Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary. For years, we had talked about doing something big to celebrate this milestone, but it was always just 'talk'. Around this time last year, we started seriously talking about it. We were thick in the middle of adjusting to two kids, a husband in the busiest time of his post-graduate schooling and career, and basically just treading water. We realized if we didn't commit to doing it now, we wouldn't do it, and we would regret it. So we started planning, and dreaming, and planning some more. And little by little, our trip materialized. 10 days spent traveling around England and Paris, sans kids. (insert all the praise hand emojis!!!)
The week leading up to the trip I was physically ill. Sure, there was the stress of making ALL THE FOOD for my kids' crazy allergies, and all the packing and all the cleaning. But it was also settling in that I would be away from my kids for 10 whole days. And not just away, but across the ocean. Had we not already paid for everything I would have been sorely tempted to back out. Good thing money is a motivator.
We did leave, and we did return. And that trip was the biggest gift to our marriage since I don't know when. Since I didn't have to get someone's food/change someone's diaper/clean up messes/get groceries/do anything remotely normal...I had lots of time to think. And from that thinking, I share with you: 10 things I learned while we were gone.
1. They will be OK. Maybe this goes without saying for some people, but it's a legitimate thing when you're a parent. Will everything be done exactly as it is when you're home? Nope. Will there be a major adjustment period for everyone when you get back? Yes. But when you leave them with people that you know love them (in this case, their grandparents), they will be cared for and even have fun without you...and that's a good thing.
2. Prep work is worth it - even if you're not going on a trip! We had to do some epic prep work for this trip. We stayed at all Airbnbs, so there was a lot of research, a lot of review-reading, a lot of map studying. We planned everything ourselves and decided where we'd like to go and what we'd like to see. It was exhausting sometimes, but the anticipation of it is half the fun! And when we got there, we were free to explore, because of the extensive planning we had done.
We also had to prep all the things for the boys. Namely, food. When your kids have strict do's and don'ts for their diets, it's in everyone's best interest to just take care of it before you leave. No worries for the grandparents, less stress/chaos for them at dinnertime, and we didn't have to worry about them having a food reaction while we were gone. It was intense. 10 days' worth of food for 2 boys who already eat like teenagers is no small thing. But when it was done, it was done.
What I've learned from this is that we can afford with a little more prep here at home. I did do some big batch things for the boys before, but having ready-to-heat dinners on hand or quick afternoon snacks pre-made; those things weren't always on my to do list. They are now. While baking with the kids can sometimes be intimidating, the more we do it, the easier it gets, and so far we've gotten into a pretty good groove since coming home.
3. Sometimes being impractical is the right choice. We're a one-income family. Our kids' health needs make our grocery budget astronomical for a family of four. We can't afford a 10 day trip to Europe. But, we got a big tax return. And we could have paid off a couple of school loans that are left, or did some much-needed work to our house. Those would have been good, valid choices. But at this point, they wouldn't have been the right choice. I know, I know. Dave Ramsey would be mocking me right now, but I'm OK with that. I can take it Dave. Because we're not guaranteed tomorrow. Because we've had a pretty intense three years in our marriage and family life. Because, quite honestly, very few of our 10 years of marriage were 'easy', and being intentional and purposefully celebrating in a big way was a sort of balm on the wears and tears of life. Is money still tight? Oh yes. Do I regret spending the money we did on our trip? Not one bit. Do I still feel the need to explain to any and everyone because I'm afraid they're silently judging me? Kind of. I'm working on that part.
4. Getaways aren't a luxury - they're a necessity. The season of raising littles is exhausting. There's no other way to put it. Even if you're someone with boundless energy who thrives on little sleep and loves being around kids all day long (aka a unicorn)...at some point you need a break. Breaks are hard to come by, yes. Especially when you don't have family in town or even 'close by' (our closest grandparents are over 3 hours away, the others are 18 hours away!) But we all need a break. An afternoon here, an evening there. And, yes, even a couple of days every so often. Sometimes both of us, sometimes individually. This is a lot harder to manage, and requires a lot of extra planning...but see point 2 above. We've managed one date night and a few nights out individually since we've been back, but I'm itching for a full day together. To go wine tasting or window shopping or something else that reminds us that we are grown adults who enjoy doing things together and conversations that are slow and easy and not happening above a cacophony of noises coming from two very small but very loud human beings.
5. Slow living can be done. But it's definitely counter-cultural. I'm a big fan of slow living. What do I mean by that? I used to think it meant doing all the things at home all the time. Always hanging laundry, baking bread, cooking from scratch, etc. It can include those things, but it doesn't have to. If I had to choose a definition, it would be "living from a place of purposeful intention in every task, with built in periods of rest and refueling."
While in England, we got to experience some of this firsthand, and the whole time my soul was just shouting 'YES!' THIS is what I'm craving. We stayed in small villages both in the Peak District and in North Cornwall. When I say small, I mean tiny. And yet, they had everything you needed, partly because they had to, I think. Vegetables and meat were mostly from local sources, bread was baked fresh in the bakery, artists had a collaborative and took turns working at the gallery selling each other's artwork. Everyone was busy throughout the day; managing the pub, working the ground, teaching at the school. But once 7 pm hit, you'd almost wonder if anyone lived in the town...until you looked in the windows. Almost every home was lit up with the glow of lights or candles, and you'd see families gathered around the table for dinner, or in the living room relaxing together. Those who weren't home were usually found in one of two or three local pubs, where everyone knew everyone else, they had standing traditions of meeting on a certain night, and it was still a family affair. The sense of community and the sense of family was stronger than any I think I've ever felt; it was simply lovely.
Then we came home. School, work, housework, sickness...you know, real life. In some ways, it's easy to idealize what we saw there. In some ways, it actually was ideal. But I don't think it's an impossible to reach dream - it just might take some tweaking and extra work here in the States. We have to drive almost everywhere in our town, work schedules here usually mean having to get together with people in the evenings, playdates with anyone but our neighbors have to be planned.
We can purpose to not have plans more than 2 nights/week. We can have standing invitations for friends to come and hang out and watch football. We can work hard during the day - together - so that in the evenings we can relax - together. We can limit our time with technology and purpose to spend more time doing things outside and exploring. We can plan days every week for rest, for not having to have a schedule/be somewhere at all times. We can say no to being involved in all the things...and not feel the need to apologize for it. And we'll know when we've hit that right pace of slow living and what it looks like for our family...because we'll be able to feel it. The tension will ease, the stress will dissipate. It won't stay gone forever, but it will be an occasional nuisance rather than an everyday companion (except during the witching hour...and that's why God made wine.)
Stay tuned for the second half of my '10 Things'!