I was going to kind of write this in a "bullet-point" format, but after having started it three times, and erasing it each time....I don't think bullet points are the way to go. I have so much tumbling around in my head after our crazy, four day adventure that I just don't think a simple list is really going to cut it.
So what did I learn on our 4 day, 1600 mile journey?
I learned that sometimes, the journey IS more important than the destination. Our destination was a good one (to visit a dear friend), and an important one. However, it was the time together along the journey that really made this an unbelievable family vacation. We laughed (a lot), we goofed off, we cared for each other (watching the biggest boy read to the other two in the car just warmed my heart, to say the least), and we saw a long, long list of things we'd never seen before (some of that list includes: elephant seals, joshua trees, Hearst Castle, the Pacific Ocean, wind farms, redwood trees, Carmel Mission, waterfalls, zebras grazing on a mountain next to the ocean....and that's just a few of the notable experiences!..Full disclosure: I, myself, have seen a few of those things before this trip, but I don't remember them, as I was really, really little when I saw them). Our journey together WAS the destination, in a way: bonds and relationships were strengthened along those 1600 miles, and that is a treasure that we all gained during this trip.
I learned that a little bit is more than enough. Money was tight on this trip, and so we just made do with what we had. Most of our meals were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at a picnic table on the side of the road, and you know what? We had more fun doing that than we've EVER had eating at restaurants on road trips. We wandered, we played, we soaked up the sun. It honestly didn't matter that we were eating the same meal over and over again: the food wasn't the important part of the meal. Being together was.
I learned that there is A LOT more room inside a Prius than one may think. Yes, we did pack pretty lightly for a family of 5, but considering that all of our food for a four day journey was in the car with us (as well as drinks), along with clothing and bedding (including one cot and sleeping bag and 3 pillow pets), we had a lot more room than we expected. That car is very, very deceiving! Don't write it off as being too small - it's bigger than it looks!
I learned that friendships don't have to be "conventional" to be worthwhile. This one was big for me - I've struggled with our move and trying to figure out just how to make friends with kids in tow and how to keep the friends from the past with a stupid time difference in the way. I've sat down to blog about it time and time again, but can't quite put my finger on what I'm experiencing. The friend we went to visit on this journey was not one met in a "traditional" manner: we met online, in an amazing Catholic community. But yet, the friendship is there - and more than anything else, it wasn't just me who went to visit her. The prayers and thoughts from those members of the community who weren't there engulfed our visit. They may not be "conventional" friends, but they are true friends.
I learned that sometimes, our kids can teach us more than we can teach them. Sure, there was a lot of learning being done by the littlest travelers - after all, we did see some pretty amazing landmarks and yes, I made them learn about each one along the way - but the true learning was done by Mike and me. They taught us the importance of slowing down to play along the way, they showed us how to recognize beauty in the smallest of creatures (or rocks!), and they showed us time and time again, how to love our neighbour as ourselves (epically demonstrated by Baby #1 who earned a special treat of M&Ms in a contest and shared them - unprovoked - with his brothers just because "they'd like them").
And the most important lesson from this journey? Family matters.
We made a conscious decision this past summer - when moving across the country - that we were going to put a bigger emphasis on our time together as a family. Life is crazy, and sometimes we all end up heading in different directions, but we made a choice to put everything else on hold for awhile and focus first on our life together as a family. Homeschooling made this a bit easier, as I was no longer being asked to volunteer for many different organizations. However, we also committed to doing things like no volunteering at church (REALLY hard for me, as a former youth minister) for at least the first 6 months to a year after our move. It was the right decision. Instead of running myself ragged, I'm realizing that life at home is pretty awesome. The kids - although very energetic - are some of the coolest, most creative, most amazing children I've ever had the pleasure to be around (and yes, I know I'm biased, but they are pretty awesome!). Watching them grow up is something that I will never get to experience again. Helping them to foster their own relationships with each other is a chance that will never come around again. Can I promise that they'll be best friends as adults, like they are now? No, obviously I can't. But I can take the time to enjoy that friendship now, and try to do everything I can to ensure that it continues for many years to come.
I'm not perfect. Our family isn't perfect.....but we are perfect for each other.
That's the biggest lesson I learned from our Christmas vacation.