Some parents prefer “Lifesavers” on a long journey in tight quarters with little ones, but my family is all about Swedish Fish!
Swedish Fish have become my family’s symbol of travel. I absolutely will not buy them from the store unless a journey is ahead of us. Since I have been SO faithful with this tradition, when a bag of Swedish Fish hits the bottom of my shopping cart my kids cheer in anticipation.
This is a way that God has used our kids to teach us over the years of travel. Joyful anticipation is: Looking forward to the good like a child, instead of dreading the possibility of bad.
As I stood outside my kid’s elementary school one afternoon, waiting to pick them up, the moms around me were murmuring about the upcoming Spring break.
“I am completely dreading the 8 hr. trip.”
“They are just non-stop whining in the back seat of the car.”
“He is such a pain on the plane!”
“I wish someone could just warp me to my
As my husband and I have discussed this in the past, I have referred to this outlook as the Mary Syndrome. As you can probably imagine, Mary was very excited for her final destination to Bethlehem. There she would give birth to the Messiah, you can only imagine how that must have felt for her.
Yet ahead of Mary was a very long trip, 8+ months pregnant, dusty dirty conditions…she probably felt uncomfortable with a sore back, a headache, a husband by her side who was equally exhausted from walking; carrying some sort of baggage. It seems all they probably wanted was for God to warp them to their final destination.
Does this sound familiar?
Fast forward to my first flight with 3 children, my husband and I were now officially out-numbered. It was just months after our son had turned 4, our middle child turned 1 and our baby turned 5 weeks old. We had made the move from Michigan to Texas, knowing full well that this job change would bring many, many hours of traveling the distance home to our family. Not to mention that soon these three children would grow up and we would eventually board the plane with 3 very active young ones.
Needless to say our first flight back to Michigan was far from perfection. I forgot the suckers for my daughter who had ear trouble, my son put his favorite blanket in checked baggage, we got stuck on a runway for a good 45 minutes and we went through the last diaper in my bag right before my daughter… well, lets just say the man next to me was not too pleased with the aroma and I debated digging through the airplane trash for the last wet one.
This is what we, as parents, dread. They are mishaps, mistakes, and misfortunes of traveling with children. Why can’t we just be there already?!
Well, let me share that it does get better!
It got better once we invited God to join us on a trip.
Our prayer became something more like this: “Dear God, thank you for this opportunity to spend time together. I pray that we as a family grow closer to you and each other through this trip. I pray that we would have the opportunity to reach out to others on this flight and share with them the goodness of your Son. We pray for your traveling mercies. Amen.”
From that moment on I began, what my husband refers to as, “The well-choreographed ballet”.
I was now armed. Not with something that would send me to a private room with TSA, but with the Fruits of the Spirit, a newfound attitude to enjoy the “trip” to our destination and a very well-prepared carry-on bag.
Well, you already know what was in my heart, so you probably want to know what was in my bag.
We discovered it was worth the cost of the extra tickets to put our “above age 1” to “under-age 3” children in their car seat. They were used to traveling this way and they were more likely to nap at some point in the trip.
Books about Planes– It is impossible to ask a toddler to sit still, be quiet, not touch, not talk too loudly, etc. So why not take the opportunity to teach them about the plane they are flying on. Our favorites were: Planes by Byron Barton and A Day at the Airport by Richard Scarry.
Non-Messy snacks– Swedish Fish (originally bought for daddy-now a great family tradition), gold fish, Cherrios, grapes, popcorn, etc. (I highly encourage you to pick some things that are special only for travel).
Empty sippy cup or disposable cup with lid and straw– This is not needed once you can trust them not to spill. This way they can have water, apple juice and such from the flight attendant and feel special…or a little Benadryl from mom. TOTALLY KIDDING.
Quiet toys! Don’t set yourself up for a disaster by giving them something they can bang on the chair in front of them and you will later have to fight for.
Favorite Lovey– It takes up space and you don’t want to lose it, but it gives them comfort. Therefore not only will they be calmer, but you will too!
For the younger child: We took a pocket photo album that had pictures of grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins…things that are familiar to them. It gives them something to focus on, flip through without tearing pages, and something they can talk and communicate with you about.
For the older child: a notebook to sketch in and a non-permanent pen. They rarely get to use pens, so this is special and different (distraction is the key to stopping the “Don’t kick the chair in front of you” argument).
Invest in a video system and test out headphones to make sure they work on your child (BEFORE FLYING). Not all headphones fit or stay on kids well, even the kid kind. They need headphones! Planes are loud and you do not want the argument of I can’t hear vs. you are disturbing the people around you.
Disclaimer: I am in no way saying let your kids watch videos non-stop… they need to interact, experience and remember these moments in life.
Here is an example of a bag I make for my kids now:
Food, videos, large plastic bag with smaller ones inside, soft ball to throw around while waiting that won’t bounce away, a small bag of toys….
So after one REALLY lousy flight and 5 years of experience, we now have kids who are 9, 6 and 5 years old. It is official; we have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Now a days we have airport pros who stroll their own luggage, pack their own snacks, bring their loveys, and pick the movie or book they would like to enjoy on the trip.
So instead of soaking in the goodness of their newfound independence, we have decided, “Why not grow them and us some more?”
** We are now venturing into the All-American Road Trips! **
Road trips brought my husband and I such fond memories of our own childhood… yet we might soon discover how our parent’s felt locked up in a car with us for hours. 😉
The greatest lesson we have learned over the years is to surrender to the “trip”, to the journey. I can only imagine that at some point in Mary’s travels to Bethlehem she needed to surrender herself to the Lord… to trust in the journey that He was taking her (and Joseph) on, so she could grow spiritually, and believe in His purpose.
My husband and I have surrendered not only to God and His will for us, but also to our vision of the “perfect vacation”. My vision of a perfect vacation has greatly changed from that first trip with 3 kids. It no longer is about the destination, but instead about the trip getting there, how we will each grow, and what we learn and discover about each other along the way.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
“We ought to always thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”
Now, my husband and I have joyful anticipation for the trips that God sends us on. God has answered our prayers and opened so many doors for us to share His good news with others while we have been on our trips…or are they His trips?!
And now, when I throw that bag of Swedish Fish in the bottom of my shopping cart, I also join my kids and cheer in joyful anticipation!
Shannon lives in Virginia with her husband Joe of 13 years. Her children are: Jack-9 years old, Lucy-6 years old and Kate-5 years old. She is the youngest of 5 kids, but her mom is the oldest of 10! She has spent her life traveling in close quarters and hearing stories of a family of 12 in a little station wagon with homemade-parallel-bench seating. Now THAT is a way to travel across America. How she would love to have a photo of them to share!
1. Where are you going next? Don’t let fear keep you from your next destination. Make a simple, but intentional, plan and enjoy the journey there.
2. Are you one of those moms outside of school mumbling? Or are you willing to let God take you on a trip? Talk to Him about this.