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Summer Vacations: Fun or Frustrating

A group of smiling kids running a trail near a lake with trees in the background

At the advice of some wonderful people who’s opinion I greatly value, I’m taking a different direction in my writing, at least periodically. The inner geek is sure to surface from time to time. Until the geek rises again, I’m going to be writing from a more conversational tone.

As I surf social media this summer, I’ve been reading a lot of posts from parents who are struggling during the summer. The lack of structure that their children need to feel comfortable and safe requires a lot of effort to replace.It can be absolutely exhausting. I remember when my children were toddlers and we were working on a budget for the following year I told my husband he better be sure to budget for some summer camps to save my sanity. I’ve read the “our vacation is wonderful” posts from friends whose children have not yet been forced to confront adult issues. I’ve read the “vacation tragedy” stories of parents trying to build connection and experiencing enormous amounts of stress in the process. I’ve taken a lot of very diverse summer vacations in my lifetime. As a child all our ‘vacations’ were trips to visit extended family. I remember long road trips between the Houston area and St. Louis. Back in the day the speed limit was 75 mph and my mother could make the 900 mile trip is 10 hours…you do the math. We only stopped when we needed gas and when we got gas we went to the bathroom. There were a lot of Sonic slushes and cassette tapes on a battery operated player that we’d have to flip to the other side so mom could drive. I don’t know how often we went but that pattern was the same every trip. If I remember correctly, when my maternal grandmother died those trips stopped completely. We usually stayed at her house. I don’t remember much about it except the unfinished basement, the peanut butter cups she kept in the freezer, and the nasty frozen fried chicken that was one of her favorite foods. As a nanny I traveled with employers on their vacations on several occasions. I spent half of two summers road tripping to Cushing Island Maine with my D.C. area employer’s family and her best friends family. At the time 1989 and 1990 the only media on the island was radio and the only car belonged to the island caretaker. It was a beautiful and healing place. The family I was working for had lost the husband/dad in a plane crash just a few months before. This island in the middle of the bay without television or newspapers was a wonderful escape for them. It truly allowed the children a place to connect with mom, each other, and their extended support network. There was playing outside from dawn to dark and board games inside after dinner or on rainy days. Groceries were bought before we departed Portland and the caretaker delivered them to each house. I remember taking a small carry on bag full of books for myself to read in my downtime. Children of trauma need a place where they can be children again. For many they will need help to discover what that means because they’ve never had the chance to experience the innocence of wild abandon that typically defines childhood. They need a place where they can safely connect to the earth, wind, sky, rocks, trees, and/or water. They need a place where they don’t have to question their safety and where an ‘authority’ figure is devoting all their time to feeding their spirits. Today it’s challenging for most families to take any extended time off from work. Especially if they have to consider reserving their time off for medical appointments, therapy visits, and school IEP meetings, to name a few things. Today as I was outside watering the garden and cutting some lavender for a dried bouquet I couldn’t help but think about the summers I’ve had as an adult and a parent in contrast to my own childhood summers. You see I was one of those children forced to deal with adult issues from a very early age. My adult vacations have definitely been an upgrade from my childhood vacations. I remember road trips to New Jersey to visit friends when I lived in the DC area. It was just me, and the open road and no one to tell me what to do (outside driving laws anyway). My adult vacations peaked with our honeymoon to France and Belgium (where the best aromatherapy was the Neuhaus chocolatier) and then our first anniversary trip (2nd honeymoon) to Kauai with my best friend and her husband, where the scent of plumeria still lingers in my memory. Lastly a pregnancy road trip to Napa Valley and San Francisco so I could show my husband some of the places I’d discovered while I had been on vacation with one of my employers. I could fill up on amazing San Francisco Sourdough; visit the Ghiradelli chocolate place, and the Jelly Belly factory. Ahh, those were the days before food allergies…. While it may seem like most of my vacations are food focused what really lingers in my memory is the scents and aromas of those places we visited. When I smell sourdough I’m transported back to San Francisco. When I smell good quality chocolate it reminds me of my honeymoon. I’m an admitted food snob but I’m most snobbish about chocolate. As parents our vacations have been all over the place and no place. Four days and three nights in Beijing doing the tourist thing before we became parents to virtual twins was our last adult only vacation. We’ve taken trips to Michigan and Texas to visit family. We took a family trip to the D.C. metro area so I could show the kids where I spent my “becoming an adult” years and visit the museums and meet my friends. We took the kids to Kauai for spring break one year and countless road-trips to California for surgery or Oregon for amazing gluten-free eats. I can still hear the waves of the Pacific Ocean if I close my eyes and think about it. I can almost taste the gluten-free potato latkes at our favorite gluten free bakery’s Sunday brunch. This year we did a ‘staycation’ and it was nice. I’m guessing by January I’ll be wishing we had gone somewhere and done something but that’s because I’m on post seizure driving restriction. This year no one really felt like a five hour drive to Portland and the thought of going through a TSA checkpoint with my past sexual trauma was enough to dissuade me from flying. My husband commutes a minimum of two hours a day and sometimes more than double that, so it was nice to have two weeks with him home and not be rushing here and there. He was able to sleep in and stay up late. We all got to spend quality time together. Of his two weeks off, we spent seven weekdays at home keeping it simple. We spent three days out of the second week playing tourists. Seeing parts of the city we don’t take the time for since we moved out