This year, for the first time, my teenager wasn't excited about our annual family holiday. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to be taking my three children to one of my favourite places; Tasmania.
I had visions of us swimming in the ocean, bodysurfing then relaxing on the beaches, exploring MONA and discussing artworks, strolling the docks around Hobart, eating fish and chips, hiking the tracks of Mount Wellington (Kunanyi) and taking big breaths of clean Tasmanian air while smiling at each other.
Obviously, this is just like an advertisement for the dream family trip to Tassie, and real life probably wouldn't measure up to it, but I was hoping for a version of the fantasy. I thought that if I added in some Wifi time for the kids, and some fine Tasmanian wine for me, I could pull it off.
But none of my children were at all interested.
Then, the teenager's friend invited him for a weekend at his family's beach house. The kid's mum said that she would happily have my teenager for a week if I was able to spare him. Initially, I refused. He's only 14 and I had fears that if I allowed this he would never come on a family trip again. Frankly, I'm not ready for the 'family holiday' era of our lives to be over just yet.
I cast my mind back to the holidays when I was 14. My siblings and I were forced to sit three abreast in the back seat of the Holden for endless road trips. My father's family lived 17 hours drive away, in country NSW, and we would often be wedged in, legs sticking to the hot vinyl of the car seats, fingers pointing, elbows nudging and tempers fraying; counting the sweltering, unbearable minutes until we reached our destination.
I would have given anything not to participate in those holidays, even though they provided opportunities for family connections that have been invaluable to me as an adult.
And so, rather than force my son to come with us and endure the family dynamics that thoroughly annoy a teenager, I gave him permission to choose. I made it clear that I wanted him to be with us and share the adventure, and that I would really miss him if he didn't come, but I also wanted him to know that I trust him to make good choices.
He made a list of pros and cons. On the pro side he had: fun, friends, the beach, and fun again.
On the cons, "the food". When I pressed him about the issue with food he admitted that he just needed to have something on the list. It was clear to me that he would choose to break away from us but it wasn't easy for him. He felt like he was betraying me and he didn't want to say yes to his friend's offer too quickly, in case he hurt my feelings.
Eventually, we all have to let go of our children, let them follow their own paths and create their own lives. I want my child to be happy and I'm glad that he has enriching friendships, and that his friend's parents like and trust him enough to welcome him into their family for a week. I'm thrilled that he has friends whose company he enjoys and that he's stepping out into the world,making his own memories, charting his own territory, choosing his own positive experiences.
In the end, it was strange to be away with only two of my three children. The change in dynamics was challenging. Their normal sibling squabbles and dramas were intensified due to lack of distractions and playmates. In our family, we have airport teams and my younger son felt the absence of his airport buddy quite keenly, even if he'd never admit it. My daughter was aghast at having to share a room with her non-favourite (at the moment) brother.
My teenager is one of my favourite people and I missed his conversation, his company, and the way he balances out the family dynamics.
I won't always allow this teenager the freedom to choose, because I do think he's too young to opt out completely from family life, but I'm glad he's had this experience and when the time comes, I'll offer the same choices to the younger children.
That said, our next holiday is going to be something like surfing in Hawaii, scuba diving in the Philippines or even Disneyland... somewhere a teenager couldn't possibly refuse