Since my boys have been old enough to talk, it has been an intention of mine to use special events to frame special conversations. I wrote about the first of these after taking my older on a “right of passage trip” before he entered kindergarten. He began calling it our “special trip” and the title stuck. We took our second “special trip” this weekend.
This trip was triggered by a life lesson more than a life event. In first grade, my oldest son is very discouraged by the unruliness of his classmates. As a collective punishment, he has missed recess, had silent lunch, and faced other negative consequences (a big deal to a social, people-pleasing, perfectionist seven year old). Many days after school he would tell me, “Papa, I’m mad… This isn’t fair… I’m sad.” We could see his vigor of life lessening.
At a parent-teacher conference, his teacher confirmed that he was behaving well and commented that his efforts to motivate his classmates to follow instructions were “exceptional” (proud parent has to add that). So Sallie and I realized it was a time to try to (a) encourage him and (b) teach him about the burden that can come with being a light in a dark place.
Hence, we planned “Special Trip II.” The itinerary was to attend our first college football game, go out for steaks (our four year old’s favorite good), stay at a hotel with an indoor pool, and go to a local farm for a day of fun (pictures available on Facebook). The purpose was to teach two lessons:
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” I Peter 4:19
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
We had a great time at the football game. In the third quarter my extroverted, eldest son looked at me and said, “Papa, I feel like I know everyone here.” He had initiated many conversations. We got steaks on Applebee’s 2 for $20 menu and my youngest ate until his belly bulged. We went to the hotel and swam for an hour with the pool to ourselves before we relaxed in the hot tub.
That’s when I started the conversation about school. We both talked for a while and then I brought up I Peter 4. We both talked for a while longer then I brought up Matthew 5. Then we decided to play more in the pool. They chased me so much around the pool that my feet are still bruised as I type. My prayer and purpose was that he will remember that conversation because it was in a hot tub at a nice hotel. My prayer and observation is that he was able to receive it as words of encouragement rather than a “do better… get over it” talk because it was part of a rewards trip.
We went back up to the room and I got out my Bible and showed them the passages we talked about. They asked me questions about why those passages were marked in different colors in my Bible. After a little more conversation we wrestled in the bed and then fell asleep watching football together.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and swam more before they decided we needed to work out in the hotel fitness center (another “learning experience” they genuinely loved). We got chili-cheese conies at Sonic for lunch (my seven year old’s favorite food) before going to Vollmer’s Farm for the afternoon (if you live within driving distance of Bunn, NC this is a must-do family event). We exhausted ourselves for the next four hours. My youngest fell asleep on the way home and my seven year old initiated more conversation about school and how to respond to his friends.
My favorite quote of the trip happened in that conversation. My seven old said he wished I was his school teacher because, “It would take someone like you Papa to change [name of disruptive student] or somebody else who goes by the name Papa… you know, God.” Then as he was making elaborate plans to impact students in his class, he said, “I am just going to keep being an example and saying good words to [name]. I hope they will sink into his heart and change him.” Shortly after that we woke up little brother and pulled off to get ice cream.
As we ate, I asked them what their favorite part of the trip was. The oldest said it was swimming at the hotel pool and watching TV after bedtime. The youngest said it was wrestling in the bed and working out in the fitness center. Then I asked them if they knew what my favorite part of the trip. My oldest blushed, trying to look slightly annoyed, and said, “I know, Papa, it was spending time with us.”
Here is what I think I have learned from my first two attempts at “special trips.”
- Stay at a hotel with a pool. That means the world to my boys. They enjoy it (and therefore remember it) more than anything else we do.
- Keep the teaching points to one or two things and tie the teaching times to something memorable. Let the themes of the trip echo through several shorter conversations rather than longer talks.
- Enjoy yourself. I wouldn’t trade these first two trips for something ten times the monetary cost the trips. From what I can tell it was my enjoyment of the time that prevented the messages from overpowering the trips.
- Reminisce about the special trip after you get back home. This can help reinforce the key messages of the trip without having to belabor the key messages. It is easier to avoid “talk-malaise” when I ask, “Do you remember what we talked about at the campfire on our first special trip?”