By TARA DOWDEN
Spring Break, Summer Break, Fall Break. They all mean one thing—VACATION TIME!
Vacation time seems so thrilling when spoken out loud. Students talk about upcoming trips during lunch or PE. Parents chat about it during carpool lines or on the sidelines of the baseball field. We ask each other questions like, “Where are you going?” “Where will you stay?” “How long will you be gone?” Our dreams are filled with hope of just how exciting this time off and time together will be.
The real questions we should be asking as parents are, “How many minutes down the road do you drive before your children hit, kick, or spit on each other in the car?” “How many meltdowns do you think your children will have in public?” What about the question, “Could this trip mean divorce for you and your spouse after total exhaustion and every penny you have—or don’t have—being spent?” “Which child do you think will come down with the stomach bug first and then pass it on to everyone else?”
The reality of “vacation” sinks in for me around Day Four of washing laundry while getting ready to pack six suitcases. Romantic notions drift away, and Day Four becomes a very dark day. It’s the day I began to question everything. “Why me?” “Why four kids, a husband, and a dog?” “Are dirty clothes magically creeping out of the walls when I sleep and making their way to my laundry room?”
A few months ago we went through this very routine and then headed off to the magical Disney World to celebrate birthdays of two of our children. The kids were thrilled to arrive at the Art of Animation Resort and they loved the Cars Hotel! Meanwhile, I am a ticking time bomb trying to process fast passes, meal plans, stroller rentals, and rooming for nine. We finally make it to Magic Kingdom Park where magic is in the air, as well as children crying in every direction and parents arguing. All our dreams are coming true as we sweat profusely, wait in lines, fight for lunch tables, and tell the kids, “No, you can’t have that!” for about eight hours.
We want to appear like a “magical family” while on these “magical vacations.” Surely, we aren’t like the family having the meltdown in the corner? We attempt to appear as the parents gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and smiling down at our fabulously dressed, well-behaved children. We desire to have it all together in front of the world. As Christian parents we are the worst about trying to appear perfect, but “realness” can’t help but rear its ugly head while on vacation.
After a fun-filled day at Magic Kingdom, we had a “realness” moment at the pool at our resort. The kids were having a blast swimming—until my oldest daughter, Arabella started noticing brown rock-like items in the pool. They seemed to be trailing behind my six year old as he swam. She continued to dive a little closer with her goggles until she recognized exactly what the objects were. By this time the lifeguard had stopped his wild pacing routine to take a closer look. Arabella reassured him that the “brown rocks” were exactly what he thought they were. I was thinking maybe a “brown rock” slipped out of a swim diaper or maybe one of those younger, more immature moms had forgotten to put a swim diaper on their child. Who would let their child have an accident in the Big Blue Pool, the largest pool at Walt Disney World? Who would dare rob us of the magic?
The lifeguard made the call and the entire pool was evacuated. My crew gets out of the pool and the party is over. Arabella was piecing the puzzle together and I started thinking of the stomach issues my son had been having earlier. I took a good long look at my six year old and knew the Dowden kids had just caused the evacuation of the largest pool in Disney World.
Yes, my son received discipline that day but after our trip I became more concerned over his pool accident. We saw a specialist and discovered he had some serious stomach issues that had to be addressed. Sometimes as parents we look back on situations and realize a certain behavior isn’t always the result of bad parenting or disobedient, lazy children. Occasionally, there really is an underlying problem.
In the heat of the moment, we have to step back and not worry about the eyes of glaring parents around us—and have more concern for the eyes in front of us. We have to calm down from our own humiliation and see through our child’s eyes, even while on vacation. Not only did an embarrassing accident happen that day for my son, but he also knew he had seriously disappointed us.
We have difficult decisions to make daily as parents. Do we discipline or extend grace for certain behaviors? Christ also extends his grace to us, and sometimes, his discipline. I’m thankful we have a good, loving, holy God as our guide. Even in the middle of the “realness” moments on vacation He is pouring His love on our children and us. He sees packing moments, car rides, the teaching moments. He watches the five children walking in the middle of crowds, the meltdowns in the bathrooms, the sweet sharing moments between siblings, and he places strangers in line next to us for His purpose.
We plan every moment of our vacation but the reality is every day and every minute of our vacation are His loving minutes. He doesn’t go on vacation when we vacation. Psalm 139 states, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.”
Wow! So Lord, you know the words I am going to say to my children and you still have allowed me to be a parent? That is His grace extended to me!
Tara Dowden is a proud graduate of Mississippi State University. She has worked in interior design and elementary education. She is currently an Account Executive for Mississippi Christian Living magazine, a classical ballet instructor, and a volunteer children’s minister. She and her husband, Landon, live in Tupelo where he pastors The Church at Trace Crossing.They enjoy attending soccer games and ballet recitals with their four children: Arabella, Adalaide, Adoniram, and Alastair.