A great attitude becomes a great mood, which becomes a great day, which becomes a great month, which becomes a great year, which becomes a great life. -Mandy Hale
We recently returned home from a road trip with our three boys. It was our first true “vacation” as a family of five since our twins came on the scene almost three years ago. We decided it was time to be brave and help our little rascals off their beaten paths around our family room.
We chose a short(ish) road trip to New Mexico for the following reasons:
- Our destination hotel is kid-friendly with several pools, waterslides, trails, activities, restaurants, and, most importantly, other families with small children.
- A six hour car drive is shorter than a plane trip anywhere, given all of the logistics with flying and airports.
- If the kids scream and cry, we are the only ones to hear it.
- We can stop if we need a break.
- We can pack what and however much we want including: bags of snacks, a multitude of electronic devices and chargers, lifejackets, bike helmets, bottomless toiletries, and our very own outhouse bag with diapers, pull-ups, underoos, swim diapers, and wipes. A lot of wipes.
- Should disaster strike, we can always turn around and come home.
After forcing the boys on the trampoline for thirty minutes to burn off some excitement and energy, we packed up the car, buckled everyone, and backed out of the driveway with crossed fingers and hope.
The kids started crying and screaming and fighting approximately 45 seconds into the trip.
Ted and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Should we bag this?”
We didn’t. Instead we took a few deep breaths and turned up the radio.
We headed south on the highway and our expectations of a smooth travel headed in the same direction. But we went for it anyway. It was, of course, the time to be brave.
As it turns out, we didn’t need bravery. Despite our rough start and low expectations, our kids pleasantly surprised (read: shocked) us. We spent a total of almost fourteen hours in the car round-trip, and it was, for the most part, easy. Our kids were patient (gulp) and quiet (gulp) and peaceful (gulp gulp). Even with traffic. Even without naps.
The hotel also exceeded expectations. The kids loved the pools, the hallways, and the fries at every meal. The twins shouted, “We’re on a trip! We’re on a trip!” Big brother was helpful and happy and just as excited as his little groupies.
There were some road bumps, of course. We had a few rowdy and wolf-like meals, a couple of mishaps with an outdoor pizza oven, and daily “accidental” calls to the security desk due to an obsession with the hotel phones. We also had one midnight looting episode involving two kids, one crib, every coffee/tea/sugar packet in the room, and the hotel shampoos and lotions. Picture mud wrestling. Picture sugar scrub. Picture angry mom.
In the end, however, I’d call this trip a win-win-win. We all had fun. We all got sleep. We were able to finish meals. We smiled. We laughed. We praised. We didn’t have any trips to the emergency room. And we all made it home.
We proved they could do it, we could do it, and, most importantly, we’d even do it again someday.
My kids reminded me on this trip how easy they are to impress. They can find fun anywhere. Give them a long hallway or a telephone. Or a pack of sugar, but only if you’re brave.
One afternoon, a lady stopped us and told us she thought our kids were “so enjoyable.” So enjoyable. Now that was a first. But it was also a truth. They were. They are.
There really is a little magic in that place called When You Least Expect It.
Sometimes all it takes is an open road. And an open mind.
The other day, during some rare quiet time at our house, I sat outside on the back porch with a good book.
It was a perfect back porch day, warm but cloudy. No sweatshirt or sunglasses needed.
The warmth and the clouds started to feel like a blanket and I, in turn, started to feel a little drowsy. So I closed the book, tilted my head back, and shut my eyes.
And I just sat there and listened.
For three whole minutes, I paid attention only to the sounds around me.
I heard dueling lawn mowers. I heard birds chirping in trees. I heard a band playing music in the distance, unsure whether it was a nearby concert or a backyard wedding. I heard children laughing out front. I heard a few dogs bark. I heard the drumbeats of two construction trucks as they traveled down the street. I heard the rumble of thunder in the clouds.
In between those sounds, I heard phrases of remarkable silence.
When I opened my eyes, I looked around me. I noticed the varying lengths and greens in the grass. I saw leaves glimmer in the tall trees. I watched my son’s homemade birdfeeder swing from a branch. I followed birds as they swooped in U shapes from one tree to the next. I saw misplaced rocks and abandoned toys.
I felt heavy. But it was a good kind of heavy, a gratifying kind of heavy. Not the kind of heavy you feel when the alarm goes off in the morning. Or the kind of heavy you feel with exhaustion or stress or a broken heart.
