Saturday, November 2, 2013

Family Vacation: Reconnecting and Writing Our Story

What's your family story?  When you look back on your childhood what do you remember?  I realized recently that due to the level of stress in my life I had lost access to some of the happy memories of my childhood and young adult years.  Since quitting my full-time job back in May and following my passion to teach Conscious Discipline and ignite a passion for learning in others, my stress has decreased tremendously!  I have begun to remember little things that I haven't thought about for years! 
I was out at my mom and dad's house recently helping them with a rummage sale and began to get feel very sad.  I saw them giving a price to things that I thought were priceless (although I know you can't keep everything).  One particular item was a plate that my Aunt Nellie had purchased when she took my dad and his siblings on vacation out West.  I also saw items that my Grandma and Grandpa had purchased when they had traveled abroad.  They loved to travel!  Suddenly, I found myself deep in the memories of my childhood and how I couldn't wait to hear the stories and see the pictures when Grandma and Grandpa returned from another vacation.  It seemed like every time I turned around another memory came rushing back.  I wanted to soak it up and bask in the warmth of those days of my childhood.  I began to feel such joy as those memories flashed by so vividly and I remembered my roots.  These people have created a legacy for me and my family and stories that will continue to be told over and over to future generations. 

Do you love to travel or would you rather just stay home and stick to the routine?  In October our family took our first BIG family vacation.  We were gone for 7 days, flew, and even went international!  We had been planning the trip for months, but I have to admit that all the details involved stressed me out just a wee bit!  :)  I want to share this story with you today because we learned some very valuable lessons on this vacation and made some memories that I hope we will never forget! 

(Ik-Kil Cenote in the Yucatan)

Back in December 2012 I was flying home from a training in Florida and was given the opportunity to bypass my overbooked flight in exchange for 2 fee air tickets anywhere that the airline flies!  I jumped on the chance!  In my mind this was going to be a great chance for hubby and I to get a much needed vacation away by ourselves to relax and have some fun together ALONE!  :)  When I shared the news with hubby his mind instantly went to the possibility of a FAMILY vacation!  AHHHHHH!

We started looking for possible destinations and found a great resort location in Cancun, Mexico through an online travel agency called Government Employee Travel Opportunities.  Since I was a teacher and hubby works for local government we qualified for this great program!  They give you deals at unused time shares and the prices are unbelievable!  The resort we ended up booking was all inclusive and the kids got to stay and eat for FREE!  We couldn't beat it!  I was convinced that it would be a great experience for the WHOLE family and began finalizing the plans.  Our whole family was so excited about this trip (including my husband)! 

With tickets and passports in hand I began researching information about traveling with children.  This was going to be the first time my children had flown and my husband hasn't flown in over 20 years!  I know them well enough to know that it is best to prepare them in advance for new experiences to help them handle the anxiety of the unknown.  One thing I kept reading over and over again was that no matter what happens when you are traveling with children ALWAYS KEEP YOUR COOL.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, not so much!

Here's a couple of things I did to help everyone prepare:

1.  I showed the kids and hubby several short videos and photos of what it's like to fly.  I also showed them what it would be like to go through security and check-in.

2. I started packing about a week before our departure so I could have a clear mind while packing.  I know from past experience that when I pack at the last minute I tend to throw in unnecessary items just because I am so anxious.  When I am anxious I tend to over prepare.

3. We looked at pictures of the resort and the activities they offered so we would know what it was going to be like when we got there.

4.  We packed several snacks, some gum, and stocked up on iTunes songs, games, and videos for the kids to entertain themselves with while we traveled.  My daughter's favorite activity was drawing and playing games on a small dry erase board we brought along.

5.  I sat down with my husband and discussed the importance of the two of us working as a team and keeping a handle on our anxiety and stress levels while we were traveling.  We needed to be a united force.  :)  Hubby was definitely on board as usual!

When the big day finally arrived I was prepared mentally and physically (with everything but the kitchen sink) and yet, I found myself feeling very anxious and stressed.  I was trying to breathe and stay calm, but my heart was racing and the clock was ticking.  Here I was, the experienced traveler, and my family was depending on me to answer their questions and get them to their destination safely.  There were so many unknown factors along the way and I could feel my stress level rising.  I kept thinking in my mind "stay calm, stay calm", but I felt very edgy and snippy (as my husband would say).  Even though I didn't reach my goal of staying "completely calm no matter what happened" I did do very well at redirecting my thoughts and keeping my cool much better than I would have in the past.  I found it very helpful to have the mantra that I have learned in Conscious Discipline to help me adjust when I felt stressed.  "I'm safe, keep breathing, I can handle this."  It really helped me accept whatever came my way, adjust the sails, and keep going!

