Whoa Nelly, we did it!
Seven people. One minivan. Eleven days on the road. Twenty-five hundred miles.
Now, I realize that many of your are thinking, "I don't even parent trauma, and that sounds like a nightmare." I get it. I was unbelievably excited and yet, a wee bit terrified out of my knickers, as we prepped for this thing.
Here is how we were able to have a great time:
We kept things simple. Everyone had a backpack with five changes of clothes, swimsuit and toiletries, etc. Everyone carried their water bottle. Everyone had one bag for whatever "car stuff" they wanted with them along the way for entertainment.
We looked at the map and discussed our drive. We talked about what it would be like to sleep in the car (everyone had a sleeping bag and a neck pillow, etc.). Everyone had their questions answered like, "What if we are driving all night and I have to pee?"
A good amount of time was spent online and on Facebook looking at the actual faces of people we knew we would see. This trip involved several new people, and that can be very stressful for some of my kids. We also discussed where we would be when we saw them and what we would be doing. Also, they knew how/when/where they could walk away or take a break from the activity if they needed to. We gave them that permission.
We talked through all the many tools of calming ourselves and getting regulated when feeling stressed. We did this as a whole and individually before we left. We played out a few scenarios to practice. We also told the kids that we expected them to have some rough patches on the trip. It would happen and it would not surprise us. But we also knew that they wanted to (and deserved to) do something this big and fun. Our goal was to "keep them in the game," so to speak.
With all the "different" and newness of the trip, we kept the basics as regular as possible. FOOD and SLEEP are not things we jack around with in our home. They are the cheapest and best sources of good health for any breathing human. Our typical flow of the day did not get too loose, and we made sure to avoid things that would cause us to stay up later or have to get up earlier than normal. Some might argue that going to bed at a reasonable hour while on vacation just isn't fun. I'll counter-argue that misery is not fun. Cranky is not fun. That goes for vacation ... or any random Tuesday.
I do not force veganism or vegetarianism on my family. When we are eating out, everyone can choose whatever they would like. So, we try to locate places that provide plenty of healthy options, even when one of my kids is piling on the beef. Of course, it IS vacation, so we absolutely have more ice cream and pepperoni than usual. Yet, we balance it. Again ... misery is not fun. Being camped on toilets half the day is not fun. But putting in the extra time and effort to locate some fun food options that do not trigger any of the food allergies or sensitivities in our family - that was dang fun and worth it.
We kept a close eye on the kids. If they seemed to be having a rough time, we watched and waited. Our goal was to let them handle their own dysregulation and have the opportunity to work through it themselves. Sometimes we might just catch their eye and wink, and that would be just enough to boost them into taking their own reins. When we did need to step in (and this is with all kids - not just the healing ones), we kept it as short as we could. We let them know that our goal was to help them take back power over those big feelings so they could feel better and keep having fun. We told them over and over that we wanted them to feel good and have a good time. We said, "Neener-neener" to the lies of shame within them, and we resisted those traditional parental urges of consequences for the sake of consequences. Sometimes just rearranging where everyone was sitting at a table was enough to take the tension down a notch and keep truckin'.
At one point, I took private moments to wrap my arm around some of my kids and say to them, "I know that I got cranky earlier. You did, indeed, drive me pretty nuts in that moment. I know I seemed pretty put out. However, I can't let one more second go by without telling you that your father and I see and know just how hard you are working. Even when we get frustrated with what is happening, we don't want you to ever forget that we KNOW this is not easy for you. We KNOW that you are not the same child you were three years ago. You are amazing, and you are doing more of the work on your own now. We know it, and we don't want you to ever forget that."
That was hard to do, because I was still feeling cranky at that point. Yet, again, our goal was to keep moving forward and to keep releasing them to themselves and all they've learned. That's where it is my job to make the extra effort, even when I'm having my own big feelings. If I can't do it, how can I ever expect them to do it?
"A sign of real character is one's ability to be kind and tolerant even when we are tired, hungry, or triggered." - Jeffrey Sumber
There are a few things I'm having to let go. This trip was not without some "stuff." Trust me on that one. Because we shared such close space, there were a few things that came to light I thought were long gone. There were a few new little things that happened (and still are) that are very discouraging for me. Yet, they shouldn't be. Healing is a process, and those dips into the "old" are a part of it. They are not "bad" and they should not be discouraging. They FEEL discouraging to me, but that's my problem ... not theirs.
I am expecting several meltdowns this week because my kids worked their healing little arses off! Our vacation felt "normal" (whatever that is). We all knew the current that was flowing underneath it all, but for the first time that current did not own our children in the face of stress. When it bubbled up in places, they needed less assistance from us than they ever have. They are starting to own their own healing. Slow and steady. One day at a time.