The table was decorated in a Winnie the Pooh theme, presents were wrapped, and Matt had picked up a beautiful berry topped glazed cake from the bakery. We were celebrating our first baby’s first birthday in Berlin, Germany, where we had just moved. It was just the three of us, and we wanted everything to be perfect. I had been planning the day for weeks. We lit the candle and gave our baby her first ever piece of cake. Maya dug right in and loved it! We took picture after picture as she sloppily ate that slice of cake with her stubby little fingers. Then we sat down to have a piece ourselves. After one bite we immediately realized it definitely wasn’t meant for a one year old — not even for a minor. It was berry cake drenched in rum!!
We fed our daughter rum cake on her first birthday?! I was so distraught that her first bite of of cake was full of liquor. But that day ended up being a beautiful and funny memory. It was a perfect day in fact – even if it wasn’t the perfect day that I had planned.
Accepting the detours
Fast forward 12 years to our recent bike trip up the Moselle River and I was reminded of that day in Berlin. We had a lovely morning of biking along the river as planned and still had 25 kilometers still to go to get to our guesthouse. I had plans of walking around that next little town and exploring the nearby castle. It wasn’t supposed to rain until that night. It was 1pm, and it started to pour.
We were getting drenched, and some legitimate complaints started coming in.
“Mom I can’t even see the bike path anymore!”
We stopped at a restaurant and ordered some hot chocolate. As we waited for our drinks I could feel myself becoming impatient and frustrated. I wanted so badly to keep going, knowing the later it gets, the more tired the kids get, and the harder it would be for them to bike 25 kilometers. I thought of all the plans we were missing.
The moment definitely started as one of frustration. I could have stared out waiting for the rain to let up and rushed us out the door. But when the cocoa hit the table, I decided to let go – to let go of my perfectly planned day. I fished a deck of Old Maid out my jacket pocket and we just played, talked and laughed — a lot. I don’t know for how long we sat there, but it was wonderful.
Once the storm let up, we biked for a couple of hours and made it to our guesthouse, late but happy. When I asked our girls at the end of our bike trip what their favorite part of the trip was, our oldest daughter mentioned that afternoon.
The perfectly planned year?
Matt and I are traveling with our three daughters and our Labradoodle around Europe for one year, while we road-school the kids and write and record stories for Around the World Stories. I have a definite vision for how this one year in Europe should go. I’ve set goals and made plans over plans. I had charts and lists and maps all over our bedroom walls before we left. But in the last two months since we left our home in the States, I am constantly reminded that I need to let go. Things will not always go as I planned. Things will go wrong. In my mind, I’m Rick Steves — effortlessly hopping from castle to cathedral to coastal village and hitting the coziest restaurants and staying in that hidden gem of a pension — A trip full of highlights. No hiccups. No wrong turns or bad translations. Only rainbows over mountains.
But in reality, on this trip, we’ve spent entire days in train stations trying to find Internet hotspots. We had our Airbnb apartment in Copenhagen cancelled hours before arriving. Two of us have broken our only pair of shoes – mid-bike trip. We’ve eaten way way too much restaurant schnitzel. And we had to sleep one night in a parking lot — the five of us – in a compact car (with our dog).
But we’re learning to appreciate those ‘not so perfect’ moments along with the highlights, and seeing the beauty in them. I keep reminding myself that not everything will go as planned and not everything will be perfect, and I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m hoping those moments help us grow. I’m hoping that we learn to be flexible — to be okay with the not-so-perfect times. I’m hoping it pushes the kids and us to try new things — to be open to other ways of doing things.
Sometimes the moments that are born out of mishap even end up being the highlights — and often they don’t. Sometimes a change in attitude can make the difference. Sometimes it can’t. Either way, those are the character building moments. Those are the moments that bring us closer together as a family.
As we continue this adventure, we hope that you follow along with us and share our highlights, lowlights and everything in between.