How saying no saved our family vacation

The stories have been retold for days now, each more animated than the last. It’s been a jumble of words at the dinner table and in the car and as we’re getting ready in the morning, every story punctuated by giggles. I’m just back from a family vacation – we took our little crew to explore Southern California this year – it was a week of new experiences and laughter and so many stories.

View from our time on the Newport Coast

I’m so grateful for this time as a family, but let me be clear. It almost didn’t happen. There were lots of people and priorities clamoring for a piece of this 8-day stretch of time. And it would have been SO EASY to give in to them.

In order to make this trip happen, we all had to practice saying NO:

  • No to a week’s worth of appointments and emails and work priorities
  • No to a speaking engagement
  • No to blogging
  • No to two separate extended family celebrations
  • No to a birthday party invitation and a sleepover offer
  • No to soccer and lacrosse practices
  • No to dance and voice lessons and play rehearsals
  • No to more than one request to volunteer
  • No to a girls night out, a golf invitation, and a number of playdates

But by saying NO, we could also say YES. Yes to a whole week away as a family. Yes to new adventures. Yes to new stories we’ll be telling for years.

On this trip,we traveled to three different destinations in Southern California (Los Angeles, Newport Coast, and San Diego) and visited a few highlights at each one.

  • An afternoon on the Santa Monica Beach and Pier (with plenty of time on the “Muscle Beach” equipment and the famous carousel)
  • A photo op with the Hollywood sign for our aspiring actress
  • A day at Universal Studios (and Hogwarts!) for our Harry Potter devotee
  • A trip to the Cathedral of San Rafael in LA for Easter mass
  • An Easter Egg hunt with 8,000 eggs “hidden” on the resort lawn – I’ve never seen anything like it
  • Brunch at the famous Beachcomber at Crystal Cove – the kids played in the sand while waiting for our table (and yes they washed their hands before they ate!)
  • Stand up paddleboarding in Newport Harbor
  • A day on the beach
  • A day at the pool
  • Leisurely family dinners we made ourselves eaten on the patio overlooking the water
  • A visit to the USS Midway – in use for nearly 50 years but now docked in San Diego and serving as a naval museum
  • A sea kayaking adventure in La Jolla
  • The obligatory stop at Donut Bar – a famous donut shop in San Diego
  • A trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari
  • Plus two uneventful cross country plane trips and one VERY long wait for a rental car

We also weathered enough minor injuries and illnesses to accumulate a small medicine cabinet’s worth of remedies!  Luckily no illness lasted too long and no one was sidelined from any of our adventures.

On the way home, we were all talking over one another reliving moments from the trip – one that hadn’t even ended yet!

Vacations are the perfect breeding ground for stories.

And it’s the stories that resurface for years to come. They bring light to dinner tables and car rides and backyard picnics as we unpack them again and again, reliving the moments we shared.

The stories are the only souvenir I need. 

Today my heart is full and I’m ready to get back to work, but I can tell you this.

Having those eight days together strengthened my resolve to protect time each and every week for the five of us to experience life together. It’s far too easy to get pulled in five different directions on any given day, and if we don’t guard against it we become ships passing in the night.

I’m all for each of us having time throughout the week to do our own thing, but establishing a rhythm that gives us time to regularly reconnect as a party of five is a priority.

You might be wondering how this is possible with work and school and homework and conference calls and practices and lessons. With iPhones and Netflix and Facebook competing for our attention.

I hear you. Really, I do. But it is possible.

Sure, you’ll need to say no to less important things if you want to make family time a priority, and only you can decide what’s worth foregoing to make that Friday night family dinner or Saturday afternoon hike or Sunday church service possible.

But when you do, those smiles and giggles will stay with you throughout the week as you go your separate ways, learning and working and playing. And the stories, once they’ve taken shape, will be retold for years to come, weaving themselves tightly into the fabric of your family.

The best stories need time to unfold – and it’s your job to protect that time so they can.

If you want the stories…they’re waiting for you on the other side of a polite but clear NO. 

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