This post is day 24. New to the series? Start here. Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Ursula. I met her in the first two weeks of life in Sweden, and over time she became one of my most-treasured friends in Stockholm. I’ve learned to pay attention when I meet people who are full of wisdom and grace, and Ursula is all of those things and a whole lot more. I am so thankful for her friendship and for these wise, beautiful words she shares here about a different kind of transition. Ursula doesn’t have a blog, so comment and share your thanks with her and encourage her to start a blog of her own, we would all benefit from it.
Ursula Morell is a grateful child of God, living in Stockholm, Sweden with my amazing husband of 25 years. She’s a transitioning mother working through the kids in college stage, a coffee-addict, introvert and project-person. She is learning to trust God with her kids all over again.
All photographs by Kylie Jacques
All text by Ursula Morell
I sit silent and still, attentively focused on the events unfolding. I could be watching the evening news or taking in a therapy session. But no, this is a joyous event: a wedding. And I, the mother of the groom, am nearly emotionless. Behind dry eyes and unsmiling face, I am perplexed.
I watch as my firstborn takes his long-time girlfriend’s hand in his, and slips a white-gold ring onto her finger. I look at their smiles, their 20-something fearlessness mixed with the excitement of fully leaving their families, and melding into a new family, one they have chosen. They ask God’s blessing. A song begins.
The box of Kleenex placed thoughtfully by my chair sits unused. I realize this is a repeat of all his other firsts in life. He, eager and excited, and me, paralyzed, fearful and anxious. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in a minivan at a soccer game or on a flower-ensconced chair at a wedding. Instead of these being moments of joy for me, I am fearful, ruminating over my performance and worrying if he will be able to “do this thing.”
I have held my breath through his firsts: first steps, first days of school, first camps, and
first performances. I’ve spent his lifetime worrying if he will succeed, preemptively teaching and preparing him for anything he could face. I’ve laughed at the notion of helicopter moms, all the while playing the lead role in my own homegrown show.
Numb, I watch God’s greatest gift unfold before my eyes: my son leaving and cleaving, two vowing to become one. They light their unity candle, then hold hands throughout the song. I watch and suddenly a dark curtain in my mind is torn in two. The light shines in. My paralyzed feeling has a name: fearful insufficiency. I know I have not taught my 23-year-old everything he needs to know to love his wife well. I know he leaves his clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink. I know he is going to fail, and hurt, and disappoint. I imagine a future of slammed doors and piercing silence and confusion and difficulty in finding words to explain.
I am afraid.
In the mess in my heart, I know: Yes, yes, yes. My son is not enough. Just like me. I think, then, of the Israelites when they first saw the promised land. They faced those same paralyzing fears. In their “first look,” 12 men spied out the land, saw what lay ahead, and returned to camp to inform the people. It was a good land: bountiful harvests and plenty to go around. But 10 of the 12 spies focused on the bad news: giants inhabited the land. The Israelites considered this and thought, “Who are we? Insufficient. Small. Incapable.” Only two men believed God would go before them and give them grace and strength in the trials.
The song is done, the service almost over. I fidget with my dark blue dress, smoothing out the wrinkles. I realize that I have spent so much of my life hanging out with the 10 who focus on the fear and choose the safety of what they know, who see only their limitations, and not God’s character. Who tremble in fear and let it overshadow God’s plan.
Yet, all the years of my own marriage, hasn’t God been strong on my behalf? Didn’t he
take a couple of 20-somethings some 25 years ago down that same aisle and say those same vows? Didn’t He give words to feelings I couldn’t explain, in dark nights as I cried out in insufficiency? Didn’t grace pour out in our feeble attempts at forgiveness? Yes, God has been faithful, even when I was full of doubt.
Tears well up in my eyes. I find myself not looking to my son for reassurance that he has
got this, but rather, to God. The God of my life is the God of my son’s life. The grace that
has led me through the past 25 years of marriage, will lead my son and new daughter-in-law through their days. God has this, has them. Always will. He is able.
My son and his wife take their first steps down the aisle together, into their promised land, and I whisper, “Go, it’s yours!” There will be walled cities and conflicts sleepless nights and cries for wisdom. There will be victories and joy. Lots of joy.
Numbness flees as joy fills my heart. Tears flood my eyes.
I see the new couple rejoicing, far ahead of me, already in the entry of the church. I stand up from my front-row seat, and the usher motions me that it is time to move on.
