Family Vacation: A Survivor’s Guide

Here we go!

It’s packing day or, should I say, packing week, here at the our house.  We are getting ready for our annual family vacation to  Catholic Familyland.  In anticipation, hubby puts in extra hours at work, the kids cram in extra play dates as if they are never going to see their friends or cousins again, and I do an unbelievable amount of laundry.   Communication between my husband and I is limited to what he can scribble on a piece of paper as he heads out the door at dawn.  Usually, it is a trip reminder or an addition to the packing list.  When he comes home from work, we exchage a quick kiss as one of us loads up the swimmers for a swim meet and the other hunkers down for an evening with the little ones.

We seriously need a vacation.  We need to sit together and hold hands as we watch the sunset or sit poolside watching the kids frolic.  We need to completely unplug and play Uno late at night with the kids when the only sounds we hear are crickets chirping.

I know I should be looking forward to this, but, I sit here dreading the process.  Perhaps, it is because I recall  the tension in years past between hubby and I as we load up the car arguing over whether we really need to pack this or that.  And, as we journey on, we comment on each other’s driving habits.   He goes too fast, and apparently, I go too slow.   It’s called a speed LIMIT, sweetie pie.   I also recall babies screaming from the back seat when their level of excitement and anticipation is outdone by their need to burst free from their car seats.    And, the older children reach a point where they can no longer stand to be that close to another human being for another moment.  You know, that point in the trip where you have to drown out the sound of the kids by singing Rolling in the Deep at the top of your lungs.  Sounds like fun, huh?  You want me to sign you up?

We had these stupid arguments when we were engaged and when we were newly weds, too.  Any time we were going to do something out of our comfort zone, we had what can best be described as a row.   So, it is not having a bunch of kids that brings out this charming side of our family life; it’s facing change and uncertainty.  And, it is ubiquitous to the human condition, otherwise I would not be sharing it with you.  I would keep our little secret locked in a closet and smile and pretend everything was happy-happy all the time!

At these times, I need to discern whether my perturbation is due to righteous indignation or just plain ego.  Speaking for myself, nearly 99.9% of the time, it is ego.  I want things to go a certain way.  I want everyone to be happy…according to my definition of happy.  And, when the speed limit says 60, anything over that causes my face to twitch and saracatic comments start flying about who has the better driving record.  I do, if anyone is keeping tabs.  My husband thinks we need a large selection of books on tape to be happy travelers.  I think we can wing it and I don’t want all those library materials floating around in our car and getting lost.  We’ve had this discussion a dozen times.  Guess what’s on his list before he heads home tonight?  Library.  You know what that means.  Here we go again.

I am happy to report that during very serious times of change in our life, like getting married and giving birth, we were drawn closer together and fights were at a minimum.  So, what is the difference?

Without a moment’s hesitation, I can tell you.  Prayer.

We entered into marriage with a great deal of mindfulness and prayer.  We knew we were entering into a permanent bond and we knew we could not do it alone.  We needed the supernatural gifts of the Holy Sprit to get us through.  We knew that we would have to put our ego aside and let the Holy Spirit lead us.  And, as a result, our wedding day was completely stress-free.  We were both amazed at our level of confidence and joy on that day.  We had been warned about all the angst and fretting.  There was none.

While we have made it through some major changes, I know my family has not been tested as gravely as some of my friends and loved ones have been tested.  I know that our day will come.  And, these little exercises in handling the unknown can be instructive, if we are wise.  Yet, when it comes to the everyday problems, how quickly we forget that it is still all out of our hands and we need to reach out to God and ask for his assistance, strength, and wisdom.

To survive lifes little changes, we have adopted a family mantra that we gleaned from our prayeful retreats years past at Catholic Familyland in Ohio.  It is something we found in the writings of Jerry Coniker, co-founder of the Apostolate for Family Consecration.  He and his wife, Gwen Coniker, had thirteen children.  Mrs. Coniker was involved in a car crash where the other driver, also a mother, died.  This led to their decision to redefine their family mission and they uprooted their entire family and moved to Portugal.  There, they studied the message of Fatima, made contacts inside the Vatican, and ultimately had audience with Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa.  They returned to the states and started an Apostolate with the permission of the Vatican.  So, in a nutshell, they know what they are talking about.  We call the mantra the 4 C’s.  We remind each other of the 4 C’s when things get tense.  They are calm, confident, cheerful and compassionate.  When traveling, we need to be confident in God’s providential care and not get caught up in stressing over the details.

Gwen and Jerry Coniker meet with Pope John Paul II

I think of Gwen, who passed on in 2002, when I struggle in my duty as a wife and mother.  Her example humbles me.  I like to think of her as my survivor’s guide.  The Vatican has opened a case to consider her status as Saint.  This is good news for married men and women who need role models who have walked the path to sainthood through the vocation of marrage.

So, thanks to the fact that I had this blog post due and had time to reflect on the error of my ways, I am going to suck it up for the sake of the family. And, If I were to be completely honest, I would have to agree with my husband, that the Magic Tree House series does keep our children distracted from the fact that they are elbow to elbow with each other for hours at a time.   Even though, we still have a Junie B. Jones loaner overdue for like 2 years.  I’m surprised they have not sent a collection agency to our door.

Don’t tell my husband, though, I want him to be pleasantly surprised by my calm, confident, cheerful, and compassionate nature.  I am even going to try shutting both eyes and nodding off while he drives.  Please note that I will have a rosary wrapped around my hands folded in prayer.

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