This past weekend we were invited by my Dad to go to Victoria, BC for a visit. This fit well with our “make no plans, fly by the seat of our pants” approach to summer as it was a last-minute, “what if we do this?” kind of request. It became a bit problematic with the car, as we weren’t able to reserve the ferry for the return trip, only for the way there. With a four-and-a-half hour separation between the ferries and a “first come, first serve” policy, I couldn’t rely on the power of positive thinking and had visions of us sitting for two hours then not getting on the ferry, only having to wait another four hours to board. Being trapped in a lineup with two small kids for hours, in what was looking like one of the hottest weekends yet, quickly threw me into a panic. I knew better than to think they could handle that.
A new plan soon emerged. We could reserve a spot as a walk-on. Then we knew exactly which ferry we would be taking. The only thing is, without the car, we’d have to pack light. My reputation precedes me though so my Dad was quick to remind me, “Don’t bring a lot. It’s only one night.” “Of course,” I assured him with a bit too much bravado. What did we really need anyway? I psyched myself up for the challenge of traveling light. I could do this.
For some reason the one bag we decided to take filled up very quickly. I’m not exactly sure why I thought the kids needed two extras of everything but I convinced myself their clothes were so small it didn’t really impact anything. After the first pack, I reassessed and removed everything but the essentials. The bag weighed nothing. Throw in a couple of toiletries and we were set! Taking the bag downstairs, the kids asked me what they could bring to Victoria. I decided to allocate them each a backpack to fill with the toys they wanted to bring. “But you have to be able to carry it,” I warned. They happily packed as many treasures as their bags would hold. No worries, I said to myself as I saw the bulging backpacks at the door. They’ll be carrying those.
All that left me was my purse and the car seats. “Easy peazy lemon squeezy,” I chanted like my four-year old. Travel light, enjoy the moment, nothing else mattered. Suddenly I felt like one of those mothers. Flexible, happy, unencumbered by the parameters of planning and details, a go with the flow type, off on an adventure with two excited boys. I was pretty pleased with myself as I packed up a pile of passports, phone cords, and chargers for the kids’ toys. In went some coloring books, word searches and paper and pens. “What do we need those for?” my husband asked. “I’m not bringing the crayons, just a pen” I defended. “These are things for the ferry!” He continued to eye me suspiciously as I added some last-minute extras to the largely empty bag he would be carrying.
That night I marveled at how easy it was to grab a few things, book a ticket and get ready to leave. It didn’t have to be difficult. Life didn’t need constant planning after all. The bubble I fell asleep in was brutally burst when I woke to my husband’s panicked, high-pitched whisper, “THE ALARM DIDN’T GO OFF. I DON’T KNOW WHY. I HAVE NO IDEA. IT SHOULD HAVE GONE OFF. I SET IT FOR 4:30 AM. IT SHOULD HAVE GONE OFF —“I interrupted him with a staccato, “What time is it?” “Ten to five,” was his sheepish response. “We can do this.” I bolted out of bed. “We just need to get ready in ten minutes.” I’ve done it before. Everything was packed. I knew it was possible. But then nothing is quick and easy when kids are involved. Or, when a non-morning person is trying to function before five in the morning. The fleeting thought during my two-minute shower was, “Why did I book the 8:15 a.m. ferry when it takes two-and-a-half hours to get there?” But I shook off the question, made a mental ‘note to self’ that I wouldn’t make that mistake again and forged ahead in getting ready and loading the kids in the car. “They’ll have to travel in their pajamas,” I decided in a random, “this isn’t affecting me at ALL” moment and threw them into their car seats as gently as I could. We were out of the house by 5:20 am. There was still hope.
My panic that we were going to miss the boat came to a screeching halt when we passed a sign at 6:15 am that said, “Port Angeles – 42 miles.” Calmly I reiterated what I had been told when we got into the car; that it would take two-and-a-half hours to get there and that we’d be lucky to be there for eight o’clock. “Umm…doesn’t that sign mean we’ll be there by 7:00?” ‘Note to self’ moment: my husband always includes in his travel estimates time for eating, random stops, illogical traffic incidences, all the while strictly adhering to all posted speed limits. As opposed to me, being known to yell at traffic “It’s MINIMUM 70…PEOPLE!” Rather than be irritated, I saw this as life handing me lemons. In my haste to get out the door after the alarm clock incident, I had completely forgotten to pack any snacks. Pancakes at McDonald’s sounded perfect to everyone.
The 90-minute boat ride was turned into a blink with the good fortune of the boys making a new friend from California. The coloring books and toys weren’t needed, which was pointed out to me by my husband who was responsible for the one bag. The kids started complaining about their backpacks but I stayed on course and insisted they carry their own belongings. I had the car seats and my purse. We navigated the border line without too much trouble, though it did seem that we had slightly more than we did when we left the house in the morning. We were excited to see my Dad waving at the top of the walkway. Our random overnight vacation was officially underway.
