As I said yesterday, these posts will focus on my scrambled thoughts as I remember good memories from our vacation. I’m writing toward a new practice, a habit of paying attention to good things rather than my most natural tendency to hold to the bad. Most of these memories will be good, though there are a few not-so-pleasant moments littered through the last two weeks.
The point of the post today, for you who like points to posts, is to plan a vacation. Or a getaway. Or a break. Or a series of dates. Or a significant time away from normal life. The getaway, break, or vacation will give you an opportunity to nurture your marriage. Of course, you could do this with a friendship or a significant relationship with some modification too.
I’m somewhat of a planner. And traveling is important to me. I like to do it. You could say that I value it. We started planning this last vacation a couple years back.
Before we had a baby, before Dawn got pregnant, we talked about how we wanted to celebrate our tenth year anniversary. We wanted to do something big. We wanted to stretch ourselves, save up, and have a grand time. We couldn’t do what we really wanted which was to copy some friends who a few years ago spent a month on a different continent. But we could stretch. So we talked about what we wanted to do, and even though a little boy got made and delivered since those first conversations, we committed to acknowledge, in some way, that we were a we. That we existed as a married couple. That we were together. To be honest, we had our challenges conceiving, and affirming who we were outside of the parenting thing nourished us in ways that we haven’t always seen. So we determined to go on a cruise.
We’ve cruised before, done what I call the local cruises, the popular one to the Caribbean. We cruised the year I graduated from seminary, too, because that was my gift to myself after getting another masters degree! We also decided, in planning this last vacation, that we wanted to return to an early desire to see Italy. I had a dream when we were engaged at 22 years-old that we’d honeymoon in Italy. I was young. I was, in a word, foolish, on many fronts. I thought about a lot of things for us, but I didn’t think that going to Italy at 23 years-old when you had a mortgage and a construction project called a fixer upper was impossible. It didn’t become possible in those early years either really. So we took smaller trips. We saw family. We drove to many places. We went on those ships that I mentioned and saw the Caribbean and parts of Mexico. I used honorariums from speaking engagements and payments from work-for-hire contracts to make sure we were traveling together. One reason why we got married young was so we could see the world together, so we saw what we could.
When we planned this time, it was a similar experience. I started saving money, even though we couldn’t really afford it. We were blessed. I cut up portions of my second and third incomes–income that I never count until I have a contract–because my primary income is restricted to relatively fixed expenses and giving. We agreed on an itinerary, a mix of France and mostly Italy with enough Spain to keep us interested.
Dawn started looking into logistics. We struggled, waiting for the best time slot. Back then, Dawn was considering school. I had a small frame between my supervisor’s sabbatical and the start of my next calendar year in the VFCL program at GETS. We waited as late as we could because my coworker’s decision wasn’t exactly made. I knew when my teaching responsibilities would start. We really could only go at a particular time because of both calendars. Dawn looked at flight plans after I came up with a window of dates. She reserved and purchased our tickets.
We decided easily that the boy was staying when the cruise line said he would cost the same amount of money we would. We thought they were joking. They weren’t. We struggled with the matter of leaving him–for about two minutes. I mean, we are a couple and this was our anniversary celebration. We are not alone as a couple anymore so we were thinking that including the boy wouldn’t be all wrong. And yet there was this voice of wisdom speaking. Why not find a way, if it was possible, to leave the kid. To leave him and to remember that we were separate from him. To say our goodbyes and to have that be some shared meaning between me and the wife. Of course, we are parents and that reality is hard to get away from. But we are something else, a reality that’s easier to lose sight of as a couple. Everyday we attend to him, naturally and necessarily, but there is this other thing called a relationship which needs attention too.
We met with our mothers about staying at our home one week apiece, and I texted a few people to secure supplemental childcare. The week before we left, I went grocery shopping. I picked up enough apple sauce and wipes and diapers to last for a month. Just in case, you know, we couldn’t get back. In case we decided not to come back. I washed all the clothes in the house. Dawn bought her textbook and read her first week’s readings. I finished two contracts so I wouldn’t have them hanging over my head. I looked over the syllabus for the fall semester and thought through what September would be like. I did as much work as I could at the church to leave things well and in the hands of my colleagues. I had a few more meetings than I thought wise.
We talked to friends about Barcelona and France and Italy. Alan told us about the architecture in Barcelona, leaving me mad that we weren’t just going there. His eyes widened when he spoke, and he relived days where he ate bread and salami while sitting in a park in front of some building. I imagined him drooling while he ate in that park, though he wasn’t drooling exactly as he told his stories. We ate with Libby and Omar who helped us figure out what to see if we only had so much time, which was true, because it was a cruise and not a land-based trip. Libby wrote up a three-page cheat sheet and sent it to Dawn. She gave us more direction than any guidebook. She gave us guidebooks too! Omar told me to wear a fanny pack to keep our euros hidden from people pick-pocketing. I refused. I told Dawn that I’d simply wear my I-grew-up-on-the-south-side-of-Chicago face. It seemed to worked.
I wrote up the first draft of the cheat sheet we intended to leave our grandmothers and to our friends. We left explicit instructions to call us only when the boy was hospitalized since calls to the ship would be $10/minute. We had full confidence that Bryce would cooperate and not injure himself. We packed. We dreamed. We talked about what we wanted to see, where we wanted to go. We did something that a counselor I worked with during the early years in our marriage called “planning a future together.”
It’s a powerful thing to plan and map out your future. Of course, you make vows to a spouse about a vague future, but planning it is a second strategic step. It adds to the vow or the pledge the particular means and the specific steps. We were doing very romantic and relationship-strengthening work: looking at those next tomorrows and saying how we, together, would face them. Before us was a delightful series of dates. They included easy travels, long lines which we greeted with smiles and gladness, and a lot of words we didn’t understand. Those tomorrows included sumptuous meals and great servers and questionable taxi drivers. It would be wonderful, a little messy, slightly nerve-wrecking, and glorious.