Seriously, do families like the one in the “expectation” picture really exist? (The teddy bear pushes me over the edge.) Well, not my family. We are more like the “reality” picture.
The first words uttered out of my children, and for that matter, my husband’s mouth as we de-plane at our spring break destination are:
How long is the drive to the hotel? (12-year-old daughter)
Why is our rental car so lame? (16-year-old son)
I’m starving. (47-year-old husband)
Why do I consistently tell myself that our vacations are going to be these dream-like experiences where everyone gets along, holds hands and sings in unison to The Sound of Music sound track? Elaine, wake up!
You should have seen me as I packed for our San Diego trip! I told myself that even though we were actually going there to appease my 12-year-old daughter, Marlie, who has been begging to go to Legoland for over five years, that I was going to wear my gorgeous Elaine Turner kaftans and possibly even hang by the pool, and get this – – maybe even catch up on a some overdue reading. (Um…yes, here is where you insert a bomb going off to knock me back into reality.) Suffice to say, our trip was far from dream-like, but dare I say, it was REAL.
Let’s call it like it is — traveling with family can be highly stressful and at times somewhat contentious. I assume many of you have just returned from your yearly family spring break vacay. Well, let’s just say ours was a bit more stressful than anticipated.
We set out to conquer San Diego, and when I say conquer — I mean CONQUER. We hit every big theme park in town — Sea World, The San Diego Zoo and Legoland. Marlie was over the moon. My 16-year-old son, Harrison, on the other hand, was a bit moody but trying to be a good sport.
On the flight out, as we found seats 35 A, B, C and D, the very last row on the airplane, which happens to be right next to the toilet, I knew it was bad sign. We also had a very large man situated in between us all. Please don’t get me wrong — I am sympathetic to the fact that we are all different sizes, but even I struggle to find a comfortable position while squished in an airplane seat. He looked so uncomfortable that it made me even more uncomfortable than I already was. I wasn’t sure if he would make it. All I could do was pray for him (and me).
We finally landed in beautiful San Diego and got into our tiny rental car (a frugal decision made by my husband which further exacerbated my 16-year-old) and headed north for La Jolla. When we arrived at the hotel, there was a dense fog that had settled over the entire city. (Yep, you guessed it, it never “burned off” as they so conveniently say in southern California.) Our room wasn’t ready yet, so I had the unfortunate task of trying to make three people happy who were already frustrated, hangry and reaching the point of becoming plain mean. After several futile attempts to meet their needs, I ended up in the bar. I digress.
Once we got to our room, the kids had a little skirmish about who got what bed. I plopped on the sliver of bed that had been assigned to me and didn’t move for the next twelve hours. I told myself, “Okay, Elaine, you will get a great night’s sleep and be ready to seize the day tomorrow.”
The first park we hit was Sea World. At this point, I was still in a “things will turn around” mode. This trip will be everything I had hoped it could be. I won’t bore you with the all details but several sun burns later, I humbly realized the trip was not going as expected. By day two, when my Lululemon pants ripped on the gondola ride at the zoo (in my idealized state while packing for the trip, I had made the brave yet tragic decision to bring only one pair of leggings), I tipped — I needed a better attitude. I accepted my fate. This was a rough and tumble, sweaty, run-around-with-your-moody-kids trip. Period. I needed a new lens, a new perspective.
Here’s the deal, it’s all about expectations versus reality. We talk a lot about this stuff on the blog, but actually practicing it is another story. I decided to do all I could and practice finding joy in what is, not in what I wished it could be. So, I got back to the room that night, packed up my kaftans, hand washed my Lululemon pants in the hotel sink, ordered another pizza in, took a hot bath, grabbed my book and settled into the new trip I was going to have. Some call this “reframing.”
By examining and adjusting our expectations to better fit our reality, we are committing a very loving act toward ourselves. There is no limit to what you can discover about yourself with this approach. And as a wise person once said, “You cannot hold water in a clenched fist.” So take a deep breath, relax, and let go.
Instead of living in the illusion of what I wanted it to be, I began to see it for what it was and once I did that, I could start to see the real beauty peeking through. Idealizing people, places and things is robbing yourself of what real happiness looks like. I know there are many wise gurus who preach that the first step in manifesting your dreams is to visualize what you want, yet I dare to differ. It’s not the vision in our heads that is perfect — it’s the reality of what you see, what you experience and what you feel that takes you to the promised land.
I was able to see the simple things more clearly, the random acts of kindness and the beauty of being in the moment. Like my husband, Jim, climbing into the rides at Legoland with Marlie that he could barely fit into but smiling the entire time. Harrison and I grabbing dinner, just the two of us, catching up on school, life and, I can’t lie, our brackets for March Madness, while Marlie and Jim went to bed early. My kids spontaneously grabbing each other hands as they walked through the parks together. These are the real moments of magic that happen when we open our eyes to what’s real.
On the fifth day, we arrived at the airport to head back to Houston. I was feeling relieved to get back to our routine. My entire body had taken a beating on the trip. Harrison was taking a different flight and heading to Denver for a lacrosse tournament. I walked him to his gate and gave him the usual ten-minute Mom speech about making sure he had enough cash and to call me when he lands, etc. I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry this trip wasn’t exactly the most relaxing spring break.” He replied, “It’s okay, Mom. All that matters is that Marlie had a great time.” I kissed him on the cheek and gave him a huge hug and walked away. At that moment, Marlie was running towards me with her Mario t-shirt and jelly bean back pack on yelling, “Hey Mom, I think I saw a toy store. Let’s go to it NOW!” She got closer to me and saw tears running down my face and said, “Wait, why are you crying?” And I said, “Because your brother said something really nice to me.” Then she said, “Oh Mom, you are so cute when you cry.”
Four Matchbox cars and an hour later, our plane took off for Houston. The three of us gazed out the window and saw the crystal blue coastline fade in the distance. Marlie rested her head on my shoulder and said, “Mom, I’m going to miss this place.” Her eyes closed and I whispered, “I know. We’ll come back soon.”
P. S. Epilogue…
But wait. The story does not end there. The funniest thing happened when we landed in Houston. We got to the car to drive home to find we had a dead battery. Seriously??? Needless to say, I was a bit rattled and challenged to “find joy” in a hot parking garage as we attempted to jump the car for two hours with no luck. Another lesson: sometimes you just gotta’ power through reality. (No kidding, this all happened. Ride home courtesy Uber.)
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