Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do things that scare you (single momma travel edition)

One of my proudest accomplishments to date was when I took my daughter to Disney World for her 3rd birthday, just me and her. Gobs of people tried to talk me out of it, friends and family alike. But it was something I felt like I just needed to do for us, and I'm so glad I listened to myself. I learned many, many things on that trip, the biggest of which was that I absolutely can handle taking my daughter somewhere all on my own, all while managing uncertainties and having a whole lot of fun! It was the pivotal experience of my single parenting journey, and it made me realize that I am more than capable.

That was in August 2015. Since then, I've made it a goal of mine to jump at any opportunity to travel with Kimmy. We've been camping together, to King's Island, to zoos, to Disney on Ice, to state parks, to Amish Country, and we just got back from Chicago last night. It's extremely scary and intimidating to take her on trips by myself, but I know the rewards are well worth the stress of overcoming that fear.

Are these trips easy? No. They strain our budget, they push my stress through the roof, and I have to consciously quell my endlessly nagging anxieties the whole time we're on a vacation. Like, seriously the entire time. A lot of little things make me a nervous wreck when I'm responsible for another human being: public transportation, crossing the street, airport security lines, whether or not my kid has peed and pooped recently, whether she's well hydrated, how much money is in my checking account at this exact moment in time, how much cash I have, where the nearest ATM is, whether there will be errors in any of our reservations, whether I have forgotten anything I need, etc., etc., etc. Last year on vacation, we were hit by an intoxicated driver and landed with a completely totaled car before we even made it to our hotel! So, yeah. Not easy at all. There is always some unforeseen circumstance a blink of the eye away that can throw a wrench in the most carefully laid plans.

Are these types of trips fun, though? Heckkkk yes! It feels SO GOOD to get one-on-one quality time with my mini me. It's the perfect opportunity for both of us to get an attitude adjustment, to reset our behaviors, to break out of our monotonous routines, to make new memories, to just get out of the house, and to talk about things heart to heart. I love our girl time, and I will chase these small getaways with her any chance I get.

This past vacation to Chicago, in particular, really helped us get grounded. We had a long year, month, and week leading up to this trip with tons of changes and long, tired days. Kimmy just finished up her school year on Friday, so we headed to the airport right after that. I was stressed about having just finished the end of my grad school term and probably not earning a letter grade that reflects the depth of what I actually took away from the class knowledge-wise. We just really needed to get away, and so we did!

I've found that the best trick to traveling with my daughter is not planning everything out. Of course, I made our lodging reservation and made sure all our transportation was planned out. But other than that, I only had 2 things planned going into this trip: a day at the zoo on day one and tickets to see Aladdin the musical on day two. That left us with a wide open schedule to be sure to have plenty of time to enjoy each other, instead of having all our time blocked off to do activity after activity for the sake of having a full itinerary. This also left room for Kimmy to make choices and feel like she had a say in what we were doing, not just be forced to do whatever I had planned for us. It really helped us be a team!

Also, we were mega broke this trip. But you know what? We had an absolute blast! Did we come home with a suitcase full of souvenirs? Nope. I actually can't think of a single souvenir we bought, unless you count the $1 balloon art flower we got on a street corner or our big bags of Garrett's popcorn. But we took lots of pictures and made a whole lot of memories! A tour guide during a trip to Europe in college once said, "Take pictures with your eyes and with your heart--those will be your best memories," and it's so true. I mean, I took pictures with my phone, too, but they just serve to reinforce all the things I saw and experienced. I don't look back and think, "Oh, I really love this one thing I bought in Europe." Instead, I think, "That Nuremberg Easter market was one of the neatest experiences of my life," "or that sunset view of Paris from the steps of Sacre-Coeur Basilica changed my life completely" or "the way my sisters in Cambodia hugged me still makes me feel warm inside." I value experiences so much more deeply than things, and I think Kimmy would tell you the same. She didn't even ask for anything in Chicago, except to show me some things she liked in the Disney Store that she would love it if she got for her birthday in August. She asked for a boat ride and a fresh-squeezed lemonade and to go splash in the water fountains in Millennium Park.

We walked about 28 miles over the long weekend, and little miss didn't complain a single time about being tired or hot. Not one time. How strong and grown up is she?! I was so proud! We ate free hostel breakfast and peanut butter sandwiches and hot dogs and cotton candy and ice cream and only one sit-down restaurant meal (deep dish pizza). We painted our nails and watched cartoons. We window shopped and played in the parks and got free Minions tattoos. We chased geese, had a picnic, rode a boat taxi, and walked down along the river and all along the Lakefront Trail. We gawked at the enormity of Buckingham Fountain--twice. We met friends at the zoo and made new friends at the Old Navy coloring table and at Millennium Park. We saw an amazing musical and had vending machine snacks for dinner afterwards because it was a Sunday, and I forgot everything would close early (oops). We went in shops just to ride the escalators. We got caught in a summer downpour and got so soaked we had to go in Walgreens to buy paper towels and dry ourselves off. We went to a museum we could get into for free with our WonderLab membership here. We talked and danced and soaked it all in. We even made up our own vacation theme song! It was an amazing trip.

So, anyway, my point is this...

ALL PARENTS EVERYWHERE (especially my fellow beautiful and amazing superhero single mommas who might lack the confidence to take the plunge or who might deal with an overabundance of unsolicited advice to the contrary from people who don't have a clue what it's like to walk in our shoes): GRAB YOUR KID(S) AND GO. Go anywhere. For a few days, for a week, overnight, doesn't matter. Pick a place and get in your car, on a plane, train, or boat. Just go. Go an hour away and stay in a hotel and watch TV, order pizza, and swim in the hotel pool. Get in the car and drive until you get to somewhere that seems like a good destination. Go a few towns over and spend the day there. Eat McDonald's or sandwiches or granola bars and apples for every meal if that's all you can afford. Stay on a friend's couch or an Airbnb or hostel. Go camping and sleep in a tent. Sleep in a rest area in your car for all I care--just go! Whatever you're scared of is minuscule in comparison to the lessons and memories you can find when you travel.

Lastly: if your fear is a person whispering in your ear that it's unsafe and foolish to travel with your child(ren), don't listen to them. Listen to you. Use your head and your street smarts. You know how to keep your kid safe. You know how your kid will react to any number of situations, which will help you choose where to take them. You know what you're capable of--and even if you don't, go somewhere anyway because you'll certainly find out. You'll never thrive under the dark cloud of pessimistic and paranoid advice. Go chase your sunshine!

More later.