It was not supposed to be this way. I had been planning this birthday weekend getaway for months to Joshua Tree National Park. It would be Paulo, the desert and me. The kids would not “get” being in the desert I reasoned. I just wanted to be like Jesus and go out in the desert to have a spiritual experience and if I remember correctly Jesus did not take kids! I wanted to be still, quiet, and only reflect on my life for a couple of days. I knew 100% that I was selfishly carving out this time for myself and I was unapologetic about it. I had absolutely no mommy guilt. I was ready to fully enjoy the weekend.
And then life happened.
My mother called to let me know that she and my dad were both sick and could not come to Los Angeles to babysit for the weekend. Happy Birthday to me! Paulo and I began to put our heads together to figure it all out. We could have reached out to our local babysitter but it was so last minute that it just did not feel right. I quickly mourned the weekend I had planned and replaced it with the thought that maybe the desert was calling all of us.
Once we arrived to our Airbnb and settled in, I could see how this little house, while chosen for just the two of us in mind, was actually perfect for the four of us. I had already let go of most of the things that “I” wanted to accomplish during the weekend. I embraced spending my time connecting with every member of my little family. The first evening I watched Victoria move to the rhythm of her own beat. “Where did you learn to dance Vicky?” She was dancing to “zapateados”, mimicking folkloric dancing that she has seen. “My Mexican heart just knows what to do” she replied. Then I joined her and we danced and danced in the living room. Afterwards we all had dinner together and ended the night enjoying the Jacuzzi under the stars.
On Saturday we did not leave the house. I know that it may seem weird to go visit a new place and not leave the house but nobody wanted to leave! The minutes and hours passed and we went from moment to moment just hanging out together. We explored the area outside the house, we enjoyed the hammocks, played games, barbecued and ended the night with a campfire and S’mores! I was soaking in the absolute beauty and joy from watching how happy Paulo and the kids seemed. We weren’t doing anything extraordinary and yet the pictures say otherwise.
And then there was Sunday.
We decided to pack up, leave the house and drive to Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail for a hike that promised to be riveting (per Yelp reviewers). We hike in LA so our kids know what it is like to hike for a few hours. Victoria was into it from the beginning, but the same cannot be said of Paulito. Paulito’s complaining started from the moment he had to get out of the car. “How long is this hike going to take? Can I just stay in the car and wait for you? I’m tired. Are we there yet? I need water. Can we stop? Let’s go back. This is boring. You said we were almost there.” Not to mention that he would repeatedly stop and sit on the ground so that hikers passing by us also got to witness this wonderful display of resistance. But I knew going into the hike that this could happen and I think I was mentally prepared for it. Here is what I mean by that and it will probably make more sense to you if you read my previous blog.
I knew going into this hike that Paulo and I were doing this hike because WE wanted to hike in the desert and not because our kids wanted to do this. WE decided that hiking, disconnecting from electronics, being out in the beauty of nature and spending time together would be good for all of us. I don’t think that anyone would disagree, right? Yet, we had to own that there is an element of selfishness about us deciding that this was the experience that WE wanted to have and resistance could come from our kids. So what did I do?
I stayed calm. I stopped. I got down on the ground with him. I gave him water and I made it clear that we were not going back. I also walked away when I needed a break from it because there is only so much I can take. About 1 mile into the hike Paulito asked if I would carry him. I said “yes” and when I straddled him on my back I saw the first smile. Right after that Victoria realized that they could do “Parkour” by jumping on all of the rocks and that was it! No more complaining from Paulito! He actually made us climb further and deeper into the Oasis than we planned. We took lots of pictures and then the hike back was full of imaginary trains, boats, planes and cars. Paulo and I walked behind them and just laughed at the stark contrast between our experience hiking to the Oasis and the experience hiking back.
I also reflected on my experience of the hike. I felt like that first mile with Paulito was like hiking thru a purgatory and that the moment when Paulito asked if I would carry him was the test to get me into heaven. I could have easily thrown my accumulated anger, embarrassment and disappointment at him and said “are you kidding me after everything you just put me thru?!?” And let me be real, sometimes that is what I do, but that day I knew that that wasn’t going to help. At some point I learned that when my kids are struggling is when I need to most practice unconditional love. It is so easy for me to embrace and show affection to my kids when they are doing exactly what I want but what real merit is there in that? How am I growing myself up as much as the little humans entrusted to me if I am doing only what is easy? Everything I read tells me that growth only happens in the pain, the uncomfortable, and the hard.
I don’t know, maybe I am making that one moment bigger than it really was; maybe it wasn’t the moment that changed everything; maybe my kid was just ready to flip the switch. Maybe. All I can tell you is this: The hike back to the car felt like heaven to me. I made it thru purgatory, cleansed, purified, basking in a joy that felt divine. In the end, the desert did not disappoint. It still delivered on its promise of a spiritual awakening.
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