Archive for June, 2013

We are getting to the point shortly where Marcia will be getting her permit and learning how to drive.  One of the common mistakes new drivers make, and certainly I was guilty of this behavior a few times as I learned, is when faced with a hazard, to look at that hazard and suddenly, they hit that pole.  It is a common maxim that we subconsciously steer the car where we are directing our gaze.

If you played sports the same process applies.  In Little League I was constantly told by my coaches “Look the ball into the glove”, meaning I should keep my eye on the ball the whole time, especially as it is hopping or rolling toward me in my infield positions, to avoid a Bill Buckner.  Take your eye off the ball to focus on where you are going to throw it, or where you are going to run once you have it, moves your whole body away from where it needs to be now and you will increase the chance of missing the play.  In football, the same coaching methods are prevalent.  In dance, they tell you to “pick a spot” and spin with that and in mind or as you travel across the floor to focus on an area across the stage and you will head for it like an arrow.  I have worked a series of Extreme Dot-to-Dot books for adults I found recently and one of the suggestions they had was that you could simply draw a straight line of any length between two dots if you focused on the dot you were headed toward and just drew.  I have created lines of 4-8 inches without a straight edge this way to my amazement, simply by focusing on where I wanted to go.

My daughters took ballet for a time.  I witnessed a room full of little girls told to spin and travel from one corner of the room to the opposite side.  Inevitably many would spin and get dizzy and you would quickly have girls all over the room and very few heading to the corner.  The instructor keep yelling “pick a focal point” and the line would come together. It was really amazing.

Lately in my life I have been focusing on a lawsuit that was brought against me without basis claiming I was fraudulent in disclosing issues when I sold my last home.  I have many challenges at work and I came home this week upset about all the dumb decisions we seem to be headed toward and it weighed me down for a time.  If I make the mistake of watching TV news, I get pulled to some worry in the world.  Opening my e-mail points to more challenges at work, in the lawsuit, with things we need to do for the kids.  Men’s health magazines tell me all the things I’m not doing or doing wrong that may lead to an early death or make me look less polished in my dress or less confident in my deportment.

At these times I recall the baseball coach, or the ballet class I witnessed where once focus was applied to the right place, things went as they should.  I stay away from the TV news, and get specific stories with less negative spin by choosing them off the internet rather than having them spoon fed to me by a news editor whose goal is to make me anxious by casting that story in the most sensational and frightening light they can.  I turn off the computer and do not look at the cell phone and put down the magazine.  I curl up in bed or in my favorite chair and read the Bible or a devotional and think about Jesus and what He has done for me.  I thank God for the beauty and grace He has placed in the world for me and how He loves me and I stop spinning in random directions. When my gaze is firmly fixed on God I know I am heading in the right direction and in my testimony and witnessing to others whose lives spin out of control at times, this is always my answer.  Your life will head where you are looking.  Make sure you are looking at the right focal point or you may suddenly fall off the stage.

My wife and I took our honeymoon to Montana and spent most of our time hiking in Glacier National Park.  At various times as we walked on trails we would come across warning signs like the title of this post, for example.  Other signs would warn us of possible high water ahead and the danger of drowning, or the possibility of avalanches.  The question that came to me was if we had known about all these risks ahead of time would be have taken the hike to begin with?

In my case the answer is certainly yes, because I’ve had the experience of hikes before and while the signs and descriptions of the dangers vary, they are all somewhat alike.  On the broader scene, this is what we deal with in life all the time and why having a belief and trust in God helps us to avoid being diverted by the warnings.

Think about how many of life’s choices you could or did make differently based on your inclination to respond.  What if you knew exactly what would happen at every twist and turn in life?  Would you make the same choice you did if you had known that you would be walking through an active grizzly habitat?  Going back to the illustration I started with, when we booked out trip we certainly knew enough about the area we were going to to know that grizzlies lived there, but it was a very different feeling to come around a bend and see a sign that told us that bears had been active in this SPECIFIC area in the last couple weeks.  That was unexpected.  We were miles and hours into the hike and we had not seen a soul all day which would not aid in having scared off any grizzlies in the area ahead of us.  If we did come upon one, we would be alone in dealing with that situation.  If we had known that before we started on this particular trail, would be have chosen not to go?  If we had not we would have missed the incredible waterfall at the end or the wondrous views along the way.  So maybe having that sign appear later helped us.

