It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Sir Edmund Hillary
Today’s our first day home from a family vacation to Baltimore. Each year we travel to visit my wife’s large extended clan up in Baltimore and every year we fly. This year we choose to be adventurous and drive the 10-12 hour trip. So last Saturday we packed up our 3 girls, added my mother in law and sister in law and their pet dog, and made the trip where we stayed with my brother in law and his family of 5 (plus a pony of a dog as well). To say that it was a full house this past week is an understatement.
Here’s my vision of a perfect road trip: the memories are worth the time, effort, and cost. It’s a lot to wrangle a family of 5, even harder a family of 7 and quite impossible multiple families living under the same roof in shared spaces for a week. Here’s what I learned this past week about myself and ultimately how this trip helped redefine my vision of a “perfect” road trip.
Travel light and give yourself extra time for detours
Obviously we failed on that first lesson.. as I packed up our things to leave the night before Baltimore I remember thinking…this is probably too much stuff right? Then when we got there, can you imagine, we didn’t even use all of it? As for detours, a trip that we expected to take 12 hours max took us 15 to get there and 12 to get back. Talk about a life lesson though, think about the implications of only taking what you need on whatever life’s journey you’re on. And imagine if instead of lugging around extra baggage (insert any type of symbolic baggage here), we instead packed extra patience, extended grace, and a little more mercy. I remember there were a couple of nights we were so deliriously tired (my wife and I) that I certainly could have used it.
Take time for memories AND make time for memories
My favorite part of family vacations is making memories. That’s why my wife joked on Wednesday that every Baltimore trip I try to squeeze all of our authentic baltimore experiences into one trip. Here was my itinerary (see if you notice a pattern): I had us chasing snowballs through the city, Maryland crabs, I wanted to go to the inner harbor to see the fireworks (ended up catching them in Bel-Air instead), wanted the girls to go to church with their family (made it to one out of the 3 services we could have attended of family churches in the city), and wanted them to meet their great grandfather for the first time in addition to catching up with most of their other relatives (at least their great grandmothers, and a few aunts and uncles). I also wanted the girls to go swimming (we did, briefly), wanted to go rock climbing or some other activity with my brother in law and nephews (check), and do a little shopping (check- got a new pair of Toms).
Notice a problem? Sure we ended up doing all or most of those things but it also left us pretty exhausted by the end of the week. And, it was an itinerary driven mostly by me. My wife on the other hand ever content to relax and let the day come to her would have been fine with us doing fewer activities in exchange for more down time. There’s probably a balance to be struck, but I can tell you that I have to do a better job (or build in more time) to actually strike that balance.
Here’s what I didn’t do that I’m still kicking myself for: spend any one on one time with my wife. Usually we get away for at least a night out or a day trip while we’re home in Baltimore (there’s so many family members around, childcare should be the least of our worries). Honestly, it probably would have helped both of us to relax have some alone time with each other during the trip. Family vacations are hard because while you’re there with your family and you want to be with them, you also want to find time to relax alone and with your boo. I joked with Samantha that in the perfect world, we would arrive on vacation first without the kids, then bring the kids for a few days to join us, then send them off somewhere to recuperate from being on vacation with the kids.
Make time for me time
A colleague of mine once told me years ago, Sam, I can see why you always have something to give, you’re pretty self-centered when it comes to taking time for yourself. Looking back on that comment, I’m not sure if it was fully a compliment or not, but it definitely rings true. Even on vacation, (actually especially on vacation), if there’s one thing I’m absolutely going to do, it’s find alone time to read, journal, and pray. It’s not just my daily habit, it’s what keeps me sane. My wife jokes that the problem with me on vacations is that it takes me a few days to unwind, and then by the time I fully unwind it’s almost time to go. But, even she would agree that I’m a better person to be around when I take this time, so I spent many a morning and afternoon out on my brother in law’s deck this past week reading and relaxing.
The Aftermath: Putting Our lives back together
It’s the morning after and we still haven’t unpacked yet. Fortunately we cleaned before we left Atlanta so when we returned we weren’t greeted with a mess. However, we did still have the upcoming week and rest of the summer looming at us as we awoke this morning. Right now my wife and I are getting ready for a budget and calendar meeting for July. Afterwards I’ll take care of a few business items, grocery shop, haircut, pay some bills, do laundry, and if I’m lucky that’ll all get done today.
When we arrived home yesterday we sat down at the table and ate dinner (at our own table…just one of many acts of normalcy we’re trying to reinforce quickly). Afterwards we put the girls to bed early and binge watched Queen Sugar (quickly becoming one of my favorite new shows). I’m just in season 1, but one thing struck me about the West family- their struggle to be perfect. Everything was about projecting the right image and standing together in unity.
While I applaud the standing together in unity, and even see a purpose in being intentional about your family’s public persona it made me reflect on my own struggles as a family man. I have a vision for my family, a vision for how we will impact the world, a vision for the kind of children my wife and I will raise. But none of these visions matter more to me than the actual people in my life. It goes back to the destination vs. journey debate. The perfect road trip ends with successfully reaching your destination right? But what if the journey sucks along the way? Then how do you characterize that road trip? You arrived, but did you really arrive in one piece?
That’s what life is about, learning how to arrive in one piece. Ernest Hemingway wrote, it is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end. I’m so grateful that this past week I found enough moments of peace and clarity to remember that lesson. Whether it was late night jokes in the kitchen with my family, sitting around the dining room table singing happy birthday to my niece, or our karaoke contests…it seems that the best moments of this past week were unplanned. They just happened to be a part of the trip.