This past weekend, my husband and I decided to surprise our children with a trip to a water park. Heralded the “largest water park in Portugal,” they had been begging all summer to go. But between my mom visiting from the US, getting ready for school to start, and what felt like endless doctors’ appointments for my youngest, we hadn’t made it yet.
The thing about our kids is that, as wonderful as they are, when they get overly excited about something, getting out the door is impossible. They become emotional volcanoes, erupting all over our plans. So we decided a surprise was the safest bet. “Let’s try a new beach today!” we told them, even having them pick out some beach toys to bring.
The night before, we had prepped snacks and food for the day. I’d set out swimsuits and packed towels, sunscreen, and a change of clothes. All they had to do was eat so we could leave.
If only life were so simple.
First, my six-year-old son refused to eat his breakfast. It wasn’t a simple sit-at-the-table-and-stare-at-his-plate situation but a full-on refusal to even sit down and pretend to listen.
Next, the kids started fighting. Yelling, tears, the works.
Then we realized our cat had peed on the sofa. Yep, the uncleanable sofa. Which we now have to replace. Of course, this required time to identify the source, clean up what I could, and then block off the sofa from sitters.
Finally, we were nearly ready to go. I had waited to buy tickets because, you know, kids—who knew if we’d actually make it out the door. I grabbed my computer to sit down and secretly buy the tickets online.
It promptly died.
When I found the cord, got it booted up, and finally went to check out, my payment wouldn’t process. I tried again. Again. Nothing. I tried another browser. I tried another card. Success.
We finally piled into the car, and as we were driving away, my kids asked if I’d packed goggles. Oops. We turned around, and I sprinted to the front door, rushed inside, grabbed the goggles, locked the door behind me, and sprinted back to the car. We were finally on the road . . . an hour later than planned.
Whew. So much for up and out.
If you have kids, I bet this sounds familiar. Even if you don’t, or they’re grown, I bet you have days like this too. And you know as well as I do that the chaos of a morning can disrupt an entire day if you let it. The frustration at being late, the irritation at the fighting between the kids, the disappointment at all our great prep and plans falling apart . . . that could have eaten away at the fun.
Instead, my husband turned on some music, and we gleefully waited for the water park to come into view. About thirty minutes later, we pulled up to the park. As the kids registered the surprise, they squealed with delight. My daughter said over and over that it was “the best day of her life.” My son hugged me. My husband and I looked at each other with that knowing look: we did good.
We went on to enjoy one of my favorite family days in a long time: sliding, splashing, laughing, eating our packed snacks and lunches on the sprawling lawn of the water park. Despite the messy morning, it became a beautiful day.
Best. Day. EVER.
Life Is Messy Sometimes Too
Our morning was a micro example of what can sometimes feel like the messy, hard stuff of life. We all experience hardships, whether they’re the day-to-day difficulties of parenting or the harder stuff, like medical diagnoses, loss, or other hardships.
I am not immune to those, and I bet neither are you.
When I was a young girl, I had fantasies about the exact life I’d have. I was never really the kid who thought typical life was for me, but instead dreamed of moving from my small Idaho town to New York City, living an exciting life like one of the characters in my favorite book series, The Baby-Sitters Club. It was a simple vision for my life, really. There would be adventure, a great career in something art-related, romance. I never really imagined kids. My life would be great. Simple. Fun. Exciting.
It turns out my life is fun and exciting. It is also messy, hard, and not always fun. I did get to move to exciting places: Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Thailand, Portugal; I did get the romance: I’ve been married to my husband for more than ten years now; I did get the creative career: working with amazing individuals on their important ideas and books; and considering that I loved a book series about babysitting and adorable kids, I even got the kids I didn’t know I wanted.
But the life I have today hasn’t come without so many hard things. A life-shifting personal trauma at age twenty-one. Financial hardships. A child with significant, ongoing health challenges. And so much more, small and big, in the mixing, swirling, messy, hard, beautiful thing we call life. I’ve been through hard stuff, and I’ve been through hard stuff. I bet it’s the same for you.
Like our ridiculous pre-surprise morning, life tends to lead with the yuck sometimes. We get the hard before we get the good. We get the mess before the beautiful. But no one promised life would be easy. And my view? Easy is boring anyway. Without the challenges, we would never appreciate the grit, sacrifice, and vision that carry us forward, pushing toward the life we truly want.
If you’re in the mess right now, hold faith. If you’re in the beauty right now, be present. And if you’re in the confusing in-between, holding space in the mundanity of life, which can sometimes be neither hard nor beautiful, I encourage you to lift your head above the day-to-day fog and imagine the possibilities ahead of you.
Ask yourself, What’s my water park? What is my beautiful life? What might I need to overcome to get there? What would it feel like to overcome my challenges or hardships and reach a place of fulfillment, joy, and fun?
Life is hard, y’all. We all deserve a little fun sometimes. Mine just happened to be at a water park.
How about you? What small or big hardship have you overcome recently? How have you stayed focused on the brighter day—or life—ahead? Share with me in the comments. I love learning from you.