That example is just a snapshot of life.  We never know all the warnings when we begin.  We start a new job not knowing what the outcome will be.  We have relationships not knowing all the discussions and events we will have.  However, if we knew we might make a different choice so we need to understand that God is in control and driving all the results according to His plan.  When we worry about having the right words to say to a grieving friend, we need to continue on rather than remain silent.  When I had to deal with Marcia’s defiance I could have chosen to shy away from what I was being led to as the needed course of the joint session because I had no idea how it would go, or I could have pressed on as I did?  Do we make the right ethical choice at work, even though the easier thing might be to go along with the crowd?

It is important to realize God did not place these warning signs along the path; our own fears do.  God keeps the caution signs hidden for a reason.  He knows that we are too frail a creation to know all that He knows and still go on as we should.  We would be overwhelmed and unable to function, always thinking there is another way or another path that would produce a different better result.  What we fail to realize is that the only way to get to that waterfall is by the path we are on because it is surrounded on three sides by high cliffs that would cause us more harm and do more damage than the path we are taking.  If we are brave enough to take the risks and follow the path without knowing where it leads and trusting that God will be there with us when we get there, we will likely see things we never imagined.

So I wanted to close off the latest round of posts with an update on how the situation with Marcia has progressed.

In asking God for wisdom and guidance in this matter, it came to me to try something a little unorthodox, or at least a little infrequent, in the world of blended families.  In the lines of desperate times call for desperate measures, I thought it would be good to have a discussion with Marcia with all the parental figures together, meaning my wife and me as well as Nan and her fiancé.  I talked it over with my wife first, and she felt it certainly would be worth a try as one of the main issues we were having is Marcia playing off one house against the other the way so many children of divorce do.  I was not expecting this would eliminate that, as regardless of how united we appear or even are, kids play one parent off the other even in an intact family unit that has not gone through divorce.

I then contacted Nan and asked to find a time soon when I could talk to the two of them together to present an idea I had about handling Marcia.  When the idea first germinated, I was thinking to just have them on the phone with us, but I then thought it would be better for everyone to be present in person to show the magnitude of concern.  When I presented the idea to Nan and her fiancé they liked it and were willing to go ahead.  A few days later the five of us were gathered around the kitchen table, and Cindy made the comment walking by “This looks a little weird”, so I felt at least for her the desired effect of “Something serious must be going on since they’ve never done this before” was achieved.

I’m a planner at heart, so I had talking points drafted out as I wanted to make sure key ideas I had in the calm of meditation were not lost in the heat of the moment.  This elicited a few snickers from both Marcia and Nan’s fiancé, but I proceeded forward and over time got the points out while Marcia and at times others added their input along the way.

The general process was similar to a verbal warning at the office, but as I made clear to Marcia at the start, the big difference was that everyone there at the table loved her versus a workplace where it was more about just getting results.  We were doing this to make sure she understood that consequences of some of the things she was dabbling in, all of which she continued to vehemently deny all throughout the conversation, could be lifelong and serious in impact.  I know she wants to apply for a job, and I explained that if she gets caught shoplifting, she has to mark a box for the rest of her life that she has been convicted of a crime on every job application, as an example of what we covered.

My hope when I planned it all out in my head was that I would go through my points uninterrupted in five minutes, Marcia would respond in a somewhat mature way with some comments and then the conversation would flow for the remainder of the discussion for maybe another 20 minutes and we would be done.  You know what they say about best laid plans….

