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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Hugging the Porcupine

Hugging the Porcupine

A couple of months ago we took on a large extra project that will last through the summer. It is a project we believe in, that pays well, and that will allow us to work together. What could be better?

Back in early June, we had just completed the first phase of the project, and had enough work under us to get a sense of what was left. The kids were just getting out of school, and I looked at Stacey and said warily, “This thing is going to eat our summer whole.”

What’s more, working together hasn’t been the dream we thought it would be. We like to think we work well together because we shared a job for seven years, but the reality is that we split our responsibilities in that job. We actually have severely different working styles.

Different styles of work added with an unusual amount of stress has shortened our patience and made us both a little distracted. Yet, after nearly 16 years together, we’ve come to understand that life has seasons. There is a time for everything, and stressful times pass. We knew we just needed to get through this season—preferably in one piece.

Taking an attitude of service towards each other and family life goes a long way towards framing our conversations in a more gentle light. At times, I’ve been able to do this by initiating conversation with Stacey, checking in with her about how the work was going, and making sure she knew how I was feeling. In those moments, we feel like we’re battling this thing together.

Stacey’s expressiveness is one of the things I love most about her. In a normal time, she literally jumps for joy when things work out well. I never have to guess what she is feeling, and she uses that expressiveness to connect to other people very well. She jacks up our family fun by a factor of four, easily.

But when she is under stress, she becomes like a porcupine—prickly all over. And those barbs are what make me keep my distance; my stress reaction is to become like a turtle. Yet the distance I seek makes her even more prickly. Porcupines can’t physically shoot their quills, but under stress, Stacey can. And turtles don’t stay in their shells for long, but I can camp out there for days. The lesson for me is to remember that when I perceive her turning into a porcupine, when I most feel like protecting myself, that’s precisely when she most needs me to come out of myself and offer generosity and love.

This is how marriage trains us to participate in divine love. Human love is much more sensible—it follows the path of least resistance. Many days, human love is more than enough to get us by. But divine love carries us when we are sick, or scared, or under stress—“for better or worse,” indeed.


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