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I've always fancied myself to be one of those adventurous mothers.
You know the type, right? Like on Instagram where the moms (usually gorgeous, with beachy, flowing wavy hair and abs flatter than my boobs after breastfeeding four kids) pack up their (adorable, slightly hipster-clad) children and they hit the road for fun-filled, sunshine-dappled adventures?
In my mind, that's just the kind of mom I am.
There's just one problem: All of the family adventures I attempt never quite work out like that. At all. In fact, they usually end in disaster.
Take the last month of my life as a prime example. Despite having four kids ranging in age from 1 to 7, I felt convinced that I was failing by not being adventurous enough. We were spending too much time inside, wasting our lives away on screens and couches. So I decided we would be a fun family, even in the midst of a cold and brutal winter that seemed to be one never-ending stomach bug and respiratory illness that left me with the realization that should Ebola hit us, my family's immune system would be no match for the vicious virus.
I first decided to drag my girls away on a business trip with me, roping in my sister and mom along for the one-way six hour drive to Chicago. This would be great! Girls' trip! We would have so much fun!
And maybe we would have—if my 18-month-old hadn't spent the entire first night in our packed hotel room literally screaming bloody murder, inconsolably flailing out of my arms for hours on end. It felt like a nightmare that wouldn't end, and I didn't know it then, but she was coming down with yet another fever that soon progressed to bronchitis. She was a complete mess for the three days we tried to have fun, right down to throwing a temper tantrum I had to see to believe in the hotel lobby when I tried to check in and then again for breakfast (the kind that left strangers looking at me like they wanted to call CPS). I had never experienced anything that made me feel so helpless as a parent in eight years.
I was using trips to try to make up for what I thought was a failure of mine as a mother.
Trip No. 1 = complete and total failure.
BUT, I reasoned, that trip was a fluke. Clearly she had just been getting sick and I didn't know. So our next trip? Driving 16 hours in the car with all four kids to a vacation condo we had rented to visit my husband's brother. But then his brother moved so really we had no reason to go anymore except we missed the cancellation deadline. And by "we" I mean I asked my husband to do it while I was on that first fateful business trip and he forgot. Well this would be fun! We would salvage the last miserable family adventure and create lasting memories, gosh darn it!
And we definitely created some family memories, all right. Starting with the fever my daughter began running—I kid you not—the second we got to the condo. Her fever soon turned into scary coughing and crackles in her lungs. After a trip to a pediatrician and then again to urgent care, we found ourselves in the hospital for a three-day stay and a diagnosis of pneumonia in both lungs. Somehow, our car broke down twice later, so while I tried to battle my daughter to keep oxygen and monitors on her, my husband tried to get our car fixed and deal with our three other children.
Trip No. 2 = even bigger failure.
Now that we are home and (surprise, surprise), I had a kid puking last night and my daughter started sporting yet another fever, I am officially throwing in my adventurous towel.
I've realized that I was dragging my children along on these "adventures" a bit selfishly. My kids don't care where we go—they are equally as happy being home as they were in the sunshine of South Carolina. But I was using trips to try to make up for what I thought was a failure of mine as a mother.
I thought that if I could initiate these fun family adventures and lead my kids on nature hikes and beach trips and create laughing, magical memories along the way, then I would be a good mother. I let my fear of missing out on contrived Instagram images convince me that dragging kids out of the house was not only a good idea, but a necessary part of being a modern-day "fun" mom.
But the truth is, I give up and I think it's the best. Maybe someday, when our children are older and able to sleep through the night or at least walk more than 10 minutes without complaining, we will try again.
But until that day comes, I have resigned myself to admitting that what's best for our family might just be staying put for a while—and building lots of fun memories right here at home.