If you go over to my other blog here: Everyday Adventures: Our Western Adventure you can see all of the amazing, beautiful, and fun things we did.
I also posted quite a few pictures during the trip on Facebook such as these:
7 nights, 3 hotels, 2 states, 2 long drives, 1 overwhelming amusement park, 1 awesome playground, 1 amazing children's museum, and 8 early mornings... we are ready for flight #2 to bring us home (in 7 hours! what to do?? Pack and repack and chillax in our room I guess!) Gerry seems finally to have adjusted to this traveling thing just in time to go home. Marisol has a full blown cold. I know that we posted lots of pretty pictures, but OF COURSE we had lots of less than pretty, "perfect" photo-ops this past week (many of them presented by our 4 year old life coach...) I can definitely say that all of the challenging moments (child who wants nothing to do with "The Happiest Place on Earth", child who cries for much of a 4 hour car ride that he just wants to go home - and not to fly, but to drive! - children waking to face the day at 4-5 am, making sure we had enough food to eat for early wake ups, all of us exhausted by 6 pm...) were worth it! We had fun together, learned together, grew together... vacations are like life amplified and shrunk down to a short stretch of time... our attitudes can make or break them. <3
Our challenges began before the vacation even started. Those of you that follow or are friends with me, may have caught some comments about Gerry not wearing shoes. For over a month before our vacation he would not put shoes on and would only wear shorts and t-shirts (even though we were in the midst of the coldest, snowiest winter we've had in Virginia in years.) In January the kids and I visited my parents in Florida for 10 days. He did not put his crocs on once - not on either flight, not when we went to a restaurant, not even when we went to Lego-land. Here is some photographic proof:
Gerry was also VERY into the Wii through the whole winter. He loves video games - especially any Mario game. When we went to Florida my mom had a Wii for their house so we brought all of our favorite games. This was mostly a good thing - the weather wasn't all that warm so it gave us something to do. But it was also a challenge getting Gerry to get out of the house. So we were concerned about how he was going to deal with a week long vacation away from the comforts of home (aka Wii!) that involved long plane and car rides.
When we got home from Florida we had about 3 weeks until we flew out to California. Every time we went to one of Marisol's classes or a friend's house Gerry cried that he never wanted to leave the house again. So I wrapped him up (usually in his favorite sheet - a blue, queen sized "lovey") and carried him to the car in the freezing cold. We had 3 weeks to "shoe train" - I really wanted him to be ok wearing shoes so he could enjoy Disneyland and go on rides! (I had managed to sneak him on a couple rides at Lego-land, but wasn't confident this would work in Disney.) Gerry really wanted (and still wants!) to get the Wii U game system which is about $300. We told him every time he wore his shoes we would put a tally on a sheet of paper and put a dollar towards our "Wii U account." (We only ended up doing a few tally marks, and we haven't bought a Wii U yet. It's something he still wants and we are considering for next winter.) Over the 3 weeks he put his shoes on for short stretches a handful of times. The longest was when we went into Target to get some candy for Valentine's day.
Incredibly, on the trip he wore shoes whenever he needed to - no fights or problems. Ironically though, he didn't want to go on any rides in Disney so my worrying was pretty much pointless!
Marisol and I really enjoyed our morning together alone at the park on the second day. It was actually a very relaxed way to "do" Disney! We could do whatever it was she wanted to do, and I was able to focus completely on her. It was like a "mommy/daughter" date. We arrived at the gates before they opened (they open an hour early for guests staying at the hotel) and went straight to Space mountain. We ate breakfast together, caught the show in the "Tiki room" and went to the petting zoo where she got to pose with Woody. My favorite ride with her was the bobsleds. It was just a great morning!
Basically we kept affirming for him that he wanted to go home and that he was sad/upset. And we stayed (relatively) calm (deep breathing is an important parenting strategy that is very helpful) while also letting him know that we weren't going home yet. The good news: once we got to Vegas and settled into a new hotel and doing fun things, he was totally fine. The highlights of Vegas included the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, a park with an awesome playground and a small mountain we hiked up (ok, hill - but mountain sounds way cooler), and the children's museum.
It can be really beneficial to plan and prepare for vacation - to pack well and be proactive and and talk about our plans with our kids. But it may be even more important to consciously LET GO of all the plans once you are actually in the midst of it: To be flexible and calm in the face of bad weather and meltdowns, to realize that as the parent, you are the adult and therefore should be the one who is mature enough to change your plan and regulate your emotions. It would have been easy to be really bummed that we spent a lot of dough on Disney and Gerry didn't really seem to enjoy or appreciate it (at least not in the way we had hoped he would! In reality he loved parts of it.) Instead we rolled with it and were able to have fun anyway. It would have been easy to let his cries really unravel us and get us down on that long (but beautiful) drive to Las Vegas, but instead we were able to stay calm and ride it out - literally! (I want to be sure and add that I don't always feel calm on the inside. Sometimes I feel anxious and stressed and wish I was somewhere else. But I've learned that none of those things help and so I can often keep those things to myself while deep breathing. Sometimes Mike and I vent later to each other out of earshot of the kids. But sometime staying outwardly calm is the best we can do, and faking it is almost as good as for-real-internal calm. And even better - with practice it can turn into internal calm.)
It's at times like these that I'm exceptionally grateful for the principles that guide our family (peaceful/gentle parenting, unschooling - whatever term you wish to apply). I am also incredibly lucky to have Mike as my partner on this journey with our kiddos. I am always confident in our ability to have a good time together and to learn and grow together too. And that makes for many wonderful vacations.