You know how getting ready for a trip with kids can have its stressful elements? How, between you and (hopefully) a co-parent, you have to not only pack for yourself, but for your kids, and how kids need way more stuff than just clothes and a toothbrush? And how both co-parents probably have their own packing lists with some bits of overlap but neither list catches all the things? And how, while you’re trying to find, organize, and pack all of these additional toys, stuffies, nightlights, and various other “essential” items, the kids you are so strenuously working for are literally climbing on your back throughout the process? Well, for our annual Moravetz clan cabin week on Mille Lacs Lake this year, the vacation prep was anything but stressful.

In fact, we had the most relaxed, laid back vacation prep ever. No stress. No partner squabbles. Children that allowed us to insert items into a duffel bag one and only one time, never once removing said items to “play with one last time.” When one adult was feeling the urge to tackle a list, the other naturally gravitated toward giving the children attention. When one adult needed a break, the other danced in step to change positions. Everything just flowed.

Of course, having the relief of removing “normal jobs” from the equation helped in this matter, with some extra hours available during the days prior to departure. I also attribute the ease of our cabin week prep to a few things. For one, our kids getting older, which for us is equating to less overall gear needed (no diapers nor bottles, woop!). Also, we’ve made this trek a few years running now, so there was a little less mystery of what contingencies we may or may not need to plan for. But the big thing that stood out to me was the communication between Kristyn and I. We have been practicing focusing on advocating for our own needs and having better control of our breath, tone, and nonverbal cues. We avoided any potential stress spirals by simply doing what felt right and being calmly receptive to any inputs from the other. Easier said that done, to be sure. But with practice… possible.

Our children maturing also plays a big factor, not just with packing for a week at a cabin, but throughout our lives. It feels a lot like magic when your kids start gaining more independence. The feeling of “turning a corner” or a “paradigm shift” brings relief to me, that these young humans now know enough of the world that they can make their own way in many situations. For example, we don’t have to worry about what a kid will do if left unattended in our house for a few minutes. Sure, they might quickly grab a rogue mandarin off the counter and surreptitiously scarf it down, but they’re not going to choke to death – they have teeth now, and they know how to use ’em. It’s also highly likely in this hypothetical scenario that the child will also dispose of their orange peel evidence in the compost, concealing any damning shred of proof of citrus consumption while simultaneously assisting in the natural decomposition of said rind. #winning

My big takeaway from the actual week at the cabin is – I noticed a difference in me compared to family cabin weeks from previous years. In the years where this trip was a break from work, where I was using hard-earned PTO days to “buy the time,” and choosing to spend my PTO time in this way, I brought an energy with me of – I have to make the most of this week. Note the words “have to.” No good vacation includes the words “have to.” It creates an arbitrary attachment to some set of expectations. This leads to potential disappointment. So, in years past, I “had to” do all the activities. I “had to” make sure I kayaked, and played yard games, and made campfires, and on and on. I “had to” find a way to have an afternoon away with Kristyn, because making time for date nights with kids and jobs is hard, and this was one of our rare chances to have other trusted adults staying under the same roof as us. I “had to” drink all the beer. I learned that I don’t actually enjoy six consecutive days of day-and-night drinking. After two days, I could feel my body saying, “What in the blazes are you doing drinking all this beer?” But my mind had this remnant muscle memory from previous years. I have to get my fill now while the getting’s good. I have to seize this opportunity to escape my normal life and really live a little! What rubbish I now realize that line of thinking was. This time around, I had no attachment to any particular activity, no “must have” for the week, and I wasn’t escaping anything from my normal life. It was just another pleasant week, with the added bonus of being around my lovely family. 

Looking ahead, my lesson from this is that I should aim to design my life in a way where I enjoy all of its components such that I don’t feel a desire to escape from any of it. Sabbatical may be coming to an end when I have confidence in a sustainable life design fitting that description.