Family Vacations and the Headlock

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I know there are families who travel well together. They move in unison as one organism in pursuit of meaningful time together. Our family, on the other hand, slams into each other like molecules in boiling water. Our trips are often prickly, loud, and always include more headlocks than expected during a vacation.

The first headlock occurred when our oldest son, Leo, was about ten. Leo ambushed my husband, Matthew, with the classic vice grip as he walked into the living room, beginning one of our longest-lived family traditions. It starts with the surprise headlock and ends in a wrestling match. Now that the boys are older, the contest is more focused between Leo and Eli.

Matthew, the elder silverback, worries about his neck – and losing.

The headlock appears at random, but occurrences spike when we are on family vacations. There are no off-limits places for this male-bonding behavior. It can occur while waiting to be seated at a restaurant or on the beach in front of bewildered normal families. I watch, horrified, while the girls record every moment for their snap-chat stories.

I’m a planner by trade. People actually pay me to organized events. However, when I think of planning this year’s family summer vacation, I’m paralyzed by the intensity of it.

My husband is already trying to opt out. He fears that his co-dependent bulldog, Otis, will die of a broken heart if he leaves him longer than a weekend. Matthew looks to the future and our impending empty nest. His ideal vacation plan includes a small RV tricked out with a satellite connection for his work and a custom, shot-gun seat for Otis.

Given our family’s collective temperament and the headlock ritual, vacationing together is a planner’s nightmare. Our kids don’t want to be seen with us but somehow they’re always making a scene.

Traveling with teenagers is an unnatural arrangement and comes at a time in the family lifecycle when tired, middle-aged parents and antsy teens both long for their freedom and space. And yet there’s something very necessary about having to learn to get along; to sow the seeds of a common narrative, a running joke, and shared experiences that form the stories that will be recounted over the decades.

Creating that narrative has to happen in real time and there’s only one take.

The best thing I ever did for my sons’ future relationship was to bring them on a three week road trip through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Park when Eli was thirteen and Leo was nineteen. They fought and occasionally got along, but it was during those three weeks that their friendship truly took root.

So I will brave the boiling waters of our togetherness, the headlocks, the arguments and complaints, all the while reading RV catalogs and calling the kennel to check on Otis.

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PostScript:

My three guiding principles for a manageable vacation with teenagers.

1) Plan a vacation that allows room for each teenager to safely have time to themselves. Choose destinations where they can explore together and alone. Think twice about that camping trip that includes carrying a 30lb pack and sleeping in the same tent.

2) Don’t take every complaint about being bored or mad seriously. I used to waste a lot of time worrying and trying to prevent all forms of discomfort. Now I realize that it’s just the teenage mind ping-ponging from one thought to next, fueled by hormones and crushing self-consciousness. The same goes for the middle-age parent.

3) Give teens a couple of days to decompress and get used to the new schedule and surroundings. I have found that it take at least 48 hours for everyone to synch up and stop bitching about what they are missing.

Blog Posts from our National Parks Trip

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/08/02/20-miscellaneous-things-that-i-learned-on-our-road-trip-through-grand-teton-yellowstone-and-glacier-national-parks/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/06/29/life-on-the-verge-road-trip/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/07/30/the-unexpected/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/07/06/absolution/

 

Alumni Magazine

Long term visioning and planning has never been my strong suit.  I’m not a plodder and tend to leap before I look.  Reading the news from the class of 1987 in my college alumni magazine is a humbling reminder of how productive the frogs are who plan for a few hops ahead.

Reading the class column becomes a blur of fabulous jobs, PhDs, throngs of uber-successful offspring, just finished books, and global volunteering stints.  How do they do this?  I admit that my focus can be a bit wonky but I have an impressive energy level.  I just don’t understand how some people squeeze so much from their 24 hours. The back pages are filled with frogs who must have an extra gene for planning their lily pad track.

As I put down the magazine and pour my umpteenth cup of coffee, I remind myself that people who report into their colleges thirty years after graduation are in a high-achieving micro-niche.  Most of us garden variety frogs don’t remember that much of college and have trouble with our next leap let alone tidying up our leaping image for people we haven’t seen for three decades.

I’m positive that no one wants to know that I’ve arrived at a stage in my life with my husband and four kids where I have found the time to shower regularly, garden a little, walk the dogs, prepare lots of meals, and herd my imperfect family through the day.

Matthew is fascinated by my alumni magazine in the way that you can become interested in a stranger’s story overheard at a restaurant.  He pulls the glossy edition from our mailbox and grins.

“Oh look, my alumni magazine has arrived.” He emphasizes the my.

We read it together and laugh, not at my classmates’ lives but at our fallible selves. Matthew and I have attention challenges at the opposite ends of the spectrum. When we operate together, we form a rather well-functioning unit.  I push him to leap and he reminds me to look.  We agree that together we might be alumni magazine worthy.

Several years ago I had an essay published in my alumni magazine where I told the story of how skydiving with my oldest son prepared me for dropping him off at college.  It was the only time I’ve made contact with my alma mater since I graduated.  Perhaps my classmates think I’m too busy skydiving to get a PhD.

https://ebreston.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/how-skydiving-prepared-me-for-my-first-college-drop-off/

Mother’s Day and the Bag of Shit: More in Common Than You Think

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Friday is our trash day so I get up early to pick up our two dogs’ business before the garbage truck arrives at our house. My daughter comes out on the patio and looks at the weighted HEB grocery bag and asks me about its contents with a hopeful look that perhaps I have brought her an extraordinary breakfast treat.

“It’s a bag of shit.”
“No really, mom, what is it?”
“Seriously.”

There’s an eye-roll and she returns to the kitchen to contemplate what to eat now that I have ruined her breakfast fantasy. I return to my task, hearing the garbage truck rumble, brakes squeaking, a few streets over.

It’s the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend. I think about my Mom in Maine, alone on her first Mother’s Day after my dad’s death, and then about my own kids.

Mother’s Day is May’s cultural emotional land mine, only to be followed by a second sucker punch, Father’s Day, in June. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to diss the annual Mother’s Day brunch if it’s a true celebration, but for many the day is conflicted, at best.

I think back to the bag of shit that I’m holding and the approaching garbage truck. And then it hits me – a thought, not the garbage truck.

Picking up the shit is the price we all pay for being able to love and care for other beings. You have to search it out because if you pretend that it’s not there, you’re going to step in it. Not only that, but you have to keep doing it until the very end of the line.

There are no perfect moms and kids, even if we all want to pretend it to be true on Mother’s Day. The reality is that what spans between unconditional love and the bag of shit is what it really means to be in a relationship of any kind.

So whether you love, like, or hate Mother’s Day remember to give yourself a break. Relationships are messy and there’s a lot of never-ending cleanup. But that’s the brilliant part of it too, because if you are alive and willing, you can pick up the shit.

Seriously.