We arrived in Mexico and honestly, the first 3 days of our vacation were VERY stressful.  We were in a foreign country, didn't speak the language, learning to use a different form of currency, and trying to figure out which food was safe to eat and what to steer clear of.  Dinner the first night in the resort was a disaster!  The food was served buffet style and the staff was super generous with drinks and service, but by this point everyone was hungry, tired, and pretty stressed from a day of travel.  The table manners that were displayed that night seemed like a circus side show at best.  It was out of control!  I have to admit, I was questioning my decision to even leave the house!  LOL!  I took a lot of deep breaths and tried to empathize with my children knowing how different and stressful this was for them too!

(Here they are a few days later...perfect angels!  Aren't they cute!?!) 

The next morning, once everyone was rested and fed, we had a family meeting and let them know what was expected at the table for the rest of the trip.  They did very well from that point on.  In fact, our son told us on our last night how proud he was of himself for keeping his knees off the table all week!  He set a goal for himself and reached it!  We were even able to enjoy a fancy 5 course lobster dinner on the last night of vacation in a relaxed, fun, loving environment!  What a difference from the first night!  It really helped to lay out our expectations and create a relaxed environment to help everyone feel comfortable and enjoy the meals.

 (Look Mom!  Flaming zucchini!)

By day three of our vacation we were all much more relaxed and really enjoying our time away.  We knew we had made the right decision.  Everything was becoming more familiar and safe.  We knew the routine at the resort, found some foods we loved, and met many friendly and helpful people.  My husband and I agree that one of the best things about this trip was truly having no real responsibility.  The biggest decision we had to make was where to eat, whether to go to the beach or pool, and when we had all had enough sun.  Everyone was laughing more, cooperating, and eager to try new things.  There is something to be said for getting away from it all!  In the absence of stress we were able to relax, enjoy one another, and rediscover our playfulness as a family.

Our trip didn't go perfectly.  There were definitely some lessons learned along the way.  For example, we caught the bus one day to take us to the mall.  We didn't have enough pesos to get us back to the hotel without breaking a $100.  We figured it was only about 2 miles so we decided to walk.  That was an interesting walk back to the hotel.  Along the way we laughed about how this would be one of our memories from this trip and how it adds to the stories of our lives.  It will be interesting to hear how the kids tell THIS story when they are older!  It included more than 2 miles, heat, and a surprise appearance of Mexican officials bearing machine guns and motioning for us to move aside while they passed in their official vehicles!  I could have spent two days beating up myself and my husband for making the decision to walk, but instead, we adapted and moved on!  How do you handle mistakes?  Do you beat yourself up about it or do you forgive and move on?  Our response to the things that happen along the way help our children learn how to handle their upset.


 (Riding the City Bus is quite an adventure!)

It was so magical to see the transformation that happened in our family over the course of seven days.  Our relationships were strengthened, we had new found confidence, and we rekindled our love for one another!  It would have been so nice if I could tell you our trip was all sunshine and roses, but the reality is that it wasn't.  Honestly, in hindsight I don't think I would want it to be!  Through the struggles we faced, mistakes made, and frustration we handled we became stronger as a family.  I wouldn't trade it for the world!  It may have been a big financial investment on our part, but the memories that were made and stories that were written are priceless!  Now we're ready to start planning our next trip...a weekend away for mom and dad ALONE!  ;)

Now that we're back home and we hit the ground running with the things of reality, we have noticed that we are changed.  We love each other more deeply, want to spend more time together, and value the bond we have as a family more than we ever have before.  Our story didn't end when we came home.  Now we begin the next chapter!  We loved the mariachi band in Cancun so much that we decided to be a mariachi band this year for Halloween.  We had a blast as we pranced through the evening singing silly songs, trying to speak Spanish, and making people laugh! 

I love hearing the kids tell stories about our vacation when people at home ask.  It's like getting a little glimpse into their stories.  What kind of stories are you helping your children write?  What memories will they have from their childhood?  When we went to swim with the dolphins while in Cancun, they wanted an outlandish price for the pictures of us with the dolphins.  We quickly decided that it was not a good choice for us to spend that kind of money on a photo when we had plenty of pictures in our minds of this experience that will last a life time!  Like the stories of the Mayan ruins from long ago, I hope your stories are monumental and worthy of being passed down from generation to generation!


 Cheers!  We wish you well!