I went down the points as best I could, but it was fruitless to try to have Marcia refrain from interjecting.  When that happened others jumped in and the discussion quickly would get into the normal irate tone that conversations with Marcia of late have taken.  This was fine for the most part, as we were able to get her to calm down pretty quickly.  The key item that really set the tone was Marcia’s continued defiant stance.  At one point she accused me of talking to her like she was five, and that she already understood everything.  We all explained we did not agree because of her actions and she just kept digging in.  My hope for the discussion was at some point to wrap it up in a calm way and give her some hope that this was not just an attack session, but her tone made that impossible and I know that was how she felt at the end, like all four of us had just ganged up on her.  The piece de resistance of the whole evening was when Marcia laid into Nan about how she hated her and blamed her for ruining her life because she had to get divorced and all the other stuff I have heard Marcia unload to me about Nan before.  From Nan’s facial expression and body language, I was pretty sure she had never heard any of this before and she was very much like a deer in the headlights as the vehemence poured out of Marcia for about thirty seconds and then Marcia got up and went off to her room.  Not the ending any of us was hoping for, but it was what we got.  To top it all off, Nan then felt the need to express in front of the rest of us that maybe her and I should have stayed together for the kids.  All three of us responded “uh no..” very quickly, but looking back it was another example of why I feel Nan is still in the midst of trying to work through the divorce issues because she has not gotten involved with any groups to help with that.  It is a necessary part of healing that she has not really moved through.

The next morning Marcia came downstairs and apologized to my wife for how she had behaved the previous night in the discussion so we maintain a glimmer of hope that maybe something got through.  It has been several days now since the discussion, and things are still on an even keel.  I know with a teenager it will not stay that way, but I still think it was the right choice to confront her that way and shut down as much as possible the belief that the two households are going to be tools for her to use.  I thank God we have that option in our situation.  We certainly do not with Bert and ourselves because he lives to create as much division as the divorced/blended situation allows.  My wife and I talked about this quite a bit as we planned for this discussion with Marcia and how we really can’t do anything like this with Jan or her other kids in the future.  If you can get to the point of being civil with your ex it will make a lot of things in life easier, but for many that is just not the reality of divorce, but that’s another topic.

So another parenting boulder addressed in the best way we could determine at the time with the tools that we had.  Was it the right thing?  Only time will tell, and we will probably never truly know what impact that had to Marcia or even all the other kids who were around the house during this event.  We can only trust that God will use this for good and that we interpreted the wisdom He provided in how we should deal with this the right way. Will this all surface again?  I have no idea, but I try very hard not to wallow in the “what if” as it can easily be all consuming.  We normally end of their with Bert all too often and we know it is not a healthy reaction so try to learn to give it to God and move on, but it does not work as often as we would like.  For now things are as they had been but only God knows if they will stay that way.

Describing the train

Posted: June 12, 2013 in Family, Kids, Parenting

So last time I shared my general concern that we were headed for a train wreck, but provided a lot of background of how we got where we are.  I want to go over what my concerns are if things were to pan out as my daughter would like, which is to change her primary residence.

The general concern is the lack of structure and guidance I feel would be prevalent.  At a time when she needs the most “tough love” if you will, I feel she would be getting a buddy.  I would liken it to living with a willing college roommate in your dorm, another time when maturity and opportunity still do not quite match up.  With my wife and I when we run into an improper action from one of the kids, we address it in some manner.  Some might argue it is still not the best solution when we send them to their room or provide a lecture, but as I have spoken with other friends (parents themselves of course), the unanimous consensus is you pick your battles and do the best you can.  I have lived the life of coming down hard for even minor offenses and I never want to go back there again.  It was exhausting, demoralizing and ultimately it did not work.  If I treated employees that way, they would quit.  With kids, who do not have that option of choosing to leave, it was manifested in anxiety, fear and anger.  With Nan and her fiancé my concern is that it will mostly not be addressed at all and when it finally gets to a point where it cannot be ignored, it will be addressed with some really over the top cursing and name calling.

Another concern is that I feel some behaviors, such as the experimenting with drugs, will be tolerated and not addressed.  Once again, this goes with the above concern.  It is not that I feel Nan would let our child go off and become a meth addict living on the street purposely, but that she would ignore the initial behaviors and then step in when it became obvious to everyone that it had gone to far, and that then it would be much harder or too late to really stave off that result.  Looking the other way is such a character trait of Nan’s that sometimes I wonder why she had eyes on her face and not on the side of her head since she would regularly ignore what was right in front of her anyway and talk it away.  Excuses, denials and other avoidance measures would be used until some point where she felt it had gotten out of control, maybe even not until authorities had become involved.  As a parent I feel it is our place to give the kids some space to make mistakes, because they will make them.  They are not yet mature enough to mull through all the consequences themselves and that is the guidance that we can provide.  I am not comfortable that Nan will take those steps, as she likes to avoid any part of parenting that requires effort.

