A case for patience on the family trip

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

We came. We saw. We weathered one of the biggest tantrums of 2015. And we experienced magic.

There’s really no other way to describe tonight’s experience at Lime Kiln Point State Park here on the San Juan Islands. The outing had it all: Smiles, tears, shrieks of terror, and screams of joy.

In the end, the experience was a classic case study about the yin and yang of family travel, a picture-perfect snapshot of how bad can become good, a fitting demonstration of why we moms and dads must practice patience above all else.

The night began around 4:30 p.m., when Powerwoman and I decided it might be fun to pack a picnic dinner and head to the park for a little whale-watching. This spot, on the west side of San Juan island along Haro Strait, is renowned as one of the best places in the islands to see Orcas from shore. We had heard reports of whales on that side of the island and thought we might get lucky.

We packed a dinner. We drove to the park. We got to the trailhead. We started hiking. For the first few minutes, everyone was happy. R was singing. L was counting clouds.

Then, at the picnic table, as we broke out our meal, disaster struck: BEES! HARASSING US!

My wife and I didn’t mind the little buggers. The girls, however, FREAKED OUT. R started flailing her arms and moaning. L started crying uncontrollably and shrieking like a banshee. Just as Powerwoman and I started contemplating pulling the rip cord and heading back toward the car, the whales arrived.

In that moment, we were faced with a dilemma: Flee the situation to pacify the children or stick it out to pursue our objective of seeing whales? After much deliberation, we decided to stick it out.

The moments that immediately followed that decision were horrendous. L’s anxiety prompted blood-curdling screams—shouts so loud some onlookers wondered if they should call the cops. R, in an attempt to flee a nagging bee, lost a flip-flip into the ocean (thankfully I was able to retrieve it without injuring myself).

Gradually, however, once we put the food away, the bees stopped swarming, and the girls’ terror dissipated, too. As the kids calmed down, more whales came. And more. And more after those. Some surfaced no more than 30 feet from where we were sitting.

After about 30 minutes of whale crossing, it became clear we were witnessing something pretty rare: An entire pod of Orcas passing by “together.”

In response to this spectacle, the kids’ moods changed completely. Instead of yelping in terror, they were cheering for more whales. Instead of yelling, “Bees!” they exclaimed, “Another dorsal fin!” every time one surfaced in front of us. Instead of insisting that we go home, they were begging us to stick around for more.

When we finally did leave, in the car on the way home, the “whale show” (as they called it) was all they wanted to talk about. The incredible sighting made us grown-ups forget all about the bee incident, too. It was as if the bad stuff never happened.

The lesson? When traveling with little ones, sometimes a little heaven is worth a whole lot of hell.

I’m not suggesting parents turn deaf ears to miserable kids and subject their children to hours of horrendous conditions every day. I am, however, saying that every now and again, we moms and dads might be rewarded for practicing patience in particularly taxing situations.

Identifying those situations isn’t easy; heck, they’re probably going to be different for every family. But when you do manage to stick ‘em out, persevering can have its benefits—for everyone involved.

Pulling the plug on a family trip

A quieter moment, before the storm.

A quieter moment, before the storm.

If you’re a parent with kids under the age of 7, you know that public tantrums don’t discriminate. Kids can have them in any place, at any time. In the morning. At night. Heck, most little ones can go psycho mere moments after telling you they love you.

Kids even can have public tantrums on family trips.

Maybe it’s the new surroundings. Maybe it’s the challenge of grappling with different sleep schedules. Maybe it’s a different diet. Whatever the reason, it can happen. And it sucks.

We know this because we’ve suffered through them. L had some epic meltdowns during our spring trip to Yosemite—meltdowns that left us wondering if park staffers were going to report us to rangers for harboring a wild beast. R had a doozy during last month’s trip to Lake Tahoe—an episode during which she locked herself in an empty hotel room and we had to call security to get her out.

When such dramas occur, we parents are left with three basic choices: a) Ignore the bad behavior, b) Discipline the behavior accordingly, or c) Pull out of the public situation and retreat to a more private spot.

Powerwoman and I have tried all three of these options. Lately, however, we’ve opted for Choice C.

I know, I know—every kid is different. Perhaps your son or daughter will respond positively to choices A or B. Perhaps he or she might be scarred for life if Mom and Dad leave that kick-ass aquarium just because of a “few little slaps.”

The point of my post is this: In the event of a tantrum on a family trip, sometimes you just have to pull the plug. And it’s totally OK to do so.

Here are some signs a pull-out may be necessary:

The tantrum has gone on for at least 10 minutes. Most tantrums end on their own after a few minutes of hell. If your kid keeps going after that, it might be time to get outta there, for his sake, for your sake, and for the sake of the other people around you.

The tantrum is putting people in danger. Everyone’s child goes bag-of-bones during temper tantrums. That condition (no matter how biologically peculiar) can’t hurt anyone, except maybe your kid. But if your child starts flailing or throwing objects, it’s time to abort the mission immediately.

Others are getting agitated. Normally my opinion about others in relation to parenting is, “Who cares?” In this case, however, especially if you’re in a place with its own security guards, when other grownups get agitated, it is high time to hightail it home.

There are no signs of listening whatsoever. Kids are great at tuning us out, but there usually are at least a few indications their ears are still functioning. During doozy-level temper tantrums, those few indications disappear. Be aware of this situation and act swiftly and accordingly to rectify.

Most important, follow your gut. If you’re just feeling like it’s time to leave, leave. Yes, this strategy usually means curtailing some sort of vacation-y activity such as hiking a trail or having a nice meal or checking out a museum. And, yes, the logistics of retreating can become difficult; especially if there are crowds involved (see my previous comment about those park rangers reporting us to Child Protective Services).

Still, we have found that with our kids, bailing in the event of tantrum helps snap them out of the horrid behavior more quickly, which ushers back normalcy and puts us in the best position to get on with our vacation more quickly and painlessly every time.

How do you deal with your child’s temper tantrums when you’re traveling as a family?

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