Zen. But When?
At any given theme park, you’re sure to find a toddler in meltdown. Their little systems are overloaded with unfamiliar yet thrilling surroundings, sugar in many forms, and huge furry characters. You’ll also find a defeated parent nearby, quietly kicking themselves for having orchestrated this whole experience.
Last week at Legoland in Southern California, I wasn’t that parent. My tots, thankfully, were quite well-behaved. We had one tantrum, which was over some chocolate milk, and it was quickly corrected with a talking to.
I did observe, however, in the many lines waiting for rides and food (amusement parks tend to become small towns in which you begin to recognize people) a man, his wife, and four sons, the youngest being about three. They stood out in their matching shirts, and how they generated their own ecosystem of blissful chaos. My wife and I often dream about having more boys, three, maybe four ourselves, then we stop and realize we’re happy with our two.
The mom of this group, it was clear, had let herself enjoy that she was on vacation with her boys, she the lone female in this pack of wolves. Dad, on the other hand, was annoyed. One son came up ask where was the bathroom, to which Dad directed him away. Another boy said he thought he saw a restaurant up ahead. “Fine,” Dad said. “Whatever.” Another one tugged on Dad’s shorts, while the smallest one whined for something, pulling away from Papa, preferring attention from Mama.
We crossed paths with this family all day, and the following one, and by day two, I noticed something. In line for a kiddie roller coaster, Dad was sauntering behind his wife and sons. His head was somewhere else. Maybe his honeymoon, or that weekend with his senior year girlfriend, or maybe just the thought of a regular workday lunch, grabbing a sandwich somewhere and it eating alone. Amidst the madness, Dad had found a moment to retreat.
Watching this fellow father from afar reminded me that our happy places are never at the happiest place on earth. We have to go inward to find the space to live and breathe, to take care of our most core human need: checking out. While presence in all situations is a father’s number one job, there’s nothing wrong with a moment of mental rest; no harm in vacating from your vacation.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.