Road Trippin... Family Vacation Part One

So I am feeling really lucky that my family is able to spend nearly a whole month on a road trip to Southern California.  My husband and I both have amazing family there, and the work schedule seemed to work perfect for us all to be together for this extended period of time...

So of course, with five minutes till departure, my sweet husband gets a call that sends him packing to Baltimore, Maryland to help with the aftermath of a crazy summer windstorm that left 3.5 million people without power during a record heatwave.  He needed to head straight to the airport.

Really?  I mean, the car was running.  The kids were in it.  We were all packed and ready to go, and he got the call...  Honestly?  The best I could do was to not say anything at all.  Inside I was all pissed off, but my brain was reminding me that Ben was able to go out and do something good for people who needed it, and make some great money for our fam.  And storms don't really care about family vacations.  Keeping my emotions (sort of) in check, I gave him a tense kiss goodbye with a "this really sucks" kind of look.

Grrrr.  This was my emotional state when I got in the car.  Grrrrr.  I was literally growling on the inside, while trying to keep on a relatively cheerful face for the kids, who were, I think, equally excited to be off on our trip and disappointed that daddy wouldn't be joining us.  Grrrrr....  It was tough to be cheerful.

So the family road trip vacation turned into a single parent expedition.  I have lots of friends who charge it all over the US with their kids and have a fabulous time.  This was just not my plan.  The plan was a family road trip vacation.  And it turns out that I like to stick to the plan...  But there was nothing I could do, the plan had changed.  Shake it off, Case.

We drove 8 hours to Grants Pass, Oregon the first day.  Drove 7 hours the second day to Modesto, California.  Drove 7 hours the third day to meet up with my brother's family and friends in Lake Arrowhead.  We spent two nights there and had an amazing day on the lake (thank you Brian and Nicole) before driving a final two hours to end up at my moms in Carlsbad, today.  The road trip part of the trip is over for now, and I finally feel as though I can unpack the van....  Thank the sweet lord...

This type of experience can really highlight your faults and gifts as a parent.  Each day began with a mantra of, "today I will be calm and patient with the kids.  Today I will be nicer."  This is what I would be thinking as I work up in the small motel rooms, looking around in awe at how quickly their little suitcases could explode all over the place.  Our routine was that we would get up and dressed, and pack up our things into a nice pile that would then be taken out to the van after our free breakfast.  It was the van pack up that really stressed me out.  Well, maybe "stressed" isn't the right word.  I just wanted the kids and the dog (oh yeah, did I mention that our geriatric, deaf dog is also on the trip with us???) to magically disappear for 20 minutes while I packed up the car.  They, of course, didn't have anywhere to go so there they were, alternating between asking me questions I didn't know the answers to, and irritating each other - I guess as I write this I am realizing that yes, "stressed" is the right word!

Well, this morning my parenting light bulb flashed on and I remembered that the easiest way to encourage the behavior you want to see is to connect with the kids.  So while I was packing up the van for the fourth time I gave the kids jobs to help.  Rowan, my 9 year old was a willing participant, she was asking to help and couldn't wait to head out to grandmas.  Ian needed some curiosity questions to get him moving...  "Do you want to bring me the life jackets or the pile of towels?"  "What are you strong enough to carry?"  "What might you need in the car if you get board on the drive?"  "How will you feel if you don't have sandals to wear at the beach?  Where might you look to find the missing one?  Do you want any suggestions?"

Oh right, I thought, I do have some parenting skills!!!

We have a lot of vacation left.  I am picking my husband up at the San Diego Airport in a little over an hour, so this really will be a "family" vacation starting tomorrow.  Here is what I am going to practice as I enjoy the sun, sand, friends and family:

!.  Model the behavior I want to see.  Mirror neurons are real.  My emotional state dictates how the kids behave and treat each other.  If I am feeling irritated and bitching at them, chances are they will soon be bitching at each other.  They are the kids, I am the grown up.  That means that I need to continue to work on turning things around and letting what is bothering me GO if I want behavior that I can deal with.  You can't order (through yelling or threatening) cooperative and easy behavior, you have to model it.

2.  Connect with the kids.  When I notice one (or both) of them falling apart or having a hard time, connect.  Take a walk together, read a book, play.  And before I need to redirect, connect...  "Hey Ian, those are some sweet new vans that Grandma just bought you, I can tell you really like them because you haven't taken them off...  Make sure you don't put them on the furniture!"

3.  Curiosty questions - make them think!!!  I don't need to be barking orders from the beach chair - its painful for everyone!  Instead, ask questions to get the kids thinking about what their behavior could lead to...  Even better?  Get up out of the beach chair and down at their level with a smile while asking those questions...

Three things to remember.  Three things to practice, every day.  We are not in our own space, we will be spending lots of time with family and friends.  Parenting opportunities will be a-plenty.  I'll let you know how things go.