4 priceless benefits of spontaneous family road trips

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I took this picture as we were packing to leave Cottonwood State Park in eastern Oregon this weekend. It was raining at home on the other side of the mountains (big shocker), and was bright and clear in this gorgeous high desert canyon.

This weekend was a ten.

And it almost didn’t happen.

We were being lured into the drive-our-kids-all-around-creation expectation and not listening to our we-parents-know-what-is-best-for-our-family hearts. We wavered. Yet! I somehow pep talked our little clan into loading up the gear at rush hour on Friday and hittin’ the road. In no particular order, the stats on this adventure were:

-two nights with stars that appeared to jump out at us

-one cool breeze blowing through the Twinkie’s windows while we slept

-one rattlesnake encounter on our hike where we all screamed like toddlers

-one twirly horned ram sighting on the top of the cliffs overlooking the canyon

-one novel read that I couldn’t put down

-one epic s’more session over a roaring camp fire

-an entire day spent talking and catching up while we lolly-gagged around our campsite

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It got me thinking how important these trips are for our family happiness and my own mental health.

 

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1) A change of scenery promotes relaxation and mandatory fun.

In our harried lives at home there is the predictable weekend sleepover (resulting in fried teens come Monday morning), as well as the rushed meals so said teens can ski-daddle to wherever it is they go to find social acceptance. With road trips, meals at a picnic table in a gorgeous setting prompt conversation, story-telling and an all around slower pace.It’s magical. I learned more about what’s going on in their lives in one night on this trip than months in the quickie car conversations we’ve had in the Mom Taxi going hither and yon.

2) A simple environment and routine manifests creative thinking and clear-headedness.

It always amazes me how many ideas come flooding in when I’m out and about (especially places with panoramic views), away from my vacuuming duties and laundry mountains. Living in the Twinkie is a simple deal and I am dangerously close to pitching this whole suburban thing and heading out indefinitely on the open road. In an Airstream everything’s within reach. The clothing choices are limited to the Barbie-sized closet and there’s only so much you can fit in a bathroom mimicking an airplane loo. It’s fabulous! When stripped of my wife/mom commitments, this little creative mind can come up with so crazy plans and projects.

3) Family bonding is inevitable when living in a small space.

It’s hard to hide when you’re within nine feet of your parents. We do give them the twin beds in the back (selfless parents that we are) and they can retreat when they need to, but I’m still within earshot. Thankfully, I got to hear about the books that were being devoured, some Elvis movie trivia, and random thoughts about the teen scene in general.

4) A digital sabbatical is more alluring when adventure is involved.

Ask the offspring to give up the phone madness at home on a weekend, and there might just be some sarcasm flung my way. Tell them that our new found nature digs has no cell coverage, and you’re met with surprising indifference. It’s an it is what it is kind of thing. I must say, I enjoy seeing their faces rather than the tops of their heads.

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I’ve been seeing the quote “The days are long, but years are short” a lot lately. ‘Probably some sort of divine message that I need to make all of this count, especially the hours that my beautiful girls are within my hugging grasp. How is it that school and friends’ homes get the bulk of their presence? I guess we’re just in that chapter right now, and I can honestly say I’m not guilty of holding on too tight. I might even regret not holding a little bit tighter.

These adventures on the road are part of this. I want to hold on loosely (as 38 Special would croon) and drink them in as much as humanly possible. I think they get this and indulge us with these excursions. I’m grateful.

When was the last time you took a road trip with your crew?

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The secret to raising happy, well-balanced kids

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There seems to a belief in the U.S. that scheduling one’s children in countless extracurricular activities helps them get ahead in life.

It may seem logical to want to expose your child to a large number of interests, just to see what “sticks” as far as attention and talent go. I remember sitting with my girls when they were toddlers wondering if I had little prodigies in the making. Prodigies of what I didn’t know, but I was curious, nonetheless. My own mother was a musical genius at a very young age, for Pete’s sake. A pie-in-the-sky dream was brewing that I had a Mozart or Monet on my hands and didn’t even know it yet!

So what did I do at this tender age of interest development to bring forth such mastery?

