Yesterday we rented a convertible Mustang for our 6 year-old AND let him get a temporary tattoo of a grizzly bear on his bicep. If you are judging my parenting I completely & totally understand, but—if you’ve got a minute—allow me to explain...
Last year, long before the hot mess we’re now in, we booked a vacation in the Keys (not a far journey for us in south Florida). Unsure as to whether we should still go given the current circumstances, we talked it over & decided that, if the purpose of a getaway is to have some fun & restore your sanity, we probably needed this now more than ever. And we figured with the beautiful beaches & all the outdoor options nature has to offer we could find a way to “escape” and do so safely (as we all know, there’s nowhere to actually escape to).
As for our son, who’s been trying to make sense of this new world where everyone’s in masks & the grown-ups are neurotically making sure he’s washed his hands...we could tell he needed it too, maybe even more than we did.
So, with anxiety riding shotgun instead of dictating our direction, we went. And, to be honest, it was extremely hard to relax at first. I second-guessed our decision, wondering if we were being safe & responsible going...anywhere, really. But we did our best to feign relaxation for our son’s sake as we wiped down our room & carefully thought through each little outing.
We traded the pool with the packed tiki bar for snorkeling out in nature; traded busy chain restaurants for takeout from a good ol’ hole-in-the-wall with the best conch fritters in town, eating in our room picnic style. We took a walk on the beach & used a toy compass from a pirate set to dig up a “treasure” we found buried on the beach (a cheap old gold chain I dug out of my jewelry box and buried before he got downstairs). And, when it rained, we played games and watched movies in our room.
I worried that all those trade-offs would make it feel like—well—not a vacation; but I think it actually made for a better one...one that left us more rested and connected as a family (and saved a few bucks, which never hurts). After a few days we started to see a change in our boy, too—more smiles, more laughs, fewer questions (he’s had so many questions lately, many of which we can’t answer because we don’t know the answer ourselves).
So...why the Mustang? And the tattoo? Because...this 👇
~ F R E E D O M ~
It’s the face of hearing “yes!” when he’s had to hear a thousand “no’s” the last four months. And while it’s perfectly fine & healthy for kids to hear “no” to THINGS, having to hear “no” to a play date with a friend he misses or “no” to standing too close to someone he cares about are “no’s” that are awfully hard for his little heart to understand.
Our intention wasn’t to spoil him or set the wrong example, it was for him (and us) to feel something we haven’t felt in a long while: ~ F R E E D O M ~
So we said yes to the ridiculous bear tattoo, put the top down, cranked up his favorite song (“Real Gone” from Cars of course) & drove the beautiful 7-Mile Bridge with the wind blowing in our hair. And for 14 miles he (we) felt free. We forgot about hand sanitizer, staying 6 feet apart, & face masks and—I’ve gotta say—I had no idea how badly we all needed that.
This morning, as the trip wrapped up, he tossed a coin in a fountain & made his wish: to have a thousand more vacations like this one. When I asked what he liked best about it, he didn’t say “the hotel” or “the Mustang”, he said “just spending time with you guys, just laughing & stuff”. Maybe the tatt & race car didn’t turn him into such a bad seed after all.
I don’t know what to make of all we’re going through right now or what effect, if any, it’ll have on our kids, but I do know it all feels like the opposite of F R E E...for them and for us. It feels like the opposite of that feeling we had yesterday , with the wind blowing through our hair; the top down, music & sleeves up.
This isn’t a political statement on how I feel about the restrictions (and it’s certainly not a piece of parenting advice)—it’s just a mom sitting on the porch at sunrise with a coffee & the breeze blowing, her rebel kid still passed out from his big day, feeling SO thankful we did this. And, by “this” I don’t mean a Keys vacation, I simply mean that our spirits broke free for a moment, despite being in a place where the restrictions are even tighter. I think, bear tatt & Mustang aside, what our son loved most was how WE changed; how we were so much more present & joyful in our time with him.
I was worried we were being irresponsible, but sometimes the responsible thing to do is shake free from the anxiety, for your own & your family’s mental wellness. The origin of the word “vacation” is “vacare”, which means “to be unoccupied”. Hmm. In that sense, I think we all need a vacation right about now; even if we don’t physically go anywhere or spend a dime, just an opportunity to be with our loves, mentally unoccupied; to do something that shakes us out of our normal routine and lets us feel carefree, content, and connected again.
Something that makes us feel Real Gone.