“Mom, this is so cool!” said my 10-year-old as he reached for my hand. It wasn’t a new gadget that had him so excited. It wasn’t any of the items on his seemingly never-ending wish list. It was the stars.
After the overwhelming stress of this year, my brittle emotions demanded that I find a way to recover some calm. Carving out a few days to get away, I booked a last-minute deal at a beach duplex. I chose a private, remote beach without any of the bells and whistles that attract families with children. I took all the food I needed and planned to go nowhere for 4 days. Knowing my kids would probably be bored after the first half-hour, I planned for them to join me for the weekend only. Envisioning a few days alone topped off by a final 36 hours with kids in tow, I thought I had a plan for the perfect balance of solitude and togetherness.
It was perfect, alright, but not in the way I imagined. The kids arrived at dark on Friday and the first thing I wanted to do was take them out to the beach to enjoy the stars as they can be seen without light pollution. We grabbed a few blankets and flashlights and started an adventure. Lying on our blankets, watching shooting stars in utter amazement, the joy took my breath away. My children next to me were thoroughly enjoying the stars as though a long-awaited new video game had been released. I felt our collective release of breath and lifting of tension.
The next morning, I had no problem getting everyone up and out to see the sunrise. Again, the collective release of stress as we felt the breeze, watched the light change, and glimpsed a family of dolphins. I couldn’t believe how this simple, no-frills trip was capturing the hearts of my kids! The most advanced technology in use was a flashlight beside the occasional picture, taken so we could remember. We spent the day building sandcastles, chasing crabs, snacking, and reading. There was no fussing, no hurry, no talk-back.
My image of perfection had been me zoning out and relaxing as the kids had fun. It hadn’t occurred to me that the kind of bliss I experienced in quiet connection with my children over simple but magnificent marvels of nature was even a possibility. It may indeed have been one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that couldn’t have been planned no matter how much effort, but had to simply occur. Even as I resist trying to expect myself to recreate this, I look for the “how” so that I can practice this family stress relief more often. How did we get to that elusive location?
Retracing my steps, I can see a few things I inadvertently did differently. One, I took a relaxed attitude about the trip. I had already had to cancel a hoped-for getaway because of last month’s hurricane, so I was thrilled to be getting any trip, and it was too last minute for me to be able to attempt over-complication. No doubt my children sensed my relaxed attitude and followed suit. Two, I had a little time to myself in the mix. Because I had taken care of myself, I had more patience and enthusiasm for the simple activities with my family. When I liked it, they liked it. Three, and this was a total accident, I was able to use the things around us to spark wonder. In the middle of this year’s stress, I think we were starving for a moment to notice the daily miracles that happen on this beautiful earth. The glittering ocean, sparkling stars, soft sand, and the sound of waves had a way of reminding us that this world is still lovely.
Home and back to our daily life, I’m still amazed at how much my kids needed this stress reliever. Sure I knew how desperate I was, but as I watched their hearts drink in peace and beauty I realized they were more parched for relaxation than I thought. There’s no doubt we will always remember this trip, even though it was simple and short. It was a moment of accidental perfection, meant to be noticed because it couldn’t have been achieved. Maybe that’s my lesson from this wild year: that the only true perfection is the kind that can’t be planned or put together. It’s the kind we had before COVID and will have when COVID is a memory, and maybe the only kind that really exists.