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How to Ruin a Family Outing

Photograph by Getty Images

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to take a family day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. We’d always wanted to go there, had heard that it was a cool spot, and the weather was perfect for such an outing. So we loaded my son and daughter and some fantastic attitudes in the car and were on our way.

The ride there was long, but we were chipper and chatty. We told corny jokes, sang along with the songs on my son’s iPod, and even played a game where one of us said a word and then we took turns singing songs with that word in the lyrics. Oh yes, it was a family day. And we were having family fun!

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Somewhere at the three-quarters-there mark, the baby had a major blowout. We pulled over at some dusty gas station and spent 20 minutes and a whole pack of wipes cleaning poo out of the carseat, and out of baby’s hair and then out of my nail beds. Baby’s outfit was reduced to just a top with a diaper on the bottom, and the car smelled as if we were riding in a Diaper Genie, but hey, things like this happen! We were having a family fun day. Don’t worry about it, son. We weren’t going to let the unrelenting aroma of poo distract us from a good time at a national park!

We entered the park singing again. My son had picked up a “Junior Ranger” activity book at the visitor’s center, and we were all looking for the animal and plant life on his ranger checklist. “Wow! Look at all these Joshua Trees,” one of us said. “They look like cactusy-tree people waving at us.” My son thought it looked like a Dr. Suess party. Oh, Joshua Tree National Park, you really do have some treats in store for us, don’t you?

About an hour into our time inside the park—after we’d done some hiking, climbed around on some rocks and took loads of great photos—I saw a cactus that looked like Benicio Del Toro and I wanted to take a photo. I went to my bag to grab my phone, but it wasn’t there. Under the seat? No. Husband have it? No. Son playing Minecraft on it? No. (Duh, Junior Ranger packet, mom.) Wait. Holy sh** balls. Where was my phone? And then I heard my son say, “Did you ever pick it up off of the hood, mom?” And . . . scene.

We’d turned around and driven back to the stupid spot, the “Hall of Terrors” rock formation where I set my phone ON THE HOOD to get in a photo with my son. No luck, but what did I expect?

He was taking in the moment, despite my nasty mood, and was continuing his fun day on his own.

The whole mood of the day had suddenly tanked. I had turned into a big, black cloud that was hail-storming on everyone around me. The baby started to wail. Why did we come here, anyway? Let’s get out of this dumb park! It’s dry and weird and ugly. Turn the radio off! No singing! My husband was just driving, looking straight ahead, trying to avoid my Medusa stare. The Junior Ranger in the backseat quietly put his activity book into his backpack. We were not having a family fun day. Not anymore.

After 20 minutes of driving in silence, my blood pressure started to come down, and I started to come back to my senses. I looked out the window as we exited the park. Those cactuses looked like they were flipping me the bird. I rolled my eyes at them and thought to myself, “You wish you were lodgepole pines, you little f-ers.” And in the midst of my 14-year-old behavior, I saw my son’s reflection in the car side mirror. He had his rear window rolled down and had stuck his head out slightly, like a dog. His eyes were closed and he smiled as the wind blew in his face. He was taking in the moment, despite my nasty mood, and was continuing his fun day on his own.

My heart sank. How could I have been such a jerk face? Sure, I’d lost my phone, but what did that really mean? Lost photos, contacts, lost voice notes of me singing along with Bruno Mars? Yeah, it sucked that I’d have to buy a new phone, but OH WELL! How could I have let the loss of a material possession as replaceable as a phone rile me up enough to ruin the day for everyone?

I realized that I rely too much on my phone—for communication, for photos, for daily life management, for entertainment, for parenting and everything else. If I’m not texting or sending emails, I’m snapping photos of my kids, I’m Yelping restaurants and movies, and going Google ga-ga.

But, I was mostly reminded that if I want to teach my children the importance of keeping things in perspective, I have to be better at it myself. I had been set off by my own stupidity, and that’s what sent me into a downward spiral. I was so pissed off at my carelessness that I couldn’t see that I was punishing my entire family. We had been in the midst of a pretty much perfect day. All we needed was the four of us to continue to have the perfect day. I didn’t need my phone, but I let losing it ruin the experience for everyone.

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I sat in the car looking out at my canine-impersonating son. He was a vision of innocence and the kind of sparkle that only a child can emit. It was a perfect photo op. And I became weirdly thankful that I’d lost my damn phone. I needed to be checked. And checked I was, as I sat and took in the image of my boy who was happy; despite my tantrum, despite my demand that we cut our day short, despite it all. And my daughter was babbling and giggling at her feet. I need to be more like my children. I need to chill out. OK, turn the car around ... it's family FUN TIME!!!

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