I scheduled my kidlets to the hilt, of course, and proceeded to drive to every mommy and me class known to man. Art, gymnastics, pee wee soccer, swimming, ballet…it was a quest to uncover The Interest with which my children were going to begin their love affair. This would be a discovery of the talent that would take them to high places through years of practice and hard work and possibly lift the burden of heavy college tuition hikes. Say, what?

Yeah…I went there too.

Who am I to dictate, dig out, discover, prophesy, or predict what my kids would glom on to in the way of activities? I’m thinking varied exposure to things is a good thing, but I’m finding out that if you really pay attention to your kid’s strengths and conversation, you will be led to where you need to take them.

When I finally realized how silly and anal I was being about searching for these destinies, I let it go. Things really started happening with my girls as they asked me for opportunities for new activities. There was basketball, soccer, piano (more us than them on this one) and one very intense year of I-love-all-things-about-horses-please-let-me-ride-every-day. I embraced the horse girl thing, knowing that at some point my youngest’s athletic skills would probably trump her stable time. I actually had a moment of sadness when she couldn’t identify a horse at a parade last summer. Memorizing horse fact books used to be the favorite past time. Yet, I also was proud of her for recognizing that a girl just can’t do it all. It’s also a good thing to see that the mother of a girl simply can’t do it all (or drive it all) either.

We’ve had many discussions about what it means for school work when there are too many scheduled activities and events packed in a week. We’ve always sent the message that academics come first and if there is “slippage” in any way, other activities will be stripped away like bark on a whittled stick. I think the message that “sometimes you just have to choose the one you like the best” is a good one.

Over-scheduled kids have a much bigger chance of becoming over-scheduled adults…and we all know how that turns out.

Aside from the harrowing school time vs. athletic time dilemma, there is another thing that has been haunting my 21st century thought process (I’m a little late to the party).

Do you think kids really play anymore?

How is your memory of your own playtime? Is it full of days spent with dolls in your bedroom, banana seat bike races, driveway matches of H.O.R.S.E. and twilight games of Capture the Flag? It seems like my memory has more vivid images of these games and hard-core playing than anything else from my childhood. It’s where I learned to entertain myself (being an only child), fight fair with friends and listen to others’ opinions of which game should be next. They were times of being completely engrossed in my backyard refrigerator box fort without a care in the world. My imagination was marathon running to the point of having to be reminded six times to “come in, it’s getting dark.”

I find it disturbing to constantly see the tops of kids’ heads in public settings. You know…the stance of being fully engaged in texting or gaming with slumped shoulders and glassy eyes. This doesn’t seem right.

Has the gravity of our situation with this tech-savvy generation freaking anyone else out?

I’m just short of not being able to sleep, it bothers me so much. Of course, not to the point of being an excellent example with the closure of my own laptop (I’m working on that), but it does make me think these kids are seriously missing out on something they might see as old-fashioned.

It appears there is a lot of running from one activity to the next with gaming and tech time smashed in between.  In my own car I finally implemented a no-device rule. We either talk or listen to horrible pop music stations (I’m held grudgingly hostage by One Direction) and the car time seems to be a time of bonding and catching up. I actually learn quite a bit in the car about what’s up at school. I think it has to do with having the back of my head to them—-they must feel safer sharing stuff when there’s no eye contact.

I do believe kids learn about their strengths through playing, or as my girls have taught me to say “hanging out”. Interacting and genuinely having to communicate with one another is invaluable to learning to navigate the world in general.  I’ve had many conversations lately with other worried parents that the art of communicating (especially in the written word) is losing steam, especially with an internet connected generation. It has to be conscious and consistent—overscheduled kids miss out on this.

Down-time (with the benefit of being device-free) is crucial to social development and the ability to identify one’s own strengths.

If we interact with our kids and listen to their hearts speak, we know our kids. We hear the changes in interests and desires. We are keen to the possible directions their interests can lead them. It is then that we can make a commitment to a desired activity and support it with everything we’ve got.

Every once in a while I have a candid one on one conversation with each of my children.

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1) Which of your activities bring you immense joy and a sense of accomplishment?

2) Which of your activities do you see yourself doing in two years?

3) If you stopped participating in ____________ activity, what would you miss about it?

This usually takes care of it. Sports tend to win in our house, but the interest and passion is genuine.

I’m going with it.

Do you find a packed kid activity schedule to be an obstacle in your home? I’m interested in how you handle it.

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