I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the first three days of our vacation. My children bickered and battled for that damn elusive and short-lived nirvana —  Mom’s full attention. They reminded me of drowning people climbing on each other in order to keep their head on top. They griped about having to fly American instead of Delta, not getting to stand in the elite status line and being shut out of the frequent flyer clubroom. It was our first vacation without my (ex)husband and his elite flyer status.

Flying Solo

I already felt guilt and sadness about upending life as they knew it.  The divorce was not finalized yet and the turbulence was evident in their faces and demeanor.  And now I was asking them to fly like commoners.;)

I was nervous about navigating the airports with luggage and children who tend to wander off.  I prayed I had enough energy for action and activities to ensure the kids a good time.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit by each of them on the plane.  I wouldn’t be able to take them parasailing/jet-skiing because I couldn’t possibly be with all of them to keep them safe.  I was going to have to say No more than usual and I hoped they wouldn’t take it to heart.

I wanted desperately to prove how happiness does not come from expensive perks but from meaningful experiences. It seemed like I was not going to get a chance to even show them the possibilities. They were dead set on being pissy and dissatisfied.  It’s hard to like people when they are negative and close minded.  I needed emergency life-giving introvert space from them but instead I had to stay close and ON. There was no backup parent or caregiver.  Just me and my high hopes for camaraderie and inside-joke making memories. The only thing I had going for me was a bathroom to myself where I could scream into a towel and a happiness book by Goldie Hawn called 10 Mindful Minutes.

Goldie Hawn and Mindfulness

10 Mindful Minutes is about giving ourselves and our kids resources and skills to reduce social and emotional stress and anxiety.  The two main tools are mindful breathing and sense awareness. The book is packed with studies and research that point to the importance of teaching kids to calm themselves before their emotional (limbic) brain hijacks their ability to think clearly and make good decisions (activities of the pre-frontal cortex). 10 Mindful Minutes also places a huge emphasis on kindness and empathy for well-being.

Determined to create some kind of harmony in our rented condo, I turned to guidelines in the book. I asked my kids one morning if they would give me ten minutes of their time.  Cue moaning, groaning and Mom, none of that hippie stuff works.  Eventually, my oldest (12 year-old boy) and youngest (8 year-old girl) made their way to the impractical glass table.  My middle son abstained. I talked to them about mindful breathing and had them take a few breaths with their hand on their belly.  They thought it was unnatural to have their belly rise with the inhale.  I told them to do their best.  They breathed like asthmatic fish-out-of-water with mouths gaping and exaggerated wheezing. Giggles followed. I expected this. I then had them gently close their eyes and focus on their breath for three minutes (time suggested in the book).  I told them to notice their thoughts but then return to their breath.  After a minute they wanted to know how much time was left.  Just like a timed test when the teacher reminds you every minute of how little time you have left.  I told them to keep breathing with their eyes closed.  I would tell them when it had been three minutes.  They made it to the end.

Then I pulled out Hershey’s chocolate kisses.  Suddenly, my middle son was at my elbow.  He wanted to participate now. I had them each hold the kiss in their hand with the wrapper on.  I had them turn it over and notice every detail.  Then I had them unwrap it and do the same.  I asked them to smell the chocolate. Then I had them place the chocolate on their tongue but not eat it.  Finally, I let them taste and eat the candy… slowly.  I told them to savor the rich creamy chocolate. I told them this was mindful eating and sense awareness. I explained how breathing and awareness of the senses can help calm their brain before they react in negative ways.

Smooth Landing

I’d love to say everything was hunky-dory after that but there were still bumps and hurt feelings. We inched our way out of the agitated, hyper-vigilant, habituated cycle of reactivity.  Day four of our vacation seemed elongated and rhythmic; like our brain waves and time were stretched in a pleasing yogic manner. Our egos spread and dissipated under the warm sun and languid schedule. Being away from technology and our daily expectations allowed us to uncoil.  It just took a while.

We ended up spending hours at the beach jumping waves and flying kites. We met with friends and enjoyed their company and camaraderie.  We played tether ball like Napoleon Dynamite (weak kicks, mouth-breathing and use of the words Geez and ‘Fricken’) and by only using our feet. We ate from little boxes of frosted cereal in the morning and made hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls for dinner.  Food we never eat at home. At night we looked forward to crawling into the biggest bed and watching episodes of Friends.  The kids still fought over who got to be next to me but in general there was less competition and more cooperation.

Our condo was borderline dumpy.  Everything needed to be repainted, the kitchen sink leaked and the pullout couch was crummy.  But… the location was great and everything worked.  I learned to cook with one pan, a small skillet and no cookie sheets.  I used the quarter laundry machines down the hall.  This was no Ritz Carlton but it felt good enough.  It was not expensive but no one complained and we had no problem coming up with memories and inside jokes to write down in the travel journal on the way home.

How do you introduce calm and harmony into your environment?

How could the elimination of some luxuries change the way you live for the better?