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.

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?