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How a Jar of Marbles Changed Our Thinking on Vacations

Almost two years ago, David and I stood at the airport counter with an 11 month old and a four year old.  We were about to embark on a twelve day trip to Italy

Many of our friends thought we were slightly crazy and, honestly, I wouldn’t have argued with them.  Even before leaving the house I gave my husband a quick glance and asked if we were insane. 

Colosseum Rome with Kids
look at those babies!

This wasn’t the first international flight with our little ones, and it was far from our first family adventure.  The year before, when our son was just shy of three months old, we took off for Tulum, Mexico, to enjoy our family leave in a tropical locale.  It was, however, the trip that sparked the change in our outlook on family travel. 

You see, about a year before, we’d started discussing said trip to Italy, but as a couples trip.  We’d listed off the places we wanted to visit and the things we wanted to do.  We figured we would have the grandparents keep the kids while we were gone.  The plan was in the works. 

Then, one day at church, our pastor started talking about some marbles in a jar, and our plans made a complete 180 degree turn.  His sermon was about the impact we have on our kids and the time we have to make that impact. 

Marbles in a Jar

The pastor had four jars sitting on the table.  The jars represented various grades between kindergarten and senior year, each filled with one marble per week left before the child turn 18 and move out.  

So, while the kindergarten jar looked full, the one representing senior year was almost empty.  A great illustration, it really showed how little time we have to impress upon them the importance of loving Jesus and other people.

Now, I’m just gonna be real here.  I cried more than a little that day.  But, my mind started spinning after that.  While his lesson was the most important, this same mindset could be applied anything in life: travel or life experiences, in this instance.

We all have bucket lists for where we want to go or things we want our kids to see and experience.  Have you ever thought about how much time you actually have to cram it all in?

local lunch spot in Tulum with kids
two thumbs up for adventures big and small

“Every day we make deposits in the memory banks of our children”

Charles R Swindoll

The Years Fly By

Our children are at home with us for 18 years.  When they’re babies, this seems like an eternity, but speak to any parent of a graduating senior at length and they’ll disagree. I have no doubt you’ll get the same response in one form or another, “Unfortunately, the years really do fly by”.  

Americans get, on average, two weeks of vacation a year.  I’ll leave my annoyance with that for another time.  Anyway, most of us parents view vacation time as a way to spend quality family time.  

So, let’s look at our two week example. Using the two weeks average- in 18 years you will have 36 weeks of vacation time.  That’s 36 weeks of uninterrupted family time without ballet, ballgames, or work dinners.  36 weeks!!  

I’m not sure about your thoughts, but 36 weeks is nothing!  Our daughter just turned five.  This means we are already down to 26 weeks left to enjoy uninterrupted time with her, which is enough to make me want to curl up in a corner and cry.  

Less Toys, More Time

We all- myself included- have used the excuse that we will take the trip when the kids are older.  It’ll be easier, they’ll remember more, traveling with kids is hard.  I’ve read, heard, or used every excuse in the book.  While there is never a perfect time, there will never be a better time.   

Our kids don’t need more toys; they need more interactions.  They need more of our time.  Our homes are overflowing with plastic gadgets and toys.  But, are our children overflowing with memories?  

family holding hands walking into the sunset in Tuscany at La Chiarentana

At the end of the day, these seemingly exhausting vacations and weekend getaways will be some of the best memories they have.  Not only for the great places they’ve seen or cool things they’ve done, but mostly because they were things we did as a family.  Memories of undivided attention from mom and dad. 

The key is spending the time and building the relationships with our kids and as a family. The trips don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but you do need to be intentional about it.

family making s'mores at Barnsley Resort
making s’mores!

You can’t sit around and wait on these things to happen. Plan them. Get out your calendar and look at options several months out. Otherwise, the days will slowly pass you by, and before you know it, the opportunity will be gone.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that *@!$ mountain.”

Jack Kerouac

That jar is emptying by the day. How many weeks do you have left with your kids?  How are you going to spend that time?

For us, that means we decided to stop putting off all of our dream trips.  We adjust plans and include the kids, allowing for the dream trips with much needed family time built in.  It means more “adventure days” close to home, even though we’re both exhausted from a long week at work.

ending another fun-filled adventure day

It means slowing down and soaking in the time we do have.  It means experiencing new places and cultures together, making memories that will last a lifetime.  Because, in the end, the memories are the only thing we can guarantee we’ll have when we’re old and gray.   

What does it mean for you?

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  • Reply
    January 23, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    ok– now you have me crying!!! No really– this is a great post and definitely has me thinking!!

    • Reply
      January 23, 2020 at 7:42 pm

      Sorry I made you cry, but so glad you liked it!

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