The Family Road Trip Rite of Passage

I recently went on a road trip with my family. Growing up, i went on the same drive to Florida about twice a year, year in and year out. I know the I-75 highway from Michigan to Florida with the back of my hand. Well i used it: It’s been years since i drove it with my family when i was a child.

This trip served as a rite of passage of sorts. Driving 2 full days with my kids in the back seat proved that i am now the adult in the car. It was very symbolic for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about Rites of Passage, and you will see more of that in coming blog posts and work i’m putting together.

It’s easy to fall into old habits, even ones that are 25 years old and not practiced since then. As a child, i grew up being awakened by my parents at 4am so we could get in the car and start the long drive to Florida. My role as a child was quite minimal of course, and i now see how i took the work behind the scenes for granted. We had cozy pillows to help us get settled into the minivan. My mom always had the same, but ironically tasty, packed sandwiches prepared for us. I listened to a lot of music on my Walkman and read books – this is before reading in cars made me carsick. And, i could start to recognize the focal points that we were on the right path – the bridge to cross into the US, the big buildings of Cincinnati and Atlanta, the mountains of Tennessee. We stopped seldom, and slept in rest areas instead of hotels. This worked for us, or at least that’s the message i heard.

Now, in my forties, i did this trip for the first time with my own young family. We did things differently and it worked for us, but i also incorporated the learnings from my previous road trips (stay tuned for a Road Trip Tip post soon!).

It was a great trip – My family grows, connects, and feels nurtured by being in the water. We can be arguing or bickering even as we walk to the beach, and then we we get there, it’s almost like the tension dissolves into the ocean. I found out during this trip that Siesta Key sand is made out of quartz, and as a crystal worshiper this makes sense to me. No wonder i always loved this beach and this crystal.

So, i just referenced the bickering: Let me expand on that, as it helped me see that no matter where we go, my children still will be siblings that need space from each other at different times, and they are truly not the same person. Even though it was obvious before, family vacations have a way of confirming things like this. My daughter is a thrill and attention seeker through and through. She is also much more sociable than the rest of us, and made a new friend on the beach almost daily. As the rest of us are avid readers, my son would happily play in the waves, practice his Percy Jackson half-blood water skills, and then join me on the shoreline to read one of his many, many books.

I wanted to share a special place with my family, several places with them to be honest. After realizing that my memories of going to Florida were as an older child, and at a different time in life, i realized that this trip is for my family now, and not who i was a child. This light bulb epiphany was an interesting revelation for me. Do you ever go somewhere now as an adult, that you used to as a child, and notice that your body goes into autopilot? It takes you on the same exact route you used to go on. This happens with me when i go grocery shopping or to my favourite outdoor antique market. When i noticed that i just wanted to repeat the same traditions i did as a child, i had to pause and ask myself Why? And who is this for?

So, when we realized that my beloved secret place on the island was not easy to get to anymore, i decided to not push us to go – it was for me and not for them anyway. After agreeing it wasn’t worth going, I was able to go alone. I took time to myself and enjoyed the only truly alone time on the beach the whole week. Taking that time to reflect gave me permission to pause and take what is most important to me – making new memories with my family and honouring what it is we love – playing in the water and not walking for miles on the shoreline.

One thing that helped me gauge if it was a good trip was to not focus on the sibling bickering as it’s inevitable anywhere we are, but to focus on the good in the trip – the warm and comforting sun, the fresh fruit, the daily rituals of morning walks on the beach, and evening strolls to get ice cream. We shared laughs and cuddles, and adventures together. We collected treasures to remind us of our trip, and there is still sand in our suitcase.

I know that a part of me hoped that going to Florida would magically erase the sibling conflict, but that was an unrealistic hope. I know that now. They did share ample bonding moments and played together at times – and i can capture those memories in my heart. The sweet shared hugs, the water games in the pool, the shared adventure at Harry Potter World. It may not have been perfect, but i know that is an unattainable hope. It’s good to challenge these hopes, as if we keep striving for better and more, we keep end up being disappointed and lose sight of what is important. And that is doing things we love, and taking time to notice the beauty in a day.

