8 months ago our family decided to join a mission trip through our church to Guatemala. While it fell into the “mission” category, it was hailed as family friendly and a great option for first time international travelers. 3 of us fell into that category, so we highfived, booked our airfare and started talking to the kids about our upcoming adventure. I might have even bought two pairs of linen pants just for the occasion. Because white linen pants are essential in the jungle of Guatamala.
A couple of months before D-Day, I took our little man on a quick weekend trip to Chicago to celebrate my dad’s career as a decorated track coach. It was routine, we stayed at my parents’ house, saw family we would typically see and kept a low maintenance schedule. That weekend was a reminder of just how difficult traveling, even in the most predictable of settings, can be for our son. He was out of sorts and irritable. His joy nestled deep and I couldn’t figure out a way to draw it out. His senses were on overload and it was painful for me to watch him struggle.
On the flight home, as he happily lost himself in the Kindle, I asked myself what caused us to think our joyful, son of routine and predictability could successfully manage a trip like Guatemala. A big group of new people. 3 different shifts in lodging. 200+ Spanish-speaking children surrounding him. Different food and bugs and unfamiliar humidity. And no technology. For 10 days. WHAT THE were we thinking?
Here’s what we came to – 1 week later. We were thinking that so much of the time we feel like a typical family. We crave adventure and trying new things. We want to show our kids God’s amazingly vast and beautiful world. We can afford to travel and want to focus time and energy on experiences rather than things. We value service and insist on teaching our kids that service isn’t optional. And so we make plans and dream dreams without stopping to really think about the 4 personalities in our house. We assume we’ll all jive and mesh and jump in feet first. And so often we’re wrong. And it’s not fair to our son. And when it’s not fair for him, it affects all of us. We forget that our dreams can’t be his, at least not in full. He deserves careful consideration of what our dreams look like for him and his needs. He can’t lay that out for us and so it’s our job to think like him and plan around him and adjust our expectations to align with him abilities.
We’re starting to make strides in how we plan our life as a family. There are parenting muscles that need to be flexed daily if we’re going to find the sweet spot. We have to think about where we go, how we’re getting there, what will happen when we get there, what the expectations will be socially and physically and what the weather will feel like. We have to consider the personalities we surround ourselves with and the complexities of the setting. All of these details offer him the chance to succeed and find his place in the world. They keep him from internalizing a stress and anxiety he can’t yet put his finger on. They allow him to ask targeted questions that ease his senses and create an entry point for him. If we neglect to prepare him for new pit stops along his way, he’ll naturally be disoriented and out of sorts. And so often we’ll scold him for the “unexpected behavior” we see. Like I said, we’re STARTING to figure this all out. It’s slow and fumbly and so unnatural for us. I’m a planner by nature, but this type of planning involves and demands a different level of precision and thoughtfulness.
We canceled our trip to breathtaking Guatemala. It was a decision that figuratively brought us to our knees for quite some time. We adjusted and regrouped. The group is starting their adventure without us as I type this. And the lovely reality is that after adjusting our expectations and dreams for summer, we’re sitting by a river in Steamboat Springs with my parents, happy as larks. We’re staying in a condo we could preview online with him. We went tubing down the Yampa this morning, which was a big feat for our little man. Dude is making chili with his Nana, Squirt is playing babies. We’re all comfortable in our own ways in a stunning new place. THIS works. And while it might not be Guatamala, it’s a beautiful blessing. We will continue to navigate what it looks like to do this life of ours with grace and gratitude.