Don’t you just delight in the sweet taste of family vacations, where joy and laughter are generously slathered over every moment of the day and sprinkled with children playing happily together, their delightful voices adding delectable notes to deeply satisfying days?
What’s that? Are you saying that doesn’t describe your reality?
In actuality, your vacations may be marred by over-scheduling, under-funding, and circumstances beyond your control: forks in the road that may take you where you didn’t plan to go. That does not mean you shouldn’t ever go. Instead, it just means that when you hit those forks in the road, you need to find gratitude and joy along whatever path you take.
My oldest daughter spent her junior year of college abroad in Paris, and I was lucky enough to go visit her. Being a little country mouse who hadn’t traveled much, I was very excited about seeing the fabled City of Lights with Alexis as my guide and translator.
On my first morning in Paris, while suffering jet lag and exhaustion from my day of traveling, I set out to find some delicious, caffeinated, morning brew and was shocked to discover the difference between American and French coffee.
“What?! They don’t drink regular coffee with sweetener and French Vanilla creamer here in Paris?” I asked with just a wee bit of panic in my voice. Alexis, not a coffee drinker, did not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation: a morning without my java.
I could have been as bitter as a day-old cup of vending machine brew, but instead I chose to be a hopeful explorer whose day was not made or broken by Folgers in my cup.
Alexis was a trooper, and we set off in search of something that resembled the mild coffee I liked. Not only did we find it, but we found wonderful croissants, too. Mmmm.
This small incident encapsulates a life lesson that played out many times on my Parisian trip and applies to life generally: When there’s a fork in the road, instead of getting upset, take a deep breath and look around to see if you can find croissants to eat.
Fork in the Road: Bad Weather
Have you heard about how lovely Paris is in the springtime? I imagine that it usually is, but during my trip, it was the coldest, rainiest spring they had had in years. Alexis had arranged a surprise trip to Normandy as a highlight to my trip, and now even that was under consideration due to the weather.
We could skip a lot of our intended destinations, including the battle memorial, and whine for eternity about how awful our week was, or we could find a way to take best advantage of all the circumstances. We decided to rearrange our list and do a little happy dodging inside and out as the weather necessitated.
We did indeed take our day trip to Normandy, and walking the grounds was so humbling as we contemplated the large number of lives that had been lost there. We came away with a greater and sobering awareness of the tremendous sacrifice made on our behalf. I am so grateful that we didn’t skip the trip on account of the weather.
Fork in the Road: Car Trouble
On the way back from Normandy, we stopped to top off the rental car with gas. As I started to pump, a nearby gentleman gestured wildly at me, ranted, raved and screamed. Alexis looked panicked and said, “Mom! I think he said the car is going to explode! Stop pumping the gas right now!” I immediately stopped, and we quickly determined the issue: I had mistakenly pumped regular gas into a diesel tank.
My stomach did several flip-flops as I made a frantic call to the rental agency, during which I did my best to sound reasonably calm as I worked to find out if I had done permanent damage, what my responsibility was, and what it might cost.
This was our biggest opportunity for recrimination. We could have turned on each other, the gentleman who was just trying to save us, or the rental agent. But we took a deep breath and remained calm. When the dust settled, and I had picked my heart back up off the floor, there was no problem. Apparently there was enough diesel in the car to offset the little bit of regular I pumped in.
These incidents, plus several others, are among the “forks in the road” that we faced during our Paris adventure. When I start listing everything that went wrong on our vacation, I am surprised by the large number of issues because I have such wonderful memories of that trip. I am grateful to look back and realize that Alexis and I both chose to look for the good.
On this trip, I learned to behave happily, wisely, and gratefully in spite of my circumstances. I learned that the more I express gratitude in spite of inconveniences and unplanned detours, the easier that habit becomes.
And the greatest benefit of gratitude? Instead of eating crow because I behaved badly at unexpected forks in the road, I got to eat croissants instead.
QUESTION: Have you ever been on a family getaway that went wrong? Did you deal with the “forks in the road” with optimism? If not, what can you do differently in the future? (This is especially important to consider with holiday trips fast-approaching.)
CHALLENGE: When there is a fork in your road today, think about how to respond with gratitude.
Photos submitted by Kim Hall, Toodarnhappy.com