The last concern is the general environment.  I try to avoid stereotyping as much as possible, however the neighbors that I have met and that Nan or my daughter talks about are not the type of role models that will provide a good basis for my daughter.  Obviously the school system draws from these neighbors and their children and so that environment would not be as healthy as where I feel she is at.  With my concern about the shoplifting etc. there is ready access within walking distance of several stores where an unsupervised child can get into trouble with that vice.  I believe the drug opportunities would be higher in the neighborhood. 

This lack of structure and guidance at a time when her counselor and my wife and I feel she needs it is the crux of the concern.  Again, I am pretty sure Nan is not really interested in making the change as it would give her all kinds of extra financial and emotional burdens that she can conveniently avoid now.  Her relationship with the kids right now is similar to a grandparent where the kids stop by for a few days on weekends and then go home.  The visits are short enough that they just plan most of their life around them and so activities and friends tend to not be involved much there.  It becomes a focused time of just being a bunch of friends chatting about life and therefore an extension of her high school clique rather than a continued healthy family situation with adults that act like adults.  If she ends up at Nan’s  I feel the result to my daughter’s life has a high chance of being that train wreck.

Oh what fun life can have for us at times.  You ever feel like you are watching a train wreck, but can do nothing to stop it?  This is where we are at today.

We have been having an ongoing situation with one of our kids that is coming, or I guess has come, to a head in the last few days.

Marcia, our oldest, has been pushing her boundaries and rebelling strongly for several months.  She is going to a counselor and we have been doing what we felt we could to enforce consequences and keep her in line. 

Recent developments are she and Jan has been experimenting with witchcraft and was told in the fall that we would not condone this in anyway in the fall when we found out about it.  Nan was always into fortune telling and other such practices so was little help in discouraging her.  After Memorial Day weekend one of the other kids told us that Marcia was trying to smoke something in the woods behind the house prior to Memorial Day.  She told us it was kitchen spices.  The next day her room was searched and nothing relating to that was found but a few bottles with liquid and herbs labeled with their uses for summoning witches and the like were found under Marcia’s bed and she was told she was losing a party for school friends she had been planning for end of the school year because she disobeyed the rule to keep witchcraft out of the house.  This Monday she asked if she could instead go to get frozen yogurt with a few friends.  After being told she was grounded that day and she could not simply exchange one activity for another, she was upset and texted Nan to complain.  Nan then proceeded to text me to intervene on her behalf.  When confronted with this, Marcia lied and said she had not talked to Nan.  Her consequence then was to lose her phone and iPod touch for the night and she refused and was so confrontational it was obvious she wanted things to escalate to a physical confrontation.  We told her if she did not back down and stop we would be calling the police, which we eventually did.  They arrived and explained the consequences and that if parents feel they cannot control an unruly child any other way what we did was appropriate.  Her counselor also agreed this was the right course of action when we let her know what had happened.  She was belligerent in front of the officer to the point that he made it clear to him that with her behaving the way she was in front of him, when most people are on their best behavior, he could only imagine what she must be like when he is not there.  At one point during this whole episode she said she wanted to go live with Nan and that Nan was going to work on that.  Nan had been aware of all these goings on as we had kept her informed and that night we called her to fill her in on the latest episode. In that conversation I directly asked Nan if she wanted to go down that route and she said she was not interested in Marcia living with her but that she never wanted her to feel that she didn’t love her.

