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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A Moving Proposition

A Moving Proposition

We bought a house by accident this summer.

We had been saving up for a down payment with plans to purchase a home next summer, but thought it wise to dip our toes in the market this year, just to see where things stand. We figured that we’d have a better idea of what we would be looking at when it matters next year.

We walked through a home and found parts that we liked and parts we didn’t like. Another home was for sale across the street, so we thought we’d better check that one out, too. When we walked through this second home, we found very little that we didn’t like. We especially fell in love with the spacious backyard, half of which was thickly wooded.

We had an overcrowded summer that included nearly six weeks of continuous travel, so why not throw the purchase of a new home on top of all that? The one thing we learned from our last house transaction, however, was to take things one step at a time—that it is a long process that unfolds over months.

Every new step we came to made the way clear for us, so we kept proceeding, and here we are—we closed on the house last week and have moved everything in (thanks to some hard-working and generous friends). Most of our rooms are still packed in boxes, but we have transitioned to a new living space.

In 16 years of married life together, Stacey and I have moved ten times. By the second or third move, it was clear that we are at our worst when we are moving. Some situations call the best out of us, but moving is not one of them. Our personalities and communication needs are at their most oppositional during a move, and the stress of the transition makes things worse.

Knowing this helps some, but does not alleviate the problem that our communication patterns conflict. Despite what we know about it, that factor remains. As is the case in anything that comes up after vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our lives, we simply keep at it and do our best. What else is there to do?

We find that whenever we keep trying to communicate, though—no matter how unproductive and maddening it might seem—we always learn something new about each other.

For example, we had a week to move into our new home after closing. We had six rooms we wanted to paint, and a split-rail fence to build to keep our dog in the yard. All of this on top of packing up one house and unpacking in another.

During the painting, we found that I had much more patience to handle the detail work of cutting in the edges with a small brush. But if it hadn’t been for Stacey’s initiative and motivation to push on through the work, we would never have finished it all. When it comes to painting, Stacey is all about the quantity of the work, and I’m all about the quality. Both aspects are important—in fact, once we discovered this fact, we did our best to play to our strengths.

Another example: when it comes to packing, we are just the opposite. My idea of packing is to open the biggest box I can find and literally dump shelves into it until it is full. I simply want to get everything out, so we can organize it in the new space. Stacey had every room organized and packed up in neat and tidy boxes, each with its own label. Again, both approaches were needed—I had the drive to move the work forward, and Stacey was all about doing it well.

The biggest challenge we faced in all of this was simply having time to stay on the same page and figure out all of these communication needs. Both of us have spent every evening for the past two weeks working, painting, packing. We are doing the same work in the same house, but not in the same room. We collapse into bed, exhausted. Trying to find time to communicate well has been difficult.

I wish I could say that we put our backs together and faced this transition like heroes. The reality is that the only time we had to share with each other in a day was in the bathroom at 11:30 p.m., brushing our teeth, working through conflict while trying not to raise our voices as the children slept.

Heroism in lifelong marriage comes down to sticking with the time-worn, difficult conversations, wading through them together, and seeking and giving forgiveness. While that would not make a good plotline for the next Avengers movie, we came through the experience richer for it because we learned more about each other. Our lives have grown together in yet another new way.


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