The year my eldest son turned 9 I travelled to London with him to visit one of my best friends. We even convinced my dad to join us for this trip of a lifetime. After the trip my middle son kept talking about his 9-year-old trip and where he’d like to go. We tried explaining that a nine year old trip isn’t exactly a ‘thing’ but, well, he was a boy on a mission. We let it go since his fascinations come and go and we figured this would eventually go.  

So a year later we find out he’s been googling possible destinations and lets us know for his nine year old trip (now a year away) he’d like to go to Georgia Aquarium. We gently let him know that it wasn’t going to happen.  Because it was too far to drive and too expensive to fly and just not on our radar for a vacation.

But because he loves all things great and small, especially ocean-dwelling creatures, he persisted.  “When we go on my trip…” he would say.  “When I get to see the whale sharks…” he’d explain to us. When friends and teachers asked about our trip to the aquarium we would laugh a little and explain that it was a dream but definitely not in the cards.  We even suggested aquariums closer to Ottawa but no dice: the Georgia Aquarium is the largest indoor aquarium in the world AND the only one in this hemisphere with whale sharks.  Go ahead, take a moment and google whale sharks (I had to).

Somehow in between “a nine-year-old trip is not a thing” and “we aren’t going to the Georgia Aquarium” we ended up in the van this week for 18 hours on our way to Atlanta, Georgia with one kid who hates road trips and a second kid who gets wickedly car sick.

As the boys get older we have these moments of realization: that they are constantly underfoot and so noisy but simultaneously that we are only a few short years away from them wanting to spend every waking minute with their friends and not us.  Even though my oldest son had the undivided attention of me, my friend, and my dad for his jaunt across the pond our middle son generously offered for all of us to go on his nine-year-old-trip since whale sharks are so cool we’d all love to see them (his words, not mine).  And our “no, never” slowly turned into “how many more times will they eagerly spend days at a time on a road trip with their family?”

Parenting is nothing if not a constant barrage of big feelings and dichotomies.  We were simultaneously thrilled for the chance we had to make our son’s dream come true and also wondering what the hell we were thinking as the boys arguing escalated in the two weeks before we travelled.  How would we survive two weeks away from home, an 18 hour journey across 8 states, a 9 hour trip back to the east coast to meet up with friends for March break, and then our trek back to Canada (whimper) in time for school to start on the 19th.

On Sunday we headed out with no end destination in mind just a hope that we could cover as many km as possible on our first day.  When we made it to Roanoke Vermont just after dark we were thrilled to be 2/3 of the way there.  The boys eagerly leaped into the hotel pool after being confined to the van for nearly 12 hours.  My “what we were thinking” was finally bordering on “this is going to be incredible”

Anyone with a family of five knows hotel rooms are tricky and the first night was no exception.  I took the air mattress to avoid constant kidney kicks and elbows in my face.  I woke up around 2 am to discover that my mattress was half deflated so I crept into bed with two of the boys and quickly regretted my decision.  But oh well because hooray for dream-making trips!  Or so I thought…

Because what’s a road trip without puke.  And less than four hours of sleep.  Back on the road with a car sick kid my hopes were flagging.  Halfway through the Virgina mountains, praying the poor green kid would survive the last 6 hours, we realized a beloved lovey had been forgotten at the hotel.  Not a “we have a replacement” kind of cuddly friend but a “since birth never slept without it” lovey.

Many tears later (mine included), a frantic phone call to the hotel, hair-pulling frustration with the UPS app, which kept losing connection (see above: so many mountains), we had a plan to get the beloved lovey back home.

Are we having fun yet?

When we pulled into the aquarium on Monday afternoon I nearly cried with relief.  The boys were thrilled to be outside without coats and we were all thrilled to no longer inhabit the same 100 square feet.

Relief quickly turned into unadulterated joy.

Because in spite of the adventure it was to get there.  The two years of anticipation leading up to this “never going to happen” nine-year-old-trip.  The brothers who are the best of friends and worst of enemies.  The puke, lack of sleep, and all the planning it took to get 5 people organized for a 5000 km trip, it was magical to watch this moment unfold.

This was what we desperately needed to be reminded of.  That they are only little once.  That we say no more than we say yes because more often than not it’s just easier.  That we are all doing the best we can but there’s always room to be more patient, to listen (really listen), and to help them follow their dreams.  That most days we are tired and grumpy and feel “less than” but we are still the most important people in their lives. That sometimes the biggest lessons in life don’t come from books or school or the experts but the tiny humans we share our lives with who simultaneously challenge every facet of who we are while at the same time showing us that love grows exponentially.

Yes we learned all this from a whale shark.  Or four whale sharks, to be precise. But most of all from a boy who is the very definition of persistence and hope.

As it turns out a nine-year-old-trip is indeed a “thing” in our family.

Stay tuned folks, we have another 10 days left in our trip and a 5 and a half year old in our family.  Which means there’s already another nine-year-old-trip in the works.