For the last two days, Marcia has been giving us the silent treatment.  At her last meeting with the counselor she expressed that she hated living with us and wanted to go to Nan’s.  She was told to make a pros and cons list for both houses to discuss with us if it came to that and Nan let me know she had called her to tell her about that.  Nan claimed she gave her a whole list of cons.  Normally they would not go over to her until after 6 pm tonight.  Nan has asked if they could pick her up straight from school because she wants to have a “good conversation” with her.  I called her to discuss and her intent is to make sure Marcia knows she “loves her” but that she would have all kinds of things that would change like schools and friends and such.  I feel saying anything more than we understand her frustration but her situation is what it is with visitation and we still feel that is best just gives a teenager hope they can change it.  In the end Nan said she would tell her that “in her own way”, which in my time with her always just confused the kids and gave false hope. 

The background is that Nan has said several times, either to the kids directly or to me, that she wishes she never had them.  I do not believe she has any interest in making the change but she also is driven to appear like the good person and twist it in a way that she is not to blame.  I have no issue with her blaming us whatever.  I just think with a rebellious teenager this is not a good approach and will only escalate things.  If ultimately it were to change, Nan’s history makes me feel she will simply allow Marcia to do what she wants with no consequences or guidance and this is why Marcia wants to live with her; because she knows Nan will let her do whatever she wants.  We also feel there is shoplifting involved and there was an incident around that this weekend where they came back from the mall with a few items even though they had no money and claimed friends bought them but they have no proof.  We also found a letter where the two oldest were conspiring about “a better way to steal”.  We found another letter last night where Marcia shares that she tried booze at a friend’s house. 

The feedback we have from her counselor is Marcia is extremely resentful of Nan for the years she spent with her and how she was treated.  She has been trying to work with Marcia to get through these issues without lashing out but right now Marcia is ignoring all the tools and suggestions she has given her, effectively rebelling against her counselor as well.  She feels this is a critical point in her life where she is making the choice of which path it will take and she is fighting against our household that has consequences for her actions because Nan never enforced any and when I was at work or traveling the consistency in discipline was not there.  She has only really had that since my wife and I were married because even prior to that she was at home alone while I was at work and could do things she shouldn’t.  If I ever caught her she was punished, but if she was doing things she hid them well because it was very infrequent.

In the end, we trust God has the control that we do not have.  Divorce always makes things fun. We are not only faced with the problem of a rebellious teenager, we have the added issues of two ex spouses who are not at all on the same page with us on how things should be handled and who we have no control over.  Consequences such as refusing to allow her to get her driver’s license, which even the police officer agreed is the “golden ticket”, are not available to us when the other parents have told us if we try to delay for six months or something then they will just take the kids to get their permit and license.  This is just one of the unique challenges we face.  About a year before our divorce, Nan and I had an argument that strung out over three weeks because she wanted me to agree that she should go out with her co-workers and try pot because she wanted to see what it was like.  This is a woman in her late 30s talking to me about pot the way a teenager would.  Do you see why I have little faith that she would support our decision to tell Marcia that drugs are absolutely not to be toyed with? 

I know text does not express anything but the words.  There is no tone, no body language.  My wife and I are calm.  We are certainly disappointed, but we know we have been doing everything possible to set the right tone, provide the right guidance and parent as we should, but we are not in a frenzy about this because we know God will work this out as He wants it to be resolved.  I may not agree with His choices or what results, but I know he has the ball.  As a divorced parent that is the only way I can cope with this; knowing that the other parent is wanting to be a friend and not a parent and therefore will ultimately give in to whatever Marcia wants to do, maybe even to the point of offering to experiment with pot together with her so they can be “besties”, for example.  I witnessed this type of giving in all through my marriage and it broke the ability to consistently discipline.  Now in the context of divorce where there is even less influence over that other parent, all I can do is trust God.

I’ll get into more of what we are concerned about and why we think this has to potential to really screw up Marica’s life in the next post.  The stage has been set so to speak, the train is coming, and I’ll explain the impending train wreck I see next time.

We just finished up the “unofficial start of summer” as media likes to call the Memorial Day weekend here in the States.  I always have to smirk when we get here.  It’s unofficial yet all anyone does is talk about it constantly, so doesn’t that make it official in a de facto way?  “Pay no attention to  that unofficial start of summer behind the curtain” is what I always seems to think.  Maybe I just like the Wizard of Oz too much is all.

