I’d already had the conference in Columbus, Ohio on the calendar for a couple of months when I had the brilliant idea to bring Jesse and the kids along with me. I was speaking on Sunday, so I decided that we’d leave on Friday earlier enough so I could make the speaker’s dinner that evening, and then we’d have all Saturday to spend at the Columbus Zoo.
The drive down was uneventful, and only now in hindsight do I see it for what it truly was - the calm before the storm.
In the morning we made our merry way down to the zoo, and so began our descent into madness. You see there was a heat advisory issued that day for a heat index reaching 105 degrees. Whenever it’s hot like that, I’m reminded of the scene in Ghostbusters when Egon and Venkman are conducting an experiment with couples in marriage counseling. They have them in a waiting room with a steadily rising temperature, testing its effect on their stress level. Even if you haven’t seen it, you can probably guess what happens. It was like that.
The heat was intense. Each new exhibit was an oasis of air conditioned bliss, but it was no use. By the end, Lucy even said she hated the manatees, and we learned a few crucial lessons about traveling with young children.
1. It’s easy to get overstimulated!
Arriving in a new town with new sights, sounds, and smells; grasping the concept of a hotel, an indoor pool, how the little keycards work, remembering that we weren’t going to go back home to sleep— that’s a lot of work for little minds! And, on top of that, add visiting an amazing zoo (including petting stingrays and a baby tiger!) and all that can be pretty overwhelming. In our kids that usually manifests itself with manic behavior, running, jumping, general non-stop movement, followed by a dramatic meltdown.
2. Consequences for them means consequences for you.
Doling out consequences for bad behavior in the middle of the zoo with a 105 degree heat index, or in a hotel room with paper thin walls, is complicated. That overstimulation I mentioned earlier? That tends to lead to meltdowns: loud, embarrassing, meltdowns. I’ll admit, we resorted to bribery more than once to get us through the day.
3. All that matters is that you’re together.
After carefully orchestrating a family trip it can be disheartening to watch it slowly disintegrate before your eyes. At the end of the day when the tantrums, pinches, pokes, threats, lectures and timeouts are through, (and not just for the kids), all anyone wanted to do was snuggle up in bed and drift off to sleep.
A well-deserved rest, for everybody.
On the whole, the experience reminded me to be more mindful of my children’s limitations. I think it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of sharing new experiences with them, and forget that kids only have so much bandwidth to really handle that amount of new stuff. It taught me that sometimes it’s going to suck, for all of you, and maybe you need to cut each other some slack. It brought us closer together, and taught us how to be a better family. Next time, anyway.
FYI: The Columbus Zoo in Ohio is amazing, go there if you can.