The Summer I Saved an Alligator

Each year, at the beginning of summer break from school, my family and I go on a vacation to the cottage. It has become such a family ritual that that we start to anticipate it weeks in advance. It’s a chance for us to unwind, relax, be in nature, and an opportunity for us to get a break from our everyday life.

The timing of this time away is impeccable: I am in the middle of a three-month long course that is offered by the Neufeld Institute. While it’s simply named Intensive I, it’s actually a very in-depth course on attachment and how it helps us reach our full potential. So as I’m taking this course, things are coming to my mind’s eye around the behaviour and emotions that my children are experiencing. This year, I found the time at the cottage to be even more important as it’s a chance for us to be alone as a family. I’ve been noticing my younger child becoming more and more attached to her peers. As an Attachment-based therapist and parent, I know it’s my role to remain the anchor for my children. Being the answer for them helps them to live their life as fully as possible. Watching my daughter become more more attached to her peers even at such a young age has been an interesting experience for me as a therapist and parent who is making very intentional decisions.

So, in order to help re-connect and be that anchor for my kids, off we went to our week away from the world. The weather was glorious, we ate S’more‘s and we swam more than once every day in the lake. Even though it was rather cold, the water has always been our happy place as a family. We could be cranky, tired or bored beforehand, but we always emerged from the water happy, content and refreshed. During one afternoon in the water, we were playing with our beloved water donuts. I of course brought to my favourite doughnut-doughnut, and we also had on hand the inflatable alligator that had been mine as a child. This summer my daughter has a goal to work on her swimming and so she and I were playing with the alligator as an opportunity for her to feel more confident in the water. Luckily she was still wearing her puddle jumper water wings because in one quick moment, the alligator overturned and slipped from under her. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and well we were cuddling and checking in together and the allocator quickly started to drift off. I had first thought it was going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore but then I quickly noticed it was actually going deeper into the lake. I’m pretty confident swimmer and had been on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to reach the alligator in time. Because in one quick moment overturned from under. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and while we were cuddling and checking in together, the alligator quickly started to drift out. Instead of going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore, it actually went deeper into the lake. I’m a pretty confident swimmer and was on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to read to the alligator in time. I was wrong. After a leisurely paddle where i was in my donut, i soon realized i was not going to reach the alligator in time. I have memories of this toy from my own childhood, and didn’t want to lose it so soon after my kids were able to play with it. So, i ditched the donut (this time int he right direction) and started to frantically swim at full speed towards the bright green animal floating in the water.

Luckily, we were the only people in the water and it was so calm (or maybe that was a problem). I used all the swimming strokes i learned (front crawl, breaststroke, backwards) and there were a couple of times where i had to quickly assess if this damn toy was worth me drowning or having a heart attack. I have to say there was a moment of panic of not reaching the floating device in time. Of course i did, as otherwise i wouldn’t be here writing this, but wow, was it a stressful moment for me.

I was able to use some de-escalation tools to help me get there, i used all the positive thinking i could, and worked on some radical acceptance that it was truly okay if i did’t reach it. A part of me know it would come to shore eventually. Another part of me wanted to be my kids’ saviour – of the alligator anyway. And you know what?

They didn’t even notice.

They didn’t realize how hard it was to get the floatie. But my partner did, and he tended to me and gave me some space to breathe. Literally.

So on that note, because i’m a glass half-ful gal, i’m going to leave you with some links to great articles about how to embrace summer, and how to make it meaningful for you as a parent. I work from a place where setting intentions help me live the life i love, and that summer means as much for me as it does my kids. So, here are some great resources to help you if you are stuck:

10 ways to stress less and flourish more
Mothering Arts Best Summer Ever list
Summer vacation: Freedom from or freedom to
18 summers – though i think this is too much pressure and not only 18 years, the article has some helpful tips

What are some of your favourite summertime family rituals? How do you spend the summer doing things you love?

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.