Regardless of whether we are officially or unofficially here, one thing I believe we can agree on is that most of us will take some sort of trip, albeit vacation, in the next several months before school begins again.  Summer vacation still carries some sort of aura around it, like when the Brady’s piled into their station wagon and headed off to King’s Island.  Our group recently made our first foray as a blended family into a road trip so I was going to share what we learned in the hopes others can benefit from those who have come before.  Pay heed Grasshopper.  The life you save may be your own.

We took a short trip over Memorial Day to the big city of Chicago and decided to take advantage of the CityPass, which my wife and I utilized when I took her there a little over a year ago.  Basically you pre-purchase admission to attractions, mainly museums, for a discounted price.  Most of the kids generally are OK with museums, but as we learned on this trip, too much of a good thing is a cliché for a reason.

In general the kids approached museums the way kids do, meaning they skimmed by most everything until they got to the one or two things in the building that held their fancy.  The first couple days they were OK, though it was a struggle to get to the end of the day in most cases without some losing interest and wanting out.  By the last day it was obvious we had burned them out on museums and there was not a whole lot of enthusiasm.  We made it through, but by the skin of our teeth.

We also had planned dinners out since the museums close around 5 PM and that leaves the evening for something else.   The thought was to introduce my wife’s kids to Chicago cuisine and have myself and my kids who had at least somewhat grown up a bit with it to just to get to enjoy it again.  The first night we tried stuffed pizza, a Chicago tradition.  Now let me digress here to explain what this is, as the common misconception is that it is deep dish pizza, which is available everywhere.  It is not.  Not even close.  Deep dish is a gigantic crust with some topping on it.  The depth of the pizza is really all related to the crust being five miles thick.  If you like crust, that’s great.  My contention is if you like that much crust, just toast up a loaf of Italian bread and save yourself $20, but I know many people seem to love deep dish for some reason and therefore it’s popularity.  I, and many other people who seem to congregate in Chicago I guess, believe pizza is about what sits on the crust, not the crust itself.  Now don’t get me wrong, crust is important, even essential to an excellent pizza.  Corn crust I do not enjoy.  Variations of wheat are my piece de resistance.  A buttery wheat crust is the bomb.  Stuffed pizza is two thin crusts separated by about two inches of topping.  For someone like me who loves pizza for what is on it and gives it flavor rather than just eating bread, it is heaven on a plate.  As you might guess, I was excited.  My kids we kind of excited.  I write that off to the fact that they have not had decades of stuffed pizza, just a few years, but maybe it is something else.  J  I had introduced my wife to stuffed pizza on our earlier trip so my anticipation was on what her kids would think.  I mean who cannot love something so filled with cheesy, meaty goodness that it makes your head explode?  Sadly, they did not even try it, instead opting for the thin crust cheese option that was safer.  In hindsight the fact that I just took this in stride was a good thing.   The evening was great and everyone had dinner and a good time with the friends we were with.

We deviated from the dinner plans the next night however as we could see the first day that it was just too much.  We just went home to our friends house, which was our abode for our stay there, and relaxed for the evening.  Again, worked out well and we decided on the spur of the moment before we headed home to have dinner at the place we had planned to go the night before and it worked well.  It got everyone on the road with balloon animals and funny memories.

So what do I have to share as words of wisdom from our excursion?  The biggest thing is to realize that just because you think it will be cool, does not mean your kids will.  I still struggle with this even though I learned it before, and re-learn it every time we take a trip. My wife and I thought the museums and going up to the Skydeck in the Sears Tower (I refuse to use Arnold’s brother’s name to refer to the building) were going to be fun.  The kids would have preferred some variety and not to be so high off the ground in some cases.  The enjoyed themselves, but they would have enjoyed themselves more if we had done some different things.  While kids like mac and cheese for days on end, museums do not appear to follow that same rule.  Lesson #1.

