It's been said that a vacation is a crucible of family life. When a family takes a vacation, all the good things about that family are better; they glow golden. And the not-so-good things? The flaws? The places we need to improve? They stand in stark relief against the very good.
I hope to spend a few days making observations and passing along some ideas fresh from our extended vacation. I hit a few of the biggies here (in a now-expanded, complete with pictures post). Today, I'm going to take on the not-so-good, the bumps in the road where I wish we could have a do-over. There are just two nuggets here.
Eat, Sleep, and Pace Yourself. The meltdown started on Disney Day 7. We had wonderful lunch in a super-fun place. Spirits were high despite the poor weather. We had made a decision–because of the weather–to go to the Disney Store (the biggest one in the whole world) and allow the children to spend the Christmas money Grandpa and Barbara had designated for Disney World. Everyone else went to the Disney Store that day, too. It was big and noisy and overwhelming. Sarah and Karoline wanted to hold everything they saw while they tried to make decisions. Mike and I were being pulled in six directions and we were trying so hard to please. Some of us were so overwhelmed that we couldn't make a clear-headed decision and left with nothing.
We left Downtown Disney and decided to take the rest of the afternoon and do short return trip to Epcot. After a quick trip back at the hotel to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, we were off. Mike took the big kids in one direction. I took the littles in another. While standing in line for Nemo inside the aquarium building, I looked at my phone to see what time it was. I noticed I'd missed a text. I read a heartbreaking message from Colleen. Trapped with my little girls in line and no cell service, I swallowed, blinked back tears, and prayed. When I connected with Mike, he took everyone back inside and I went out to make a phone call.
After the call, I tried to pull myself together, but my heart wasn't in it. All the fatigue of the previous week started to gather momentum. The kids were getting increasingly cranky and we decided to eat dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One of the adults doesn't eat wheat and had neglected to pack anything of substance without it. One of the adults doesn't like jelly with his peanut butter. I've known this fact for about 30 years. In my efficient assembly line sandwich-making, I'd forgotten. Two hungry and tired adults. Wet, tired, hungry kids. We called it a day and went back to the room.
I might have dissolved into a sobbing heap. We might have made up and slept hard that night.
We needed to hustle to pack up the van and get out of the hotel. Since it had rained the previous day, we'd left Animal Kingdom for the last day. I buckled an exhuasted Sarah back into the Ergo. It was the warmest day we'd had. Not hot, but more uncomfortable than not with a three-year-old strapped in an infant carrier. Everyone was tired. And everyone was sad. We were leaving. Oh, and I had skipped breakfast to pack the van.
My aunt tells me that my cousin has had a meldown in front of the Tree of Life on two separate trips. She's the mom of four little ones. There must be something about mothers of many at Animal Kingdom. The park is designed around this huge (fake) tree. There are spokes to amusements all branching from that tree. If you walk too far, missing the sign telling you your intended destination is down a particular path, it is highly likely you will walk a long way. Indeed, walk a long way very quickly, so as not to miss the FastPass window. Over and over again. Carrying the preschooler. You might be tired. You might miscommunicate with the person you love most in the whole world. And you might keep up the family tradition of falling apart in Animal Kingdom. And then you will be very sad because it was not The Perfect Trip.
I wasn't the only one struggling. I've never been one to tell tales on my family members here, so we'll leave it at that. We'd all had enough. We were all hungry and tired. Too tired. In hindsight, we should have taken the previous day to just eat a good meal and hang out in the hotel. I think there is a tendency at Disney World to forget that the hotel is a part of the experience. If we'd soaked up a little more hotel and a little less crowded-noisy-crazy, we might have saved the last day from despair. But there is a corollary that is probably even more important for me.
Lessons from Disney for Life: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Very Good
I have tendency to see things in black and white and to be incredibly hard on myself. Either it was the perfect trip or it wasn't. I beat myself up over jelly on peanut butter and miscommunication. I took too personally the expressions of other people's fatigue and hunger. I focused on the imperfections and I might have missed the fact that this trip was very, very good. We returned to my mom's house that night utterly exhausted. We slept. We awoke to a relaxed day and an evening of good food and laughter at my aunt's house. Perspective restored, we drove all the way home the next day, proud that we'd done really good things.
It might seem strange to begin a series of vacation posts with the end of the trip and the only negatives, but I wanted to make it clear right from the get-go that we are real people with real frailties. I have a couple of close friends who have compared notes with me over the years on the "vacation fight." It happens almost universally (but I'm still shooting for the vacation without one). We've mutually agreed that if any of us texts another with the message "St. Joseph prayers needed now, please" from a family vacation, we are to pray hard. No questions asked. No details necessary. And none given. Stuff happens. Strong families survive and thrive despite the stuff. They might even improve because of the stuff.
We took eight children from 3-19 to Disney World, traveling from DC to Orlando in a big, rented van. It wasn't perfect. But it was good.