Family Travel, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Family Travel


July 12, 2010

We just undertook a somewhat convoluted “vacation” over the course of twelve days, two states and eight legs of plane travel.  Gratefully the children were only a part of four of the legs of the plane trips.

Joshua and I were interested in attending a conference at Notre Dame for work.  As we live thousands of miles from our family and anyone we could consider leaving the children with for more than one overnight, we weren’t particularly optimistic that it would work out until I spoke with my mother.  She suggested that we take a vacation around the dates of the conference in Florida where they live.  We would fly down some days ahead of the conference, then leave the children with them to head north to South Bend, and then return to Florida to “pick them up” on the way home.

I suppose this is what our lives have come to living in such a spread out society.  Folks live and work in the same towns, cities and states as their parents and siblings far less frequently.  We don’t live in the same town (or state) in which either of us grew up.  Yet we are both very close with our families.  One of our largest financial investments is in plane tickets to visit them.  And even though it isn’t the same as living across town, they are eager to fill the same roles with our children as they might if we were much closer.  Enter mom’s suggestion.

One fantastic and unanticipated bonus to her plan was that some very dear friends of ours from graduate school were willing and interested in meeting us in Florida for the first part of our stay.  The five of them, seminarians in grad school, are all now ordained Holy Cross priests.  Yes, we took our family vacation with my parents, all our children and five of the greatest, most enjoyable men we know.  That was the good news to the vacation plan.

The challenging flipside to the plan was that because of the time of year, our children were still in school. Unfortunately we didn’t make that connection until after plane tickets had been purchased.  Seriously…what parent “accidentally” takes their third grader out of school for 9 days of school so they can go on vacation?  Me, the bad parent sitting over here.  You should have seen Josh’s and my faces when we made the connection.  A great photojournalism opportunity there. 

In the end the plan worked out beautifully.  The family had unforgettable times on the beach in Florida with the guys (including daily mass with 5 concelebrants), Josh and I got to experience a wonderful Symposium at Notre Dame while the children enjoyed grandparent time, and Oscar’s teacher and school were incredibly accomodating.  He brought all his books with us and worked a little each day.  In the end, I suppose it was a little flavor of home schooling for him.

The universality of this fine-tuned, twenty-first century version of family bonding got thrown into crystal clear relief for me when we were on our last leg of the journey home to Portland.  Sweet Simon (4) was doing a super job on the plane, enjoying some cartoons on the direct TV in the headrest in front of him.  They had already illuminated the fasten seatbelt sign for our decent and the turbulence had started, when he turns to me and says, “Mommy, I’m going to throw up.”  Now, how many generations of mothers have had exactly the same experience with a young child?  Maybe it was in a car instead of a plane, or even a covered wagon for that matter (we do live in Oregon).  But is family life so very different now? 

How did it end? Well, I couldn’t pull the plane over and open the door for him and I couldn’t even get up and take him to the bathroom.  But I did manage to grab the motion sickness bag before he started…and then another (that’s right, for a total of three bags)…and Josh managed to get in our stowed carry-on for the wet wipes, handing them to me across the aisle and taking filled bags in exchange.  When all was said and done, there wasn’t a spot on any of us and Simon turned to me and said, “Ok Mommy, I feel better.”  That’s what I call a successful family vacation.

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Sweet Nothings

Sweet Nothings

This past August marked 20 years since Stacey walked into my life.

We were college freshmen, and she argued for an adjustment to her schedule that placed her in the same first-year seminar that I was in. The moment she walked in the door, I knew I wanted to get to know her more.

Her natural beauty struck me first—she wore no makeup and did not wear flashy clothes. I also noticed her manners—in negotiating the schedule adjustment with our professor, she was polite and clear and humble.

So, when the anniversary of this date rolled around last August, I wanted to celebrate it as the watershed moment it was in my life. God’s providence was at work in the first week of classes of the fall of 1994 because our meeting changed my life in an utterly unanticipated, transformative way. I wanted to renew my appreciation for that mystery, and I wanted to share with Stacey something of the grace-filled surprise she has been to me, so I committed myself to writing her 20 poems. That would be one poem for each year our lives have touched, and I told her she’d receive them all by our anniversary date (which is this week, May 9).

I’m pleased to report that I’ve been able to keep my promise—I have 20 poems written and shared. They took every form—limericks, free-form, sonnets, ballads, rhyming and non-rhyming alike. There are more than a few haiku, my favorite form to write and the most convenient for their brevity.

After composing each poem, I found some way to surprise her with it—dropping it in her work items, or under a pillow, or in a shoe. I wanted her to come upon them in unexpected ways.

I had to stretch a bit to find new subject matters, but I was glad for the challenge because it gave me a chance to draw upon important memories and impressions from the past two decades to share. Some made her laugh, some made her blush. All made her smile.

I had been feeling a little humdrum in our relationship—after 20 years, the routines and rhythms of interaction are very familiar and predictable, which is a great comfort in many ways, but also can lead to monotony. I found myself “settling” for less in some ways—not always giving 100%, or falling a little too easily into selfishness. I thought this would be a good way to shake things up—to keep things fresh. It was a discipline that had me reflecting on our relationship and offering affirmation to Stacey in a regular way (to stay on pace, I had to write a poem every other week).

And this poetry project has accomplished that end. One pillar of virtue ethics is the notion that virtue is not inherited or learned, it is acquired through practice. That is to say that if we want to be brave, we must act bravely in large and small ways until we become a person who is brave in all situations. I found that reflecting on our relationship in this creative way has grown my capacity for loving Stacey, and appreciating the gift she is for me.

Theology defines a mystery as something that we cannot come to the end of understanding. In other words, it is not that we know nothing of a mystery—it is that we can’t come to the end of knowing a mystery. The 7,400 days that we’ve known each other have not worn off the sense of wonder that struck me when I first saw Stacey—they have only deepened it.


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