Adventures don’t just happen. They don’t interrupt our average days or force themselves into our memories. Adventures don’t instagram-ad-target us saying, “swipe up for more!” (that would be nice). On the flip side, they aren’t merely for the creative photographers or single college students. I swing back and forth between wanting adventures to be effortless for our family and thinking we should quit our jobs and move into a “tiny house”, as seen on HGTV. But what I’m finding is that the act of adventuring is not for the lucky or the extreme— it’s for those who say yes.
Due to a move in May, I pulled our two oldest out of school three weeks early. We had a FULL three-month-summer and while I’d like say it was the summer I’ve always dreamt of, there were plenty of moments I reread this highlighted quote:
Vacations are the act of grabbing minutes and hours and days with both hands, stealing against the inevitability of time. There will be a day when our family as we know it will not exist, and I want to know that in that moment, I wasn’t at the office or doing the dishes when I could have been walking on the dock with my dad, when I could have been drinking tea and eating ginger cookies on the porch with my mom…” –Shauna Niequist
Insert the word “adventures” for vacations and this thought becomes even more real. Because vacations are scheduled and planned and saved for, and have long pauses between them, but adventures are always waiting. Adventures can be carefully executed or done on a whim. They can be at Disney World or in our backyard. Nonetheless, these beautiful phrases from Shauna convict and inspire me.
Since it would be an extended summer, I knew it was time to visit my family in Louisiana. Four years had passed since we last saw my grandmother (Mama) and Great Aunt (Aunt Ed) as well as my dad and stepmom (Pops & Mawmaw). My sister had another baby girl who I hadn’t met. And I couldn’t deal with this anymore.
So why four years? Well, I’ve got some good excuses… like the biggest one being I prefer to stay sane, and traveling with three boys under the age of seven gives me a 92% chance of failing. Also, working very full-time jobs didn’t allow us much margin. And this summer my husband Dougie needed to hang back to work. So, the 17+ hour road trip from Northern Virginia to Louisiana as a solo parent felt too unsafe to consider. What if I had a tire blow out? Been there done that as a single college girl. But with three young boys in my backseat? I need medical marijuana just thinking about it. Furthermore, it’s hard enough taking care of them on my own turf much less not having the comforts of my own bed and preferred thermometer night settings and morning coffee routine. Tired, hot, un-caffeinated moms are scary.
But I couldn’t shake it. My soul needed some family connection on the heels of a hard year. And there were adventures we needed this summer for all of our sakes… Ruston (my 4-year-old) hasn’t seen his Louisiana family since he was eight weeks old. But even Caden and Logan (8 and 6) were confused about who is who. And my roots were calling me. Interestingly, I found that as I set my mind to work on this complex feat, strategies began to emerge. Dougie could drive with us as far as Atlanta, where we would visit friends for a couple of days. Then he could fly back to Virginia using some airline credits, and I could handle the rest of the eight-hour trip by myself. One week later, he could fly to Louisiana (on his day off work) to drive us all back. This combined-then-separated-then-combined trip could work, especially since I wanted to tow a U-Haul full of antiques my mom was ready to pass on. I like to keep things simple- never.
So, we made it happen.
And on this trip to cajun country, we did both normal and wild things: we rode a ferry, explored a navy ship, threw a football in the backyard, played in a small splash park, ate snowballs in a thunderstorm. MaiMai (my mom) threw Rus and Sadie (who are 6 weeks apart) a little 4-year-old birthday party at her house with my grandmother and great aunt. Rus called them the “3 grandmas” and couldn’t understand why mommy has so many grandmas. We ate jambalaya and cookie cake and the boys bragged about all of their accomplishments to the “3 grandmas.”
My boys screamed for their lives at Global Wildlife Center where Pops and Mawmaw (my dad and stepmom) took us to die, I mean, feed free-roaming wildlife on a safari tour. Buffalo, bulls, llamas, alpacas, deer, giraffes, and many other things I can’t name, put their smelly breath in our faces and slobber on our laps to seize any pebble of food available. The boys dominated catching baby alligators and loved feeding the birds at the New Orleans Aquarium. Dougie arrived on our last night in Louisiana and we stuffed our faces in Cajun food and binged on beignets the next morning as we started our expedition home.
Halfway back to Virginia, we found a beautiful waterfall to explore on the border of Alabama and Tennessee. We talked about sightseeing but had no specific plans so when Dougie saw signs saying “Noccalula Falls Park”, he insisted we pull over. Much to my comfortable butt and half-read magazine’s demise, I agreed.
A couple of wrong parking lots, a little train ride, and a 45-minute rocky hike later, we finally made it to the stunning sight. White ribbons of water falling from above, spraying a cool misty breeze behind it where we were standing, totally captivated. The temperature had to be 15 degrees cooler behind the water fall, and we weren’t complaining about this. Sharp and slippery rocks were below our feet but we carefully carved paths to explore different angles of the view.
The boys learned how tired feet and the risks of scrapes pay off. The white water looked so pure and fresh against the dark brown rocks. It thundered down into a quiet pool that slowly crept toward the sandy beaches below. Couples were kissing and taking selfies and carrying toddlers and the powerful sounds calmed all the children like a vacuum quiets a crying newborn. Fearful of missing the train back to the parking lot as the sun was setting and park closing, we headed back. Our road-trip legs and psyches needed that unexpected adventure.
Thankfully, my hardcore husband agreed to find a last-minute deal at a Holiday Inn so we could clean up and get a good night’s sleep for the remainder of our trek. The next day, we enjoyed the mountain views almost all the way home and made YouTube videos while Rus asked how many more minutes about every. five. minutes. We had more urine-filled bottles than anyone wants to know (sorry TMI, but all the praise hands for having little boys with convenient peeing apparatuses). Yes, I was fearful someone would accidently drink the pee but it saved us many a bathroom stops.
Wow, we did it.
And now I find myself reflecting on our adventures and how hard it was to make it all happen. How a 17+ hour road trip by myself initially felt so impossible with 3 rowdy little boys. I’m no supermom. I struggle with the daily sacrifices of motherhood and the plaguing mom guilt that accompanies. But I’m finding once I said yes to adventure, plans came into focus. How it never felt doable, but after we did it, it was instantly worth it. How the screw in the tire and the near death experience picking up a U-Haul trailer in a dangerous part of Baton Rouge— along with a week without my morning coffee and creamer — and awkward encounters with inexperienced grandparents and grown children who don’t live in the same city and don’t quite know how to naturally interact with each other in those roles — how children who are a little off in their behavior and eating patterns can be the worst display of your parenting abilities and make you want to cower in the shame you’ve been working so hard to overcome— somehow in the midst of all that mess in traveling with kids, you can sit back and say that “not only was it worth it—it was perfect, that was exactly what we needed.”
Friends, adventures await.
In fact, they’re calling. And our adventures may not be easy, and they’re almost guaranteed to be messy and complicated, at least part of the time. But they’re also guaranteed to be full of memories and lessons and awesomeness. We don’t need to be superhuman, we just need to say yes.
Adventure well xo
P.S: Shauna Niequist’s books are inspiring with these topics… highly recommend Cold Tangerines and Present Over Perfect.