I felt especially joyful with anticipation as I sat with my husband at our departure gate at the Atlanta airport. The adorable couple across from us shared their favorite attractions in Aruba over the course their visits over the last 17 years. I felt especially excited for the opportunity to visit Aruba for the first time, to be gifted a reprieve from the Midwest winter, traveling with an awesome group from my husband's work, and especially lucky we had changed our flight plans last minute arriving in Atlanta the previous night to avoid the incoming winter storm that jeopardized making our connection to our final destination. I was ready for those warm trade winds and plenty of sunshine.
That is when it hit. My mother-in-law, who was caring for our three young children texted to let us know our daughter had just been diagnosed with influenza A. I could physically feel the joy drain from my body as the dread and guilt set in. I don't think I'm the only one with that annoying little voice that chimes in at the exact millisecond of feeling triggered. "What kind of parent am I? If I hadn't been so distracted preparing for our trip I would have noticed my daughter was sicker than I thought. I'm so selfish. I should have taken her to the doctor. I should have stayed back to take care of her." It quickly spiraled out of control. "If only I hadn't changed flights at the last minute I would be at home and not Atlanta, and would maybe be able to do something. I'm supposed to take care of my kids when they're sick. I am supposed to be the one to comfort and hold my daughter when she is sick and scared. I shouldn't be here. I didn't earn this trip, I'm only coming as a guest..." Notice all the "supposed to's" and "should's" and "shouldn't's."
Luckily, I have had some practice at this and soon recognized my thoughts were not helpful, kind, nor entirely true. I decided then and there I was not going to let my own guilty thoughts get in the way of enjoying a once in a lifetime vacation. All it took was a shift in thinking, a shift I controlled.
I traded my guilt for gratitude. Rather than feeling guilty I had not recognized my daughter's symptoms as the flu I felt grateful she was well enough the few days prior to our departure that she played with her siblings, ate, and slept. Rather than feeling guilty it was my mother-in-law who had to take care of her, I felt incredibly grateful that I have a mother-in-law willing and able to care for our three children, and grateful I trust her to make the best decisions for our kids and provide the comfort and care I would have while we were away. I felt grateful for the additional support of my parents as they stepped in and helped wherever they could. I felt grateful that no one else in the house became ill, grateful my father-in-law came to help when work allowed. I am so grateful for our support system. Without them, we would not have been able to participate in a trip like this together. I am grateful for Facetime so I could lay eyes on my kiddos and do the kissing hand with my daughter 2,000 + miles away. (And grateful for Audrey Penn's book, The Kissing Hand so I had a tool to use when my daughter cried she missed us.) Likewise, I traded my guilt about not having earned this trip into gratitude that I had the opportunity to experience it, grateful for my husband's work, grateful they host rewards programs and trips such as this, grateful for fun travel companions.
I believe gratitude begets gratitude. As we experienced each excursion, each meal, the resort where we stayed, the people we met, the beautiful sights and sounds I could feel my gratitude grow that all these things exist and grateful the stars aligned in such a way and that I am able bodied enough to have experienced it all. It was an amazing trip. I am grateful I caught on to that annoying voice feeding me guilty thoughts at the airport before we boarded the plane for Aruba. I am grateful I made the conscious choice to make the shift to gratitude. I'm sure the guilt would have put a damper on my experience just as much as gratitude intensified the joy of the experience. I'm so grateful I chose gratitude.