But we are here, the sun is shining, and so far everyone speaks English. YES. It’s the little things I’ve missed.
I had grand plans of posting wise thoughts today, but the reality is that I am exhausted, both of my boys are asleep for the night – in Jesus name amen – which means the smartest thing for me to do right now is to go to sleep.
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We have been flying with our boys since Big Boy was three months old. They have flown on numerous one and two-hour flights within Europe, and we have traveled as a family to and from Europe to Sri Lanka and Australia three times. The last trip to Australia, I flew with them on my own first to Sri Lanka and then to Australia.
Still I do not consider myself an expert on this subject. I have many opinions, yes, but I think our boys are fairly low maintenance when it comes to flying. It could be that they are obsessed with airplanes and all modes of transportation in general (most of which, except for boats, can be found at an airport), or it could be that I have an irrational amount of enthusiasm when it comes to family flights.
I grew up traveling, and the moving part was always stressful, but the flying part was fun. It started at the airport when we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that the packing was done, the bags were through, and now we get to explore. My dad would show us the airplanes, we counted take offs and landings and watched airport TV (we didn’t have one in our home).
On the plane there were movies to watch, and this was before personal TV screens, and airplane food to eat. It all seemed so glamorous. But more than that, my parents were always cheerful on flights, I have no memories of any family fighting or annoyances when we were on an airplane, and on the contrary, they are some of my happiest, adventure-filled memories.
So after that long preamble, here are some tips, and as always, please chime in in the comments with tips of your own.
Watch Your Attitude
Our kids pick up on our attitude. If you are anxious, they will be anxious. If you are worried, they will react to this stress. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing anxiety or worry or fear when flying, this is totally normal, but find a way to deal with it. Talk to someone before the flight. Pray. Have a list of truths you meditate on. Choose to engage with your kids. Watch airplanes take off and land. Skip trying to read your magazine in peace, and wander around with them. My guess is you have absolutely nothing to do in the airport except be there. Be all there. Enjoy yourself. Make the trip something fun and exciting for them, you don’t need any toys or gadgets to get them through this. The airport, however boring and un-kid-friendly it may be, provides enough distractions on its own. Look an escalator! Look a moving pavement! Let’s go up and down it! Look lots of airplanes! Let’s sit and watch! I may or may not have uttered all of those statements at some point or another when I was flying alone with the boys to Australia.
Pack the Right Supplies for You
You know you and you know your kids, so pack accordingly. Messes don’t really bother me, so I don’t take lots of changes of clothes. And for some reason, my kids are not incredibly messy. Little Bear managed to get his pack of water open and spill half of it on himself while I was getting his brother’s food ready, but it was water, and he was wearing fleece pants. Fleece dries very quickly, I discovered, and now fleece is his flying uniform.
I pack one change of clothes for them, so an extra t-shirt and pants, an extra set of underwear for my oldest, and lots of diapers and wipes. I pack usually an extra shirt for me, but I wear dark jeans or black pants and just let that be. I pack a notebook each for the boys, a box of crayons or colouring pens, and a lot of stickers. The stickers I found got me through some of the toughest times in the airport (waiting in line to board the plane when there is no priority boarding for families for example). But the one thing you don’t want is to be overloaded with stuff on the plane. If you are traveling alone, it is a monumental hassle to schlep the stuff around plus the kids, and regardless, it is simply too much to sort through even when you are on the plane. I did take an iPad, but only Little Bear used it for a few minutes because…
On airplanes my answer is basically yes, yes, yes ofcourse and yes WOULDYOULIKEACRACKERWITHTHAT? We gave our kids no screen time in the airport, that was for running around, eating and whining, but on the plane they could watch as many movies as they wanted. Big Boy fell asleep for the night watching a movie. We didn’t even have to “put him to sleep.” On our 14-hour flight from Melbourne to Dubai, he woke up halfway through his sleep, and we put another movie on and he fell asleep again within 30 minutes. My boys are so different though, and their ages make their attitudes to screens very different. Little Bear will watch something for 10 minutes, and oh how I desperately tried to get him into Nemo! And Baloo the bear! And all kinds of cheery animals! But he spent most of his time bouncing on the seat. Big Boy though, it was like having a zoned out teenager next to me who held out his hand mindlessly every now and then to ask for a snack.
