I'm grateful, though, that each year gets a little easier in some ways. Though each stage and phase has its challenges (and boy, we're having some big ones right now), I'm glad that our kids can tell us what they want and need, and they still are young enough to be drawn into the wonder and joy of the season. We keep things simple as it's such a busy time, and as a minister, my schedule is pretty hectic. The gifts are limited (at least at our house), and our traditions include making cookies, filling a shoebox with Christmas gifts for another child, driving around to see the Christmas lights (eating McDonald's food afterward...the kids' favorite part), and participating in our church's Christmas Eve service. This year we planned well, taking the kids out of school for a week as my crazy semester ended, and went on a week-long Disney Cruise. It was our second one, and we learned on our previous one two years ago that it's the ideal vacation for us. It's hard for me to slow down and get in vacation mode, and our kids aren't the best travelers as they demand lots of attention. Most trips end up being exhausting and frustrating for John and me. But thanks to Disney's attention to detail and their great children's activities, we were all able to enjoy some fun and rest.
Lest you think it was perfect, however, I have evidence that you can change your surroundings without changing your reality:
|Meltdown in the Bahamas (trip 1)|
|Crying over her cupcakes (trip 2)|
Apparently, it's hard to be 5...even on a cruise ship. My initial response to their meltdowns was anger. We have spent two years and lots of money preparing for this dream trip, only to have ungrateful responses from our children. And yet, as I reflect upon it, I often fall into the trap of magical thinking. Throughout my life, I've often thought, "If only __________ would happen, then I would be happy." The circumstances have changed (finishing school, getting married, finding a job, having kids), and yet the perfect happiness I imagined never lingered. There was always a new set of obstacles and a new goal to reach. I have a picture in my head of how things should be, and instead of being grateful for the way they are, I still compare them to the picture and find what is lacking. It's no different here at home or on a cruise. While Disney is in the business of creating magical experiences, they can't create miracles. We will all get tired, hungry, and grumpy and resort to our default behaviors (for me, apparently it's anger when I feel disappointed).
While I become frustrated with my kids' reactions, I see my own childishness reflected back at me. As much as I harp on gratitude with them, my responses do not teach them the value of contentment. As I push them to tears on my quest for the perfect family photo, I'm trying to create a false image instead of appreciating the beautiful (and messy) reality in front of me. I guess that's why I hang onto these meltdown photos (although my kids will hate me for it one day). On the bad days, they remind me that we've been there before, and on the good days, I can laugh and celebrate how we've made it through (for the time being). The secret to happiness, I'm finding, is realizing that it is not outside of you (in a certain place, activity, or relationship), but having the eyes to see the beauty in what is right in front of you (and not the picture in your head). It reminds me of a country song I liked years ago because it spoke truth to our life:
"Just Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Vassar