Tuesday, May 29, 2012


: something considered reasonable, due, or necessary

Vacationing with three children invariably challenges my expectations.   Whether it's my idea that they will entertain themselves with the books, music, games and art supplies I provide for the car ride or my vision that they will relax when I want to relax and go when I want to go, I'm always just a little off base.  Our family trip to Philadelphia this week had brought this concept front and center for me.

My daughters are 8, 10 and 12 and this is the first vacation of its kind that we've attempted.  By that, I mean this is the first time we've spent a full week in a city exploring it together.  We've spent a week visiting family or a week at the beach or a week traveling from one place to another, but never before this settle in and poke around together.  But with K recently turning 8, it felt like perhaps we could try this.  In fact, she was the one who prompted this particular trip.  Nearly a year ago, she started peppering me with questions about the Liberty Bell.  I answered as best I could, but decided then and there that if she was old enough to have this specific curiosity, the time to visit Philadelphia was near.

So here we are: in a town home in Manayunk with three full days left in the city.  We've already done several historical and cultural things: we've worshiped at Christ Church, visited Independence Hall, spent a day at the art museum and eaten Philly Cheesesteaks for dinner.  In between and during these events, there has been lots of complaining (by the girls), mild to medium to hot frustration (from the parents), a general discouragement (me) and a desire to press forward and try again (and again) to enjoy this trip (all of us).

The Shenandoah Valley
As we drove up through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, I thought about school trips back when I was in high school.  One such trip was to Baltimore, Washington, DC and Williamsburg.  I was in tenth or eleventh grade and only a few memories stand out to me: that I wanted to spent more time in the Art Smithsonian instead of moving on to Air and Space, that I bought my then-boyfriend a Georgetown hat, that it was very cold and that our group had to be reminded more than once to enjoy the differences and embrace them instead of complaining about them.

I think many of my daughters' behaviors that have driven me crazy on this trip are not only typical of their ages, but typical of them.  The difference is that at home, I would have enough emotional distance to recognize that.  At home, when they start whining about being hungry or tired, I take stock of where we are and build in a break soon.  That's not always possible on a trip of this type, but it's also difficult for me to discern their generalized complaints from true need.  As we sat in the sculpture garden of the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday snacking, I asked the girls why this trip seemed different than a week of Fun Jar activities at home.  Because when I planned the trip, it sounded a lot like what we do around Nashville every summer.  Only this time, we would do an activity each day instead of one each week.  They offered a few ideas of their own, but just talking to them calmly about it helped me see things better.

At Independence Hall

Before this trip, I thought my girls would move seamlessly into visiting Philadelphia's art museum because they are frequent visitors of the Frist Center.  I thought they would have the stamina for two days of traveling because they've been on car trips to and from Wisconsin and Alabama for virtually all of their lives.  And while these past experiences have provided some of the training necessary to make them good and appreciative travelers, they are still 8, 10 and 12.  They range from introvert to extrovert.  They get tired.  They get cranky.  The unfamiliar is both exciting and exhausting.

So here's my approach for the next few days: decide one or two things we will do.  Build in rest times.  Try to listen with my head and my heart when they speak, instead of reacting out of my own exhaustion.  Do my best to enjoy this trip on my own, somewhat independent of their enjoyment.  Maybe they can't appreciate the architecture and layout of a neighborhood, but I don't have to let that dampen my own enjoyment.  And, most importantly, adjust my expectations.  Remember that they are young.  Remember that what they take away from this trip is theirs, not mine.  All J and I can do is offer them the experience, not experience it for them.


Christine said...

All I could do as I read this was laugh and smile.

I had a similar experience in 2009 when David was away at training.

I decided to take the children (who were 4 and 6 at the time)cabin-camping. I had Great Expectations of all that we would experience on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The first day, I dragged them, in the searing heat, to a Seaside park. They practically passed out on the benches and I have photos of their faces as red as apples.

The next day, I asked them what they wanted to do. Turns out, they were completely content with the modest amenities at the campground; a pool, a playground and a fishing pier.

For the rest of the week, we chilled out there and only left for short re-supply runs.

The kids and I had breakfast on the porch in a pouring rainstorm, met a motorcycle dude who was renting the cabin next door, created fishing poles out of sticks, played with a family from Holland and generally enjoyed the best time I've had with them...ever.

I think the key was to release my expectations and to let them lead the way. I wish I could relive that week. It was awesome.

EJN said...

"Remember that what they take away from this trip is theirs, not mine. All J and I can do is offer them the experience, not experience it for them."
Wise words - what an encouragement.
Sounds like you'll have a great trip of your own, too.

d&b said...

As always, I love reading your thoughts and perspective, Shannon. What a great summary in your last paragraph -- true for my little ones and our lives now (and sounds like it's gonna be true for years to come). Praying for freedom and grace for both of us!