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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Restorative Niche Activities

Restorative Niche Activities

Winter is just sitting on top of us like a mean big brother who does not really care how “un-fun” the game has become. He is bigger than us and we just have to deal with it. I am an only child, so this is an entirely made-up scenario – but it seems plausible.

It is hard to wake up each day to another dark, cold morning, get children to school on slick roads or through snow, then off to work, only to pick up children, hope to get home before dark, make supper, do homework, bedtime routine, and then repeat. Granted, this is more or less what 75% of the year looks like, but somehow it is harder in February and March. As parents we can just feel devoid of energy and inspiration—empty.

That emptiness makes it very hard to be at out best for our children and our spouses.

We often tell ministry students, “You can’t minister from an empty cup,” meaning you have to attend to taking care of yourself and then minister from your overflow. Otherwise you are working from a deficit that will never be replaced (Bernard of Clairvaux).

In marriage and family life we do not always get the opportunity to fully attend to ourselves—to fill our cups. We rarely have the time and energy to exercise as much or even when we might want to; to pray as much, when, or even in the manner we might feel called; or to meet up with friends, go on retreat, or travel. We don’t even get to dictate our own sleep patterns!

One of the ways Joshua and I have begun to help one another in this regard is to carve out space for “restorative niche activities.” This is a phrase used by Matt Bloom, a sociologist whose research helps ministers flourish in ministry. It describes activities that meet two criteria: they are activities that we do well enough to pursue a sense of mastery; and they are activities that we do out of intrinsic motivation—simply for the joy we experience in the activity itself.

A variety of activities can be restorative, such as knitting, golf, painting, gardening, or model railroading. Bloom advises that for a restorative niche to really contribute to our flourishing, we need to engage in it regularly. Regularly, for him, means at least once a week.

Now if you are like me, one of the hardest parts of practicing restorative niche activities is just finding out what yours are. Josh’s is easy—baseball. He is part of an informal league that plays during summer, and he likes to make it to the batting cages when he can in the “off-season.”

I was happy to find an activity that suits the winter weather: ice-skating. I love playing on the ice. It is something that I do well enough that it is fun, and something that I would enjoy doing even better. When I am on the ice trying out new things, I totally lose track of time. That is one of the hallmarks of a true restorative niche—losing track of time.

This winter, Joshua has encouraged me to carve out a day or two each week to ice skate during the noon hour. It really is a lovely break from the day. It is refreshing in a way that has nothing to do with exercise and everything to do with clearing my mind and focusing on something for its own sake, not for a specific outcome.

The busy-ness of contemporary family life and its attendant stressors make it almost impossible not to be focused on goals and outcomes. We often need to plan our days out minute-by-minute so that everything fits. Our lives would be a mess without some sense of order and effort at planning and execution.

Restorative niche activities remind us how to play. How to just do something for its own sake and find ourselves in the fun of it. One of the ways Joshua and I support each other in marriage is by encouraging each other’s full flourishing. Just because the demands of parenting can easily become all-consuming does not mean that we should entirely lose our identity as individuals.

When we are whole in ourselves, when our “cups are full,” we are able to give not from a deficit but from our overflow. Such is the abundance of God’s love.


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