My hand gripped the arm rest, legs stiffened themselves against the floor and the force of gravity pushed my head against my head rest as our aging minivan came to a screeching halt along the shoulder of yet another stretch of road. As our brakes smoked, the stand-still sent a shock of silence over the occupants. My husband's seat belt clicked, he left his post behind the steering wheel and slid open the side door.
"LISTEN TO ME CLEARLY: IF I HAVE TO STOP ONE. MORE. TIME. WE WILL TURN THIS SHIP AROUND AND GO BACK FROM WHENCE WE CAME. HAVE I MADE MYSELF PERFECTLY CLEAR?!"
Five small noggins nod without a word. Van door slams. Husband resumes his position in the driver's seat. I massage my neck and sigh deeply as we merge back into traffic. I handed him his ear protection and we continued.
And this was only five hours into a twelve hour trip (which we broke up into an overnight) to our now-annual trip to majestic Maine, Vacationland. Along with all the suitcases, water shoes and bug repellent, I had also packed my expectations that the simplified, lake-side change of pace in the great out-of-doors would be tonic for what ailed our children, a case of chronic conflict. I had high hopes the state would live up to it's motto in a very personal way..."The Way Life Should Be".
We all have our battles that we're fighting from one time to another and I have come to surmise that the Summer of 2016 will go down in the Miller annals as "The Summer of Sibling Unrest".
I mean, it's not NON-STOP. They do pause to sleep. And when they're not together. Sometimes, during a blue moon, if they all want to go the same place, do the same thing, they harmoniously work together to attempt a successful outcome, proving to their parents that they are capable. I keep telling them that they love each other and will always be there for each other, knowing that deep, deep, deep, deep down they do and they will.
A week into our time in the most glorious state in all the land, Maine had still not worked it magic. We were still pulling over on day trips still hearing bickering from sun up 'til sun down over THE DUMBEST STUFF ("I called dibs to hold the watermelon and he took it from me!") and I honestly didn't know if I wanted to stay the extra few days we were slated to stay. On top of Cadillac Mountain, I forced them to hold hands so I could take a picture of our opposite realty. They were so pleased as is obvious:
We woke up on Day 8 and decided to take the children on a redemptive hike to a remote Indian reservation leading to a spectacular lake, a relatively simple hike that we had turned into a three hour ordeal of bug-biting misery last year when we took a wrong turn. We unloaded, asking everyone to be very quiet, as it was likely we could see a moose along the trail and we wanted to enjoy hearing all the sounds of the forest. Two minutes into the hike, there was already discord over mosquito nets and whose walking stick was better. Five minutes into it, as we reached the fork on the trail the sounds bickering were rising and I was done. Turning around, I put up my hand and commanded everyone to halt. I'll spare you the entire lecture, except for this last part.....
".....If I hear ONE MORE NEGATIVE WORD from ANY of you, ALL of you will automatically be enrolled in an hour-long lecture taught by yours truly here. Instead of roasting marshmallows around the campfire or watching a movie, you will enjoy 60 minutes of hearing your mother's voice lecturing you about peace and love and kindness and charity. You will have to take notes. There will be no snacks and no bathroom breaks. YOU DECIDE."
Now, I am going to give you a visual of what I looked like as I barked out these words and you can see that I have two, maybe three years until they would laugh me up and down the mountain. (Lest you are staring in envy at my head-gear, my husband so generously lent it to me to repel the mosquitoes. It's safe to say no living creature was tempted to nibble at my neck, including the owner of neck-flap wonder.)
Even now, I am pretty sure there were a few eye rolls coming from the middle of the pack, but I let them go. Needless to say, the threat of hearing my voice droning on during prime evening hours afforded us an enjoyable family hike that ended at Endless Lake, which is where Heaven and Earth touch.
After that hike, things seems to take a turn for the better, as they often have in the past in this setting. There was still the bickering, but it came in smaller batches. Maine had worked it's magic yet again. The glimpses of sibling harmony gave us hope for the future. At one point, they all started singing Don William's "You're My Best Friend" in unison, and we thought we had been transported into another realm. Curt and I overly praised them for the sound of music, which we much preferred to the usual. I stopped short of sewing the cabin curtains into play frocks.
And then we came back home.
Reality was waiting for us at the doorstep (hello ant infestation!) and we all picked up right where we left off. And that's ok because I have come to accept this as a season, as part and parcel of having five strong-willed children in close age proximity and also because school starts up again in nineteen days and twelve hours (not that I'm counting).
I have no, none, zilch, nada Pinterest/Family Magazine/Parenting Forum-worthy list of suggestions in how to deal with this...and quite frankly, I'm too tired to care to find new and creative ways to help them work through their sibling stress. It's just the stuff of LIFE as an imperfect human living with other imperfect humans. I'm just going to hold onto and highlight the beautiful moments and memories as we keep moving forward, sometimes hitting the rumble strips, sometimes stopping to regroup and always remembering we've got a (really) good thing going overall. We're never going to reach a plateau of perfection, so we might as well lean into the grace and goodness of God that covers our multitude of sins. Each and every (long or lovely) day.
If you're interested, here are a few of my favorite pictures from our time in Maine. Thanks for taking time to stop by!
|Creeks always bring out the best in our crew. Team work...it CAN happen!|
|Me and my girls at Moosehead Lake|
|A little blueberry something to cheer on the mama.|
|My favorite form of escape.|
|The awkward, half-hearted "hug"|
|My dream family vehicle. Have already looked on Ebay. No luck.|
|"Sleeping Queens"...a new family favorite. Best 8.99 spent on Amazon.|
|Eastport. My favorite little coastal town in Maine. Teddy and Eleanor used to frequent the town, and I|
am trying to convince my husband I could withstand the winters here.
|Always fishing. Always setting new records.|
|My good man. Overseer. Leader. Van Puller-Over.|
|Diva Hikers. "We can't go on".|