I felt grounded. I felt peaceful. I felt secure. I felt like my eyes and my ears had opened in some new ways.
It was lovely.
I noticed the good heavy stayed with me long past those moments. I still felt it when I went back to my day. I moved with more purpose with my tasks, with my words, with my life.
That was lovely too.
All I needed was a little stillness, a few moments to abandon all of my distractions and self-produced noise.
All I needed was to take it all in and appreciate what shows up in between the lines.
All I needed was three minutes.
I found my present. And a little peace to pocket for the road.
A couple of years ago, I read the biography of Tim Tebow, an NFL football player, former college star, and celebrity well known for his public displays of faith. Tebow’s book resonated with me, but for reasons that have nothing to do with football or even Tebow himself.
What impressed me were Tebow’s parents and how they tried to teach their sons selflessness, kindness, and humility.
One example of how they accomplished this is that they gave their sons a dollar for every time they heard another person complement their good characters.
I love this idea. And I love to see sparks of good character in kids.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a lot of great precedent.
I know several young girls who grew their hair long enough (sometimes for months and even years) just so they could cut it all off and donate it to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from medical hair loss.
I know a young boy who helped and encouraged a very nervous six-year-old in his first ever swim relay.
My friend’s ten-year-old son discovered The Golden Egg at this year’s Easter Egg Hunt and won a gift basket full of toys, games, and candy. Immediately after being presented with it, he began to hand out items to all of the kids standing around him.
I know an eight-year-old girl who once stood up for another kid at school when everyone else was making fun of his clothes.
I know some young boys who go out of their ways to be kind to my toddlers. They take a genuine interest in whatever it is they are doing at the moment. It impresses them that someone notices them. It impresses me more.
I know several young kids who volunteer at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
I know a young girl who held a bake sale to raise money for an animal rescue organization.
I know a nine-year-old boy who decided to donate all of his birthday gifts to Children’s Hospital.
I know kids who place flags on gravestones on Memorial Day.
Just this past weekend, a friend’s young daughter carried fruit snacks in her pocket all morning, hoping she would see my kids. A few hours later, this young girl’s older brother stopped a basketball game just to run over and invite my son to play on his team.
Every year our family forms a team at a race to support ovarian cancer research and awareness. And every year, many young kids join us to walk or run this race in honor of my mom and other survivors. It’s not just our friends that show up, their kids do too.
I knew a fifth grader who went out of his way to make my kindergartner feel important this year at school, and in doing so made him feel a little less scared.
It is by good fortune and good friendship that I know these and so many other examples of kids showing good character.
The best part is these great kids are doing these great things without prompt, without instruction, and without recognition. They are acting out of the goodness in their hearts and with the kindness, selflessness, and humility that has been passed down to them by their great parents.
This is the stuff we need to celebrate. This is the stuff that matters. This is the stuff that should make us the most proud.
Yes, we need to strive for and hone good character in our own kids. We need to emphasize it, teach the big lessons, and demonstrate by example.
But–and this is the nugget–we also need to rally around other kids too, and in the parents who have planted those important seeds.
We spend enough time in the humdrum—talking about logistics and behavior and uncertainties. We spend enough time excusing and apologizing and trying to explain. We spend enough time thinking about progress and accomplishment and comparison.
We don’t spend enough time thinking or talking about good character. And we should.
Not only because it’s a great thing to see, but also because it pushes this world in the right direction. And these little sparks are the kind of moments that assure a doubting parent that his or her best is well beyond good enough.
My six-year-old son is on a swim team. He practices early every morning and works really hard. It’s exciting to see him succeed and improve his times.
At last week’s swim meet, after one of his races, we stood at the end of the pool, bent over at him in the water shouting our attaboys. But he didn’t even acknowledge us. Instead, he immediately climbed out of the pool and sought out his friend who swam the same race. He went right up to him and said quietly, “Good job.”
It was quiet enough that no one really heard it. In fact, I’m not even sure his friend heard it. But those two words rang loud and clear to me.
In that moment, I forgot all about his swimming performance. I forgot whether it was first place or last place and whether his time was faster or slower than last week’s time.
Because in that moment, I saw a little humility and a little kindness. I saw him act on his own and from his heart. In that moment, I saw a little spark of good character.
And that little spark is priceless to me.