It turned out we didn’t need much of what we packed. The kids were pretty tired from the early start so they had some downtime in front of the television. My Dad and his wife have toys because of their many grandchildren, and when we weren’t at the house, we were out walking, visiting the beach and exploring the beauty of Victoria. Another note to self moment: toys aren’t needed on an overnight trip.
The big highlight of the trip for my oldest son was going to the Pacific Undersea Museum. It was the carrot on the end of the stick that I specifically left until the second day, knowing full well I might have to place it on the chopping block if behaviour got out of control. After a leisurely dinner at a fancy restaurant passed without incident, I thought we were home free. They were being so good! We woke up in the morning, raring to go. A plan was in place: walk on the beach, visit Mile O, then the Aquarium, lunch, and more than enough time to make our three o’clock ferry.
Somehow, the implementation of a “plan” threw everything into a tailspin. Mile O was jam-packed with tourists and we had a hard time finding an opening to dart in and get a picture. Then, arriving downtown and looking for a parking place close to the aquarium and the ferry, my oldest son started misbehaving. I thought getting out of the hot car would help, but it didn’t. Before long he was standing by a tree wailing. I begged him, please, please, please, just stop. But anyone with a child knows that these kind of moments subscribe to the Murphy’s Law principle. Even the threat of the aquarium outing being cancelled did nothing to contain him. I was so embarrassed so I started walking. As he trailed behind me, his litany of complaints grew. I heard an elderly lady mutter under her breath as I marched by, “He’s just a little boy.” Lovely how moments like this occur in the blazing glare of public just to make you feel worse, I thought to myself.
Luckily my Dad took charge and arranged the aquarium and we shuffled into the undersea show that was starting within five minutes. As my children settled themselves in the front row, happily chatting to the group of people around them, I sat in the back and, in stunned silence, pondered what had just occurred. Why did my son have a meltdown? It was a mortifying experience that, thankfully, passed as quickly as it began but it sure left me questioning my parenting ability.
Lunch was without incident and then it was time for our good-byes and loading onto the ferry. In the heat of the lineup, it suddenly felt as though we had packed our whole house for the trip. The rocks and driftwood we had picked up at the beach were like trees and boulders. The kids’ backpacks, which they had long since abandoned carrying themselves, felt loaded with lead. The car seats were a cumbersome nuisance and my purse was the straw that broke my back. Having never been good in the heat, the room started to swirl and I felt faint. The front of the line and the open door were steps away, if only the line would move already! My husband asked me what was wrong and I could barely form a sentence. “It’s too hot!” I said accusingly, like somehow he had turned up the temperature gauge in the ferry terminal himself. My level of irritation with the heat was so obvious the lady behind me kindly offered to hold my spot in line if I needed to go to the bathroom and splash water on my face. At that moment the line started to move and my heat crisis was averted as I felt a whoosh of breathable air when I rounded the corner to the border check-in.
Once we loaded onto the ferry, the boys happily ate their Langos; Hungarian bread my Dad had the foresight to purchase for them to eat on the ride home. My sons were eager to explore the ferry. Off they went and I had a quiet moment, surrounded by my thoughts and our mountain of stuff. And it was then that my lightbulb moment occurred.
My son’s meltdown, though inconvenient, was not premeditated. His response to the uncertainty of the moment that preceded it was largely similar to my reaction while standing in the hot lineup, with no idea when we would finally start moving. I became internally frantic; I was overheated, impatient, and felt like lashing out. How often do we feel overwhelmed in life, with all the little things that throw us curveballs along the way? The difference is we have the maturity to cope and breathe through it. In that moment, I realized I was expecting far too much of my son. The lady’s voice reverberated in my head, “He’s just a little boy.”
Traveling light doesn’t just mean what you’re bringing with you, but what you’re prepared to leave behind. In the future, I’m going to try to avoid packing the baggage of expectations I have for my children and, rather, focus on what they can handle with their different natures and maturity levels. With all my visions of having a no planning, go with the flow, vacation, I ignored that my son’s nature requires a certain level of detail. Just as I require a little less heat. Seeing my sons’ happy faces as they returned from exploring the ship, I hoisted the heavy bag out of the way so they could sit next to me, and my youngest asked, “Why is the bag so heavy?” “Our rocks and driftwood are in there,” I reminded him. “Oh yeah. Right.” With my arms around my two treasures, I thought back to the amazing memories from our random weekend and realized every other moment far outweighed my son’s one meltdown. What matters is packing the important stuff and leaving the “rocks and driftwood” on the beach. Next time, my bag will be lighter, in more ways than one.
Looking for an easy getaway before the summer ends? Visit Black Ball Ferry Line to discover the great packages they offer for Victoria.
Do you have a highly spirited child or need some advice on nurturing your child’s innate nature? Here are two books my friend recommended that I plan on checking out from the library.
Raising Your Spirited Child
Nurture By Nature
Enjoy the remaining days of summer!