Lesson #2.  While kids seem to have boundless energy when you do not want them too, they peter out before you might on vacation.  It is hard to understand as an adult that there is a limit to their energy and walking around all day takes its toll even on the Energizer Bunnies they at times seem to be when you want them to stop for dinner at home or go to bed at night.  Luckily my wife and I quickly remembered that lesson and adjusted the plan on the fly, removing dinner from day #2.  If not, I am pretty certain we would have had some royal meltdowns.  This is an important lesson to get because I see it played out all the time in its violent glory in our next destination, Disney World.  Parents who have spent the GDP of Switzerland to get into the park for a day or two are insistent that they will get their money’s worth and so run their four year olds for 15 hours.  They need to do every ride, every show and get every characters autograph.   The price is usually a huge fight in the park with parents yelling something about being ungrateful and how they never will go on vacation again, a threat everyone knows they will not follow through on, and that just adds to the frustration and absurdity.  What was supposed to be a fun time has now been transformed into a mess and parents and kids head out of the park usually walking very fast, being dragged by the arm, crying and sniffling.  And that’s just the Dads.  The kids are stomping their feet and promising to be better so they can come back tomorrow all while they are fighting falling asleep where they stand.  The key is to understand the limits and most important, be OK with not getting everything you had in your minute-by-minute itinerary done.  Too many family vacations are ruined because we did not make it to the Biggest Ball of Twine by 6 PM because Junior took 15 extra minutes in the bathroom at the rest stop.  It will be there for next time, and if you don’t get there it was just a big ball of string anyway.  Kind of like the reaction we got from most of the kids with The Bean.  “That’s not very big”.  “What is that thing?”  “Why did we walk here to see that?”  The reality rarely lives up to the hype, especially on vacation.

Lesson #3.  This one I put into play because I had learned it through the school of hard knocks and it a corollary to the previous lesson.  I did not talk to everyone before the trip about all we were going to do and how cool it was going to be.  You want to set yourself up for the biggest gob smacking failure on Earth?  Do this with your kids before you go anywhere.  When you get the reactions of disinterest, boredom and the like you will get angry and frustrated and we enter the same vortex as we did in Lesson #2.  Spare your family and yourself the headaches.  Everyone will have the reaction they have to what you do, and THAT’S OK!  You cannot control another person’s emotions or reactions, so don’t try by pre-loading them before you even get in the car.

Bonus Lesson.  I’ll give you this one free of charge.  We did not really use it on this trip as it did not really fit since many of the participants were new to the location.  For many family trips it is an annual or at least repetitive visit and mainly to places like amusement parks.  In my case we had trips to Disney or Six Flags and what kept the peace was letting each kids pick the one thing they absolutely wanted to do that day and making sure it was included in the itinerary.  You can now see why it is important to have knowledge of the destination; kind of hard to practice this process when you have no idea what to choose.  This makes each child feel heard and to know that at some point in the day their ride or activity will be executed.  Obviously sometimes this is not always possible and we even are concerned for our Disney trip because with six kids and long lines, it might be a stretch, so we may need to exercise some creativity here, but we also hope that multiple kids will be interested in the same thing and maybe we only end up with four items.  Since I started using this strategy it did wonders for all the bickering about what to do next and also just kept the tone a lot more upbeat.  You still get questions about when such and such and activity will come up but those are easily dealt with openly and honestly.

So I hope some of that helps remove some stress from what seems to be a problem for a lot of families over the summer months.  Vacation is supposed to be a time to recharge.  We’ve all heard the phrase when people get back that “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.”  I used to be that way too, but knowing that we do not have to do everything, that we need to understand everyone does not have the same interests and by trying to do something with variety, either multiple destinations or a destination with a lot of choices, like an amusement park, and just staying calm and not losing our cool, everyone can have a much better time.

So what will we change on our next visit to Chicago?  We talked about fixing the variety issue which was the big problem on this trip.  Now we’ve done the museums, so if we do them again, we could pick one.  We also will come at a time of year when other activities are going on.  Chicago is blessed to have a lot of cool things on the lakefront like the Air & Water Show and Taste of Chicago to name a few and also a lot of items in the surrounding suburbs and even into Wisconsin.  So that’s the plan for next time and we think it will improve what was a good time which is what every family vacation should be about.