In December of 2009, I was pregnant with my fourth child, and determined to deliver a magical, unforgettable Christmas to my three boys, aged 2, 4, and 6. I bought the Rudolph and Snoopy blow-up decorations, and planted them firmly on our front lawn. I baked the sugar and gingerbread cookies, and I let my boys roll-out the dough and sprinkle and decorate the Christmas cut-out cookies to their heart’s content. I read all the fun and meaningful Christmas stories to my boys every night, and I watched all the classic holiday movies, until I could quote most of the famous lines, verbatim. So when my sister called and suggested my family join her family for a winter wonderland getaway trip to “Santa’s Village” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I was “all in.” I made the reservations at the hotel and packed the minivan. My easy-going husband, excited kids and I headed north for a weekend at “the North Pole.”
I remember the drive like it was yesterday. It was a combination of pregnancy nausea, white knuckle driving,and Barney’s Christmas video on repeat. A wind and ice storm in the mountains brought treacherous driving, and my husband had all he could handle to keep the trusty and fully loaded minivan on course (note: minivans are not the vehicle of choice when it comes to navigating mountain roads in snow and ice). The estimated four hour drive became a 6 hour drive, but we arrived close to midnight, at our hotel. Ten minutes after we checked-in to our hotel, the windstorm brought a massive power outage, leaving us to unpack three exhausted boys and copious amounts of luggage and “stuff” in the dark. The morning brought a new day, but no new power source, and no break in the sleet and windstorm. I recall heading to “Santa’s Village” with sopping wet hair, and a hefty credit card charge from the local ski shop, where we stopped to buy children’s waterproof gear (we had packed for cold, but not for cold, wet, and wind).
The stormy weather did not close “Santa’s Village,” nor did it deter mobs of people from attending this Christmas theme park. My recollection of the day is of long lines, and of carefully maneuvering a carriage through the sloppy slush-lined park path. Many of the rides were closed, and the line to visit with Santa was an hour and a half wait. I vividly recall our stop for lunch, which turned-out to be a frantic attempt to warm my niece’s feet and to prevent frostbite (note: Ugg boots are warm but not when they are soaking wet!). I remember leaving the park in the early evening, feeling deflated that my magical Christmas adventure had been a complete bust.
The minute we arrived home from our weekend in the mountains, my boys couldn’t wait to tell their friends about the “awesome” weekend they had at the “North Pole.” They bragged about eating chicken nuggets at a restaurant, and about riding the “Penguin Roller Coaster.” They laughed about the reindeer tickling their hands when they fed them, and about their mother not being able to handle the merry-go-round. They praised the elves for their baking skills and their incredible light show performance. I listened intently, sure they were talking about a different trip than the “trainwreck of a trip” I had just returned home from.
Here’s the thing: Kids are simple creatures. Often times, where adults see failure, they see fun. With all of the distractions of daily life, my kids were thrilled to have us all piled-in the minivan, set for a family adventure. My boys had their parents’ undivided attention for a weekend, and they loved every minute of it.
This funny family trip from years’ ago brought endless family memories, but it also taught me that family time is an extremely important aspect of modern parenting. In an era when we face stiff competition from electronic devices, and from work and community obligations, it is critical to encourage family bonding through group outings or home activities. In fact, research shows that the more time parents spend with their children, the less likely their kids are to engage in delinquent behavior. Additionally, family outings help young children to learn to communicate, to listen, to cooperate, and to behave in public. What’s more, family outings help foster positive self-esteem with children; by parents showing-up, and spending time with their children, their kids feel valued and loved.
As this holiday trip to the White Mountains from a decade ago surely shows, family life is NEVER predictable. Solidifying family bonds through spending time together, however, is a consistent benefit, and a big memory-maker. Don’t ask me, however, to watch the Barney Christmas video; the sound of the purple dinosaur belting-out Christmas tunes makes the hair on my back stand on end.