This weekend Paul was working from home in the evenings. We wanted to try and take full advantage of his freedom during the day. So we decided to do something fun as a family. We tossed out a few ideas. Perhaps we could go spend a half-day at the lake together. We found a great place to go that is only about 20 minutes away that has a great beach. Maybe we could go on a family bike ride together (we have a tow buggy for the boys). Or maybe we could try and meet up with some friends for a pool/play date. Friday and Saturday slipped by before we had finalized any decisions so come Sunday morning, we decided to make it a spontaneous family adventure.
The weather has been particularly H-O-T this month. It is hard motivate to go outside and do anything when the temperatures are so stifling. That being said, our boys thrive outside. So we decided to pack them in the tow buggy early in the morning and set off before the heat had time to fester. Paul remembered that the sunflower fields that bloom annually in a neighboring park were rumored to be at their peak this weekend. Since it was in biking range, that’s the direction we headed off.
It sounds ironic to talk about “planning” a spontaneous family adventure.
Aren’t those things opposites? It’s not exactly spontaneous if you PLAN it, right? One thing I have learned the hard way is that when we don’t include simple considerations (i.e. plans) into our attempts to be spontaneous, it can be a disaster waiting to happen. Some days I feel like Mary Poppins when we are out and about, pulling magic right out of my bag. These are usually the days I have taken a few moments to think about what we might need to enhance our outing. And when I haven’t? That’s usually when I need ALL the things I don’t have.
A few considerations can make a world of difference in how FUN the spontaneous family adventure can be. But honestly, even with all the best planning and the best intentions, sometimes the day just isn’t what we hope for. Our Sunday story was a little bit of poor-planning mixed with a whole lot of WHINE. Some of it went hand in hand, and some of it was just the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw.
I was really excited about this family adventure for a few reasons. First of all, I LOVE family adventures. Secondly, I was looking forward to a chance to capture some beautiful photos. That has been one of my goals for the month of July that I have struggled with. I even dragged out my tripod so I could get IN a few of the photos! Lastly, we missed the sunflower fields the previous year and I really wanted to see them. Especially since sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers.
Here are a few things that (usually) help us make the most of a spontaneous family adventure:
Think about the time of day
While it may not feel spontaneous to think about this, considering what might work best for your family is helpful. For a longer adventure that might interfere with a snack or meal, we try to anticipate this and plan accordingly. We try to avoid hangry children at all costs! Feeding them before we leave the house is usually a good plan. Another thing that we’ve found is important, especially in the summer, is to consider the heat factor. Dressing them accordingly, remembering sunscreen and hats, and bringing our little travel fans to help keep them cool are all crucial.
And lastly, thinking about nap times. This trip we hoped Niko would fall asleep on the way there since it was his nap time. But when he didn’t, we ended up with a tired zombie-eyed baby in most of our photos. Fortunately he snoozed the whole way home afterwards. And then made up for missing his morning nap by taking an extra long one later in the day. It’s hard when your kids nap at different times of the day. It can make coordinating plans to get out and do things more difficult. I don’t claim to be a nap expert by ANY means. It is so important to do what is best for your family.
Remember snacks and water for EACH kid
I can’t tell you how many times snacks have saved me in a tantruming throw down. I’m one of those mamas that almost always has something stashed away for hanger emergencies. But heaven forbid you only have one packet of teething wafers or one water bottle and they have to share! In my hustle to get out the door yesterday I grabbed two different snacks and one water bottle. Of course Noah didn’t want the snack I brought him, he wanted what his brother had. Usually this would be a perfect tough luck teaching moment (you get what you get and don’t throw a fit). But since rationalizing with a two-year-old is virtually impossible, sometimes it’s nice to just avoid this battle to begin with. And as far as fighting over one water bottle, let’s just say, I’d rather avoid that battle as well.
Throw a couple of unexpected things in a bag
A random handful of cars, a notebook/colored pencils, a lightweight book or kids magazine can be lifesavers. Especially when you need a distraction or to stretch out a few more moments of patience. When I remember to toss a few items in our bag before heading out, I swear EVERY TIME I think, why don’t I always do this! It’s a total game-changer.
Recently I’ve learned that having a few “treats” on hand (like m&ms) can go a looooong way in the bribery department. Noah has been known to eagerly participate in photos, walk when he wants to be carried, etc. if he thinks there might be a treat involved. Don’t get the wrong idea, we have high expectations for behavior and manners. But since we use this trick sparingly, it can work wonders when we need it to.
Give them some grace (and yourself too)
Sometimes our kids are just not as enthusiastic as we want them to be. Somedays they are just cranky, irritable, or whiney. Who knows what brings it on? Waking up on the wrong side of the bed? Getting too hot or feeling frustrated with the plans? Simply being a toddler? I know that sometimes I feel like a hot mess for no obvious reason.
Most days we find both of our boys to be absolutely delightful. Their personalities are so different and they are both so fun and enjoyable to be around. But some days they aren’t either. And that’s OK. We are all only human.
I struggle with a weird sense of guilt when things spiral from what I’ve imagined to no fun at all.
I’m usually kicking myself for lack of better planning (or even parenting!). Why can’t I get Niko to smile? What is Noah so cranky about? Dang it I should have brought some jelly beans! Is Paul getting annoyed too? Maybe we should have left earlier. Who had the genius idea to go on this family adventure today anyway? On and on…
I have determined that THIS is usually where we hit the low point. Once Mama gets on the struggle bus too, we’re ALL going down to tantrum town.
It is easy to get caught up in the negative energy generated when things don’t go the way we hope for them to. I usually try to make light of a situation where I can. Laughter can definitely be contagious and if Paul and I can find humor in the most frustrating moments, often the kids will take the bait as well. Sometimes I just act goofy, or start singing silly made up lyrics to a song about our day.
“Gosh it’s really hot out here, Papa wishes he had a beer. Noah has a big ole pouty face, he really doesn’t like this place. Niko just wants to take a nap, but Papa is wearing him like a cap. The bees are buzzing everywhere, looking for nectar in your hair. Mama wants everyone to get along, to stop being cranky and sing a song.”
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I try to remember that most often, I can set the tone for our family.
Even without the ideal considerations and a well-stocked bag of tricks, I can help find the laughter. If I can manage to stay enthusiastic, roll with the punches, encourage positivity, find something to be silly about, and give ALL of us a little grace – it tends to go a long way in the overall experience of our family adventures.
One day we will look back at their pouty faces in these photos and laugh. Heck, we might even frame one to display after they are all grown up (see photo above of me at tantruming age – currently framed at MY mama’s house).
And who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and have an unexpected few good shots sprinkled in the mix too.