of the city. So much of our culture today is hurry here and rush there. We don’t think we can take the time to create an aromatic sense of comfort and safety. My hypothesis is this is what makes the network marketing essential oils folks so appealing. So many families are working hard to keep the lights on and the roof overhead so to speak. Many of the families I work with are grasping at any promise of an easy fix that comes their way. I’m reminded of my favorite quote by Rafe Esquith, “There are no shortcuts.” Buying essential oils when you don’t know how to properly use them for the need at hand is a waste of money and often an exercise in disconnection when the result of said use is an adverse reaction. The irony is some of the best ‘home’ aromas are not only inexpensive and easy; they also save time. While for me nothing says home like the smell of fresh bread out of the oven, who has time for that? But if gluten isn’t an issue you can buy frozen bread rolls and get the same affect. When I make gluten-free bread I do three loaves at a time and use at least one loaf of dough to put in the freezer for later baking. I’m also finding new ways to have that “homey” smell without the gluten and carbs. I’m using my crockpot. Being the food snob I am, I buy a quarter of a grass-fed steer every year directly from the rancher. While I’m personally not a fan of ‘crockpot meat’ my family couldn’t care less. So yesterday I put an arm roast in the crockpot with a pint of enchilada sauce, a cup of chicken bone broth, and a 4 oz. can of organic diced green chilies (thanks Trader Joes). My purpose here had many layers. First layer is that my son’s favorite meal is my homemade enchiladas. Not for nothing I grew up in a Tex-Mex restaurant I guess. Yesterday our house smelled of this wonderful beefy, warm, and mildly spicy, aroma. When the roast was done I shredded the meat and poured the sauce over it. Then I put it in the fridge for today. Second layer, today I’m teaching my son another way to make enchiladas. I make enchiladas at least half a dozen ways. Today as we make those enchiladas we’ll be connecting on an aromatic and kinesthetic level. I’ll also be ensuring he has something to eat tonight that will be protein dense and comforting for him. The last layer of this cake is not quite as pleasant. You see tomorrow my son is going in for surgery…again. We weren’t expecting this surgery and as surgeries go it’s a relatively minor procedure. However, my son hasn’t had a surgery in five years and he is understandably a little worried. He’s had somewhere between 4-6 surgeries. I’ve sadly lost count due to my epileptic brain. I remember four clearly and think there may have been an extra flight here or there to touch up things. My son’s main concern for his surgery tomorrow is the smell. What he remembers most from his previous surgeries is the hideous smell of the gas they used to put him to sleep and the nausea that came when he awoke. In taking some very easy steps the couple of days before surgery, I’m filling my son with aromas that he finds comforting. Not all aromatic comfort needs to come in the form of a distilled essential oil. Distilled essential oils are the heavy hitters. Today while my son has his time at the computer I loaded the diffuser to run intermittently with a blend I made to reduce his anxiousness. When his computer time is up we’ll start making the enchiladas. As we make the enchiladas we’ll have a chance to talk and connect and he’ll smell the warm, beefy, mildly spicy scent of the enchiladas. As the enchiladas bake their aroma will replace the diffuser. Tonight before bed I may or may not need to use proper aromatherapy with him to help him relax enough to get to sleep. I’ll probably sleep in my recliner so I can keep an ear on him. I’m waiting for the anesthesiologist to be assigned to his case so I can talk to them about creating a wee custom blend that can be rubbed on the gas mask to help my son relax in the OR suite. I already have prepared a post op nausea blend for him. I’m thankful that my clinical aromatherapy education has provided me with the knowledge I need to support my son’s mental and emotional wellness without jeopardizing his physical health. There are essential oils that would be inadvisable to use prior to surgery. Knowing the difference helps support connection with my son by safely providing him the palliative care he needs in his moment of surgical anxiousness. I encourage my readers to look for the little things that save you time and money while also feeding your soul and the spirit of your family. Nothing says home like the scents from the stove, oven, or crockpot that permeate your family dwelling place turning a house into a home. I remember one busy summer freezing gallon size bags of fresh Roma tomatoes that had been washed and dried when I was too busy to can them. Several months later in the dead of winter I put them in the crockpot frozen and cooked them on low for many hours. My entire house smelled like a fresh cut vine-ripened tomato. It took two full days to make that crockpot of pasta sauce but it was the most amazing sauce I’d ever eaten. At the beginning of summer I asked each of my children to tell me three things they’d like to eat more often. Working from that list I’m teaching each of them to make those three items. The geek in me is doing this for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that I’m pragmatic and with my epilepsy I never know when my kids will have to take over caring for themselves. The mama bear in me does it because I don’t want those recipes to be lost to them when I’m gone. I don’t cook from cookbooks. In the kitchen is where I am my most artistic. I’m a little bit of this and a bit more of that type of cook. When my children are older and living on their own and they think of me, I want them to remember they were always surrounded by happy smells and good healthy food. Because while they may not understand or appreciate it now, I know there will come a time in the future when they do. For my basic enchilada recipe, please visit my Facebook business page: I'll get that up soon. My daughter wants to walk to the library to make sure she has some books to read while her brother is in surgery tomorrow. © 2017 Cynthia Tamlyn-CCA DISCLAIMER THIS BLOG IS FOR INFORMATIONAL & EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN DOES NOT CONSTITUTE, PREEMPT, OR SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE NOR IS IT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, CURE, TREAT, OR PREVENT DISEASE OR HEALTH ISSUES.ALWAYS CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE USING OR APPLYING ANY OF THE SUGGESTIONS CONTAINED ON THIS BLOG.ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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