Next week, for the first time ever, my family of five will hit the terminals of our nation’s airports to join the throng of summer travelers. Passerbys who look at my husband and me will see bedraggled and harried parents trying to simultaneously push a double stroller and luggage cart, hot Starbucks coffee bouncing through adult sippy-cup lids, while also taking turns lugging a 25-pounder in an Ergo and keeping a three-year-old placated. They will see a tell-tale Trader Joe’s cooler bag sliding down Mom’s shoulder, an obvious yet futile attempt to save money on sandwiches and snacks after spending thousands on airfare. Collin (17) will undoubtedly be stressed, Rachel (3) will undoubtedly be tired and emotional, and Aaron (10 months) will undoubtedly try to put the entire airport in his mouth. My husband will resemble Clark Griswold without the relentless optimism, and I, well let’s just say I am no just-keep-smiling Beverly D’Angelo.
This is no joke. This is a sink or swim parenting challenge–a two to three parent/kid ratio, triple time changes, and the fact that this is by no means a vacation but is instead moving one of the family 3000 miles away, moving boxes, car shipment, IKEA shopping and all.
Observant people watchers and cheery FAA employees will wonder at our configuration: just who, exactly, is Mom? Brother? Dad? Are we all siblings with an odd age spread? Perhaps an extreme example of Dave and Toph in AHWOSG?
The less observant people-watchers and more surly airline workers will wonder why in the world we would put ourselves through this “vacation.” Surely there’s a family obligation in there somewhere: a wedding or graduation. Maybe even a funeral.
But for us, it’s none of the above. The reason we will leave California at 3am and arrive in Florida at 11pm with teen, just-past-toddler, infant, Pack-n-Play, two car seats, and eight suitcases in hand is twofold: to set up Collin in college (as I’ve talked about here ad nauseum), and to maybe, just maybe, have some fun with the kids. I’m not quite sure how likely the latter is to happen, but I’m going to treat the whole could-be-a-family-fiasco as a sort of experiment: which parent can take the most without having a nervous breakdowns? Loser pays the doctor bills.
Let me clear: I hate to travel.
Let me be even clearer: I especially hate traveling with small children. I don’t recommend it, and I’ve never talked to a parent who’s enjoyed it. I tend to reserve such torture for the aforementioned family events. All that said, I’m excited about going to Florida. I will get to see Collin’s new home-away-from-home, check out the stores where he will shop, visit the campus he will stroll daily, and play on the beach that’s right outside his front door. I wouldn’t miss this trip for anything.
I also see this as a chance to show the kids (and each other) how we can better integrate patience, gratitude, kindness, and grace into our lives. I can’t think of more fertile ground for doing this than a cross-country family trip.
Aaron, the little goober, is too young to be influenced by how this whole thing goes, but Collin and Rachel are not. How Andy and I handle the ups and downs will help shape how the older kids handle life’s stresses. Will Andy and I see this trip as anxiety-producing, complaining and snapping at every crazy moment? Will we bite each others heads off when both little kids are crying, Collin is stressed by the noise, and we’re all tired and hungry? Or will we instead exemplify patience and laugh off how absurd it is to have two small kids crying on a crowded 5am flight and remind each other that “someday we’ll look back at this and laugh?”
Maybe even more importantly is that Andy and I will be given plenty of moments when we must decide to build each other up or tear each other down. We will have to work hard at marriage-growing grace, and each time we succeed, we’ll add a little currency to the bank of happily-ever-after. Not to mention that we’ll show the kids what marriage, parenting, and team work should look like.
To continue the cultural metaphors, the Calloway-Hanauers must decide if we will enter into this Hunger Game style, or in Brady Bunch fashion. Whether we will put our hands in with a “Go Team!” or give up the game as a loss before we even get started. Right now I’m trying to spend my free moments–you know, like doing dishes or rocking the baby for hours at a time–in some serious prayer for this trip. The world may not be watching, but the kids are watching us and we’re watching each other. Let’s hope for a win.