa Rica sun in my soul.

How to Hold On to Summer

The summer break is about to end. While here in Toronto it was a bit of an anti-summer weather wise, i’m sad to see it go. We filled it with a lot of exciting and fun events, trips, and activities. It was also filled with sibling fights and mosquito bites. That said, i know it’s so easy to move into Fall and the usual routine and forget all to quickly about the lovely memories we built over the summer.

In my work as well as home life, i work on ways to hold on to the good stuff. I don’t know about you, but i so rarely print photographs, and my annual photo book is done in December. So, in a time where we don’t have the traditional way to hold onto memories (photographs), i wanted to share with you some simple but helpful ways to hold onto summer.

Draw a PostCard
As someone who uses expressive arts therapy in my work, i really love this first exercise. My daughter is the crafter in our house and she can go through pages and pages of papers with her drawing. I have a collection of postcard size canvases. You can get them at a local arts and craft store or even a Dollar store.

Think if a symbol or image that you especially loved or resonated with this summer. It could be a slice of watermelon, an umbrella, tent, ice cream cone, sunflower. Spend some time recalling a specific event or day that connects to this image. For instance, here are some of my examples: As a family, we spent a few Sunday afternoons last year creating this communal painting of our trip to New York. My daughter drew a scene of our week at the cottage (top right). Get out your crayons, pencil crayons, markers, pastels or paints. Pause so you can capture the feeling in your body and then draw to your heart’s content. The time we spend creating this image and using our hands to draw can help send a message back to our brain to really capture the memory. It’s like when we have to learn something new or study for a test – if we actually practice, we can really hold onto the info.

Remember this is not art class and no one will judge your work. After you feel happy with your work, find a place that you can notice it over the next few weeks or month. It will help you take pause in the day when you feel that life is moving on and away from that lovely day in summer.

Phone Selfie
I love how you can take a photo of your phone – if you have an iPhone like i do. I also love changing my wallpaper on my cell phone and computer. I update it it seasonaly, to find another way to hold onto something i especially loved. It’s a good way to sneak a peak of something that was a good and positive time in your life. I’ve done this with my donut donut – remember my last post where i spoke about it? You can do it with updating your social media photo too – not for anyone else but as a way to help you recall a memory that you want to hold onto. So, right now on my phone, i have my beloved donut donut and legs floating in the water.

This is a great way to take pause in the busy day-to-day. Most of us have our cell phones with us, or access a computer. Why not make it personal and add a photo or an inspirational quote that really speaks to you? When life seems to be overwhelming, this is a great tool where you can regroup how you are feeling and can help slow down life just enough to help take care of you. I love that this simple activity can be a tool to help you be in control of your emotions, as easy as clicking on your phone to see this helpful image!

Resource Anchor Work
In therapy work, there is some great information about how using these images as symbols to help us create a state of being that is our desired state. Here’s one example: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). You can find out more about it here – it’s a great tool that talks about how to send a message to your brain by doing some repetitive touch and tapping work, and using a part of your body to help connect to it.

Message in a Bottle
I have collected sand, shells, and rocks for years now. For major trips, the kids and i make a scene in a pretty glass jar and keep it in our dining room. We have several jars now and a large bowl of rocks. I notice the kids sometimes sit by the nature table and look at the rocks. I can see them touch it, and connect to the place where they found it. It’s a great exercise to help recall a happy memory for sure, as the relationship of the sense of touch and sight can really help boost our mood.

These are just some of the ways we hold on to summer. What are some ways you do it?