Last week the whole family packed up and flew to Orlando to spend five days at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Universal Studios theme parks. We had won a vacation and entry to Mom It Forward's inaugural Family Forward Retreat, so we were well aware that this was a special, once-in-a-lifetime treat. We knew we would enjoy the theme parks. We knew we would enjoy the hotel. We knew we would enjoy all the perks that came with being Family Forward attendees (special meet-and-greet opportunities with characters, a Blue Man Group show, an exclusive Harry Potter dessert party, fabulous swag).
But we had absolutely no idea how much we would enjoy the Family Forward Retreat itself.
To begin with, the Family Forward Retreat is completely different from all the other blogging conferences and events I have been to. Usually, even when family is invited, there are inevitably periods of time where bloggers go off into a session or talk, while spouses and kids do something else. The Family Forward Retreat is the first (and so far, only) conference I know of where families are integrated into each and every activity. I didn't have to spend time by myself, wondering what the others were doing and what fun I was missing. They didn't have to wish I was with them. They got to see what goes on at blogging conferences and how mommy gets to meet the people behind their favorite brands.
Even more amazing, Family Forward actually accomplished what it set out to do: strengthen family bonds and discover what makes your family special -- or as speaker Heather Johnson says, what makes you a Super Hero Family.
I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical. One of our sessions had family members deciding which animals best represented us, it seemed like all we could focus on were our negative traits -- I'm always stressed, 3Po is too loud, Jammy is always cranky when he's hungry, Alfie is always focusing on bedtimes, and The Pea is messy. How are we bonding? How can we ever call ourselves a Superhero Family acting like this?
But somehow, some way, over the course of those five days, all the Family Forward sessions and all our time in the theme parks worked its magic on my family. We really had a great time, and having all these wonderful new memories have indeed brought us closer! By the end of our trip, even discovering that our car battery had died and having to wait for a tow truck to come and give us a jump start did nothing to ruin our good mood.
Since then, I've had more time to reflect on our trip, and I've realized something amazing -- Heather Johnson was right, we are a Superhero Family! I even figured out what our Super Hero Powers are:
We are open to new experiences
One of our most important family traditions is trying new foods and never declaring we don't like something unless we've tried it once or twice. We took those open minds with us on vacation and opened them up even more. Alfie and the kids took part in all the Family Forward activities even though we had never done this before. We are loners at heart, but we went out of our way to make friends (and were rewarded by meeting our new BFFs -- Best Families Forever -- the Giles family!) When I said I wanted to try out the Disaster attraction at Universal Studios, 3Po complained long and loud -- he didn't want to wait in line, he didn't want to stand up the whole time, it was going to be a stupid show. None of us knew what the attraction was about, but we gently reminded him of our family mantra, and he reluctantly agreed to give it a try. Disaster turned out to be one of our favorite attractions!
We get into the spirit of things
When I saw the schedule of activities for the Family Forward retreat, I will admit I was vaguely worried that the kids would be bored. They are 9, 9 and 12, after all, and I dreaded hearing the word "lame". They would whine. They would bury their heads in a videogame.
None of that happened. They sat politely through all the talks. I shamefacedly admit that the only electronic device open during those sessions was mine (I defended myself to Alfie by saying that we are surrounded by bloggers; he countered by pointing out the irony of tweeting about a session focused on fostering more eye-time and less i-Time). They participated in everything and volunteered for everything.
Not only did they participate in all activities with a smile, they threw themselves into everything, heart and soul. We made the most awesome crafts, which we proudly wore throughout the conference. We had a heated discussion about which animals represented us. We teamed up with the Giles family and worked our butts off to win the Beat the Best competition! I could not have been prouder -- not of our win (although that was awesome), but of our winning attitude.
We are willing to make choices
There are so many things to do and see at Universal Studios Orlando, and we wanted to do it all! But as always, we were hampered by money and time. The kids knew that we couldn't afford to eat at all the restaurants they wanted, so we ate a packed lunch on our first day, had a couple of simple dinners in our hotel room, and ate cereal for breakfast instead of splurging on character breakfasts and themed restaurant dinners. We drank water instead of soda. We set a $20 limit for souvenirs. With the money we saved, we splurged on extra butterbeers and a luau on our last night. It's not easy for kids to economize when they see everyone with huge ice cream cones and Harry Potter scarves/wands/robes, but they didn't complain, and I love them dearly for it.
We care about each other's feelings
On our first night, at the Family Forward dessert party in Harry Potter's Wizarding World, 3Po had the good fortune of being selected for the Wand Choosing Ceremony at Ollivander's -- and Universal Studios generously presented him with his chosen wand as a prize. I didn't expect 3Po to feel so bad that his twin didn't have a wand that he offered to pay for half of it out of his own money! I also didn't expect The Pea to give up another chance to ride Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster the next day, so that Alfie and I would stop arguing about it, and so we could all go back to the Royal Pacific hotel and her brothers could get a chance to swim in their fabulous lagoon pool. Despite all their bickering, they really do care about each other.
When we fall, we get back up
With such early morning starts, action-packed days and late nights, it's almost inevitable that bodies and good moods get run down. Our low point found all five of us exhausted, with everyone wanting to do different things, and it left our tempers flaring. Things could have spiraled downward and we could have stayed angry at each other, but we all realized that this vacation was too precious to ruin with bad feelings and bad memories. We compromised, forgave and forgot, and by the next morning we were a family again, ready to face the world (the world of Springfield, that is!).
Once I wrote our Superhero powers down, I realized that we had been using them all along. It just took the Family Forward Retreat and a few moments of reflection to see it. I'm so proud of my Superhero Family, and so happy we had this chance to bond. Thanks, Family Forward, for helping us find our Superhero powers!