Last week I had the wonderful privilege of going to Disney for a week with my mom, mother-in-law, sister, wife, and two daughters (ages five and almost three). Being the only male, some guys would call this trip torture, but I actually arranged it. I’m a bit of a girl, so it all worked out. Like every trip I’ve been on, I took away a couple key lessons. For instance, this trip taught me early April is when both the United Kingdom and America have spring break, so what I thought was going to be a calmer time to go to Florida was one of the busiest – awesome. The Magic Kingdom almost reached maximum capacity on the Tuesday we were there… a Tuesday! A lesson I relearned on the trip is I hate being crammed in places with lots of people – super awesome.
The most important thing I took away from this trip is sometimes we matter a lot more to other people than we realize. Years ago I heard a therapist doing a talk teach that people in nursing homes commonly ask three basic questions: Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter? The first question really is a personal choice of what you consider “living.” That being said, I would argue “living” should involve trying different things and connecting with people. This, of course, ties into the second question, “Did I love?” If we don’t have people who are sad when we die the answer is pretty clear – we didn’t love. Love, of course, takes work, sacrifice, and emotional struggle. Parents get this; kids cause all three in potent ways, but the more we work, sacrifice, and emotionally struggle, the more meaningful the relationship can become if there’s a positive outcome from it. A negative outcome just leaves you feeling used and ripped off like a parent whose child ends up a mess despite incredible efforts by the parent. I’ve definitely had parent clients in this category and it’s a certain kind of tragedy – they were seriously ripped off.
The third question, “Did I matter?” that’s the question that really stuck out to me on this trip. Let’s get into why.
The truth is if my mom and sister hadn’t agreed to go, I wouldn’t have bothered arranging the trip. My wife is an excellent mother, but there’s no way I’m going to Disney with a ratio of one adult to one kid – no thank you. Only crazy people do that. I wanted at least two adults to every child. Kids are a lot of work and Disney is exhausting; you don’t combine those two together and expect to enjoy yourself. You need backup.
Age wise, my five year old was in the perfect spot for the trip because she would scream with joy when she saw the different characters she recognized in the parade like Rapunzel and Peter Pan. My almost three year old was excited, but seemed to find everything a little overwhelming. That being said, she was arguably the perfect age because under three is free – bonus. That saved us over $2000. Unfortunately, she constantly wanted me to hold her, which was very wearing. While I constantly held my youngest, my five year old spent most of her time with my mother-in-law or sister (or asking me to hold her, too; that was even more wearing). Unlike at home, my mom was almost invisible to them. To make matters worse, my mother-in-law could do rides my mom couldn’t. Actually, my mother-in-law could do rides none of the other adults could. Nothing like needing someone in their 60s to be on a trip because the parents (and aunt) couldn’t handle the kiddie rides – we’re all wussbags.
What’s amazing to me is my mom never complains. Even on our trip, she never complained. It’s really impressive… and not like me at all. I can definitely do my share of complaining. On this trip I wouldn’t have even known anything was off for her accept my sister pointed out that our mom was concerned she was the boring grandparent. Then on the way home I thanked my mom for her help on the trip, and she kindly replied, “I’m not sure why you’re thanking me; I didn’t do anything.” Like any good son, I berated her and screamed for hours about how stupid it was to think that way… that’s obviously sarcasm. Instead, I tried to gently give her a different perspective, but I didn’t beleaguer the point – it’s always best to plant a seed rather than to stomp on someone’s opinion if you hope to change it. Honestly, I can completely see why she’d think the way she did because my girls paid very little attention her on the trip. Even though my mom never claimed this, I can see why she could think that on this trip she didn’t really matter. Most people in her position would’ve felt that way (and I would’ve gladly traded places with her because I barely had a moment to myself as I was almost always carrying one or both girls like their human stroller. That was the hardest bicep workout I’ve ever had.)
Here’s the thing, on the surface my mom could’ve looked like she didn’t matter, but the reality is she was the most important adult on the trip. Why? Because she helped us maintain sanity. As any parent knows, sanity is the greatest gift of all, especially in Disney with large crowds. And how did she do that? Was she the life of the party? Nope. Did she organize everything and keep us on track? Nope. Did she pay for everything? Nope. In fact, pretty much the only conflict my mom and I have is her letting us do something nice for her and us letting her do something nice for us. Overall, that’s a pretty great conflict to have.
So how did my mom help us maintain our sanity? There were two main ways: she was there and she cared. That’s it. There was nothing grand about it, but it made a huge difference. Sometimes just being there helps others feel encouraged and more confident. You don’t have to say much; just be present, and my mom was great at that. Even further, she never rushed us to get going, but patiently waited and offered a hand when the opportunity arose. As someone who hates mornings, she made it easier to get up because she was the first up and ready to say good morning with a smile. It definitely helped my wife not feel as alone in the morning. I can be ready and have the girls dressed in fifteen minutes, so I sleep in a bit longer – I love being a guy. My mom also made us stronger because it’s hard to complain about the amount of walking you’re doing when there’s someone in their 70s keeping up with you with a smile on her face. With less complaining about waking up or walking, there was less negativity in the air allowing for a more positive experience.
Caring wise, My mom is a very genuinely caring person with a very strong nurturing side. She was the first to compliment someone or point out how hard it must be to be doing what we’re doing. One of the major problems for couples with kids is having the ability or wherewithal to notice what the other is doing because we’re struggling to do what we’re doing, so it was particularly helpful to have my mom able to do that for us. She helped both my wife and I feel noticed and cared about while the other was busy. It made a huge difference for us. Because my mom wasn’t watching our girls, she had the ability to notice things, which also made her the first to offer help when it was needed or to keep someone company who wanted to do something different from the group. In fact, I’d say out of everyone on the trip, my mom had more intimate moments with each of the five adults on the trip than the rest of us because we were so distracted by the girls. She may not have been the first choice for my daughters, but my mom had the best connection with the other four adults – the ones often forgotten when there are kids around.
Arguably the most valuable thing my mom did was more by chance. For whatever reason, my two daughters kept rejecting my wife’s attempts to help and connect with them on the trip. This was obviously really hurtful to her, but seeing my mom also get rejected made my wife not feel as bad (that might sound worse than I mean). My wife adores my mom and thinks she’s an incredible person, so if my daughters could reject her on the trip, it wasn’t just my wife. If my mom wasn’t there or if they were drawn to my mom more than my wife, my wife would’ve been destroyed. Instead, she was able to see she wasn’t alone in this. She also didn’t have it the worst; my mom did. Even with this, my mom never showed any jealousy to my mother-in-law and, in fact, seemed to bond really well with her when she wasn’t with my five year old. My mom was an incredible role model of how we need to do our best to smile and carry on even when others seem to have it better because in the end it made her the most valuable person on the trip.
If nothing else, this experience taught me that sometimes we can matter a lot more to others than we realize, especially if we offer love. No matter how small it might feel to us, when we show love, we don’t know how much of an impact we can have on others.
This week may you start to realize how much your love matters.
Rev. Chad David, Chaddavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)