A long leash
Not the real kind. I give my kids a lot of freedom in airports and airplanes as long as they are in my sight and not trying to open an airplane door. A lot of freedom. Bounce on a chair? Yes. Stand on the tray table? No problem. Walk up and down the aisles as much as you want? BEMYGUEST. Up to the point that they are becoming a nuisance to someone else or breaking something, I let them do whatever they want. This was more appropriate for my two-year-old because as previously mentioned, the four-year-old was glued to his screen. It helped him maintain a cheerful attitude to just be able to do what he wanted on the flight. So far we have only had wonderful experiences with fellow passengers, many of them have even engaged our kids in play and talked to them. I would do differently if there was someone who clearly was unhappy about Little Bear trying to play peekaboo over the edge of the seat (or something else).
I packed about 20 fruit pouches or fruit and yoghurt pouches (that were 100ml or under), rice crackers and something else that I cannot remember. For our trip to Australia this week, I have apple rings, dried mango, nuts, a variety of crackers and salami sticks. Because I discovered on our last trip that my oldest doesn’t really eat plane food. We will be traveling for about 24 hours straight, including one 14 hour flight, so we know we need enough food on hand for our kids if they end up refusing to eat their food. While it is definitely worth it to stand my ground at our dinner table when I have fussy kids, I choose my battles when I am thousands of feet off the ground. And in a closed space. My kid and I do not need a control battle over food in an airplane.
Try to sleep
As tempting as it is to want to watch a movie myself when my kids start sleeping, I still think choosing sleep is the best idea. The toughest part about flying, for me, isn’t the flight, it’s the part on the other side. When my kids don’t sleep enough. Or are stressed out about the new environment. Or are still too tired. And there are no more fun and exciting diversions. I need to be as well rested as possible to be able to handle them if they fall apart.
Have a set up on the other side
We learned this our first trip to Australia simply because we didn’t realize our baby would want to go to sleep in a real crib when we landed. Always have something set up in the place where you are headed. Communicate clearly with the people you are going to see to make sure that at least your kids have a crib or a bed somewhere in case they need to go straight to sleep. Try to have one or two toys that someone has borrowed for you on hand. It has been wonderful for us to have our families at the end of our trips, they have helped us and carried the load of child care from the beginning. And cooked us good food.
Now it’s your turn: What are your best air travel tips? Let’s hear them.
There are approximately a 2,334,432 blog posts out there on car travel with kids, so why write another one? I’ve learned since having kids that all parents have tricks, and the tricks are different. It helps me immensely to hear what others are doing because it gives me ideas.
So today’s post are some of the things that have worked for us on longer road trips with kids. The boys were four and two on these trips and in rear facing car seats, meaning we couldn’t see their faces. I would love it if you could join in the conversation in the comments section with your tips on how to manage car travel with kids.
This is basically the only piece of advice necessary to navigate all marriage and children-related dilemmas. Expectations determine your experiences, and for something that involves small children locked into a seat for indefinite amounts of time, I’ve found that keeping my expectations next to nothing goes along way. My goals are lofty, like, Get there. With no car accidents. Amen.
Know Your Kids
I have one son who is extremely sensory, as in his favourite thing ever is to jump into a ball pit or something textured and just roll his body all over it. My other son is off the charts auditory, wants to talk all the time and loves listening to music and stories. My sensory child needs something to hold and touch when he is traveling. He has shorts with zippered cargo pockets, I put some rocks or other things in those pockets, he opened the zippers, took the rocks out, put them back in, it was a sensory dream that cost nothing. My other son needs good music and audio books (more on that further down), he needs reassuring words from me, my tone of voice is so important when I communicate with him.
Both our kids will still sleep in the car, and because their sleep was so off with the moving around, often they slept even more in the car than they normally would. We tried to plan our driving to maximize nap time. It was also the only time we could listen to something other than Psalty the Singing Songbook. Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah. More on that later.
Remove Time Pressure
I’m not against wanting to arrive at a certain place by a certain time, but if I want to have a relaxed drive where I am not going to resent my kids or drive for hours with unrelenting screaming in my ears, I will have to relax my attitude on time. If something is supposed to take four hours, with our kids, it will probably take six or seven hours. This way we know that when we arrive at our destination, our kids feel loved, they’ve had a good trip, and we have had a tour of the truck stops of Germany. For our drive from Sweden to Germany (via Denmark), we had two ferry crossings on two separate days, we booked the crossings in advance with flexible timing, but we still had a vague idea of needing to be at a certain place at a certain time. We over-budgeted by about two hours, and that way when we did arrive at the ferries, we were not stressed, and the boys were overjoyed to see a boat.
No Sensory Overload
Travel is a sensory overload on its own, there is no need for me to stress my kids out further by expensive toys for the road, lights and unnecessary loud noises. They are entertained and interested in the most mundane of things, often the travel itself. The ferries were a huge hit and came at the end of long drives, so it was the entertainment for the duration of the boat trip. We like to keep the trip as calm and normal as possible.
No Screens (sort of)
I am not into parent shaming, and I have nothing against the use of screens at all. I happily hand our one iPad mini to the boys to give me time to get dinner together or to stave off temper tantrum hour or to let me catch my breath for 30 minutes. Or an hour. Or. Nevermind. My kids watch untold hours of movies on airplanes, but we have found that on car trips keeping the screens off is better for them. They are more easily worn out by car travel, their patience is thinner, and their attitudes are more grumpy than gracious. Screen time makes fatigue and attitudes that much worse. I prefer to use screen time when my kids are well rested and in a good mood. It has worked much better for us to have a big supply of books on hand and to keep passing books to them. We also had an etch-a-sketch that worked for Little Bear.
Music and Audio Books
We hit the jackpot with a friend’s gift to us of a Finding Nemo audio CD, it was our first foray into the world of audio books, and it was such a hit with both our sons. We will definitely invest in more radio plays and audio books for future car trips. I also pulled out a kids CD we hadn’t listened to in a long time, and it became their favourite CD, so much so that it is all they wanted to listen to for about five hours on end. Husband says Psalty’s Little Praisers CD is now his favourite CD, and while I think that is definitely stretching it, I have never been more thankful for the blue Singing Songbook or for the chance to hear my kids singing, Jesus loves me this I know, softly from the backseat.
Again, I am not into parent shaming, so please feed your kids whatever you think is best. Apple chips, dried mango and other fruits, nuts, lots of water, rice crackers, and other crackers have all gone down very, very well with the boys. And I do think that the food they eat helps to keep their mood a bit more even. This may seem obvious to you – I am not always the most prepared parent out there – but packing many snacks was a necessity. We can always use the snacks we didn’t use, so nothing went to waste. We tried to stop for meals, which ended up being French fries, French friends, and also some French fries, so as I mentioned before, I am really not into parent shaming. Do what you have to do.
Rest Stops and Running Breaks
Every time we stopped, we made sure to get the kids to run around a bit. Even if it was just in a simple patch of grass or concrete. I even ran up and down with them once to get them into it. If your rest stops have playgrounds, even better. Most of ours did, but one or two did not, but kids can still get movement in without a playground.
Now it’s your turn: What are your parenting tricks for car survival with little ones? And car survival for yourself?
We were there as a means to an end. We were driving from Stockholm to Frankfurt, supposedly a 15-hour drive, and we knew we wanted to make it as slow and easy as possible for our kids. So we stopped in Copenhagen and spent the night there, looked around in the city for a few hours before driving again three hours to Fehman. The next morning, I wanted to get an early start to work on the six hours it would take to get to Frankfurt. I knew we would have to stop a few times, I didn’t want to get there late at night, but Husband had a different idea. Let’s take the kids to the sea, and they can run around a bit.
He drove us around, we were looking for a lighthouse. What we found instead was a German military outpost that looked like a lighthouse, but beyond it was an isolated beach.
It took our breath away.
The water sparkled, the sand powder soft between my toes, the boys threw rocks into the sea. It is our thing after all. There was something magical about this unexpected stop. It was like this beach had been set aside for us. We arrived and noticed.
I am all about a schedule, and they are necessary to stay sane in the world of small kids and travel. But there is a time when putting the schedule aside is the best thing I can do for my soul and for my family. We were only there for an hour, but each one of us needed it.
We needed the beauty of the sea to rub healing salve into our goodbye wounds, we needed to be surprised, to see that there was a table prepared for us on this little island we knew nothing about, we needed to know that we could taste and see the goodness of God anywhere.
Because it’s not only about letting go and saying goodbye. It is also about receiving the gifts, the little and big ways that He pours his love out on his children. Skipping the schedule makes room in my heart to start to believe the truth: Good things are coming, good things come from his hand. Open your eyes, heart of mine, and see again, He gives us the desires of our hearts.
Now it’s your turn: How can you skip your schedule today? Can you take some time to write down the little surprises from God in your day?