One of the things I have found most satisfying as a parent is defining special occasions and major lessons with a memorable trip. In previous posts I have discussed (1) the kindergarten right of passage trip I took with my first son, (2) a trip we took when he was especially discouraged at school, and (3) the kindergarten right of passage with my youngest son.

This post is about our fourth “special trip” – this is now a technical term in our family referring to a trip I take with one or both of our boys to mark a special occasion or teach a particular lesson.

Our recent trip was unique in that it was not a “right of passage” trip for one son or triggered by a difficult life circumstance. Based upon the incredible memories we created on the earlier trips (see concluding note), it was a trip we wanted to take together.

On this trip I had two primary objectives:

  1. As a father who is firm in discipline and structure of our home, I wanted to ensure there was a balance in rules and relationship in my parenting. I believe in the adage “rules without relationship equal rebellion.” The opposite is also true, but I don’t fear that imbalance in myself (at least until I become a grandparent).
  2. Create an opportunity to speak to a key area of growth in each son during a positive, memorable occasion. In this case, the issue was the role of speech in the character of a young man. The main passage we talked about on a couple of occasions was James 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body.”
    • My rising third grader is in a stage of cognitive development where his critical thinking skills and problem solving skills are emerging. The result is offering a better solution to a large percentage of things adults ask of him – non-malicious backtalk.
    • My rising first grader, who idolizes his big brother, can be a bit loose with the truth when it means appearing bigger or doing an unpleasant task – lying.
    • I wanted to describe these patterns in a setting where it was beyond doubt that I was “for them” and offer a challenge be alert to and grow in those areas.

As for the itinerary of the trip we had a few planned activities: go to Sliding Rock in the mountains of North Carolina to coast down a waterfall, go to Six Flags because my oldest loves roller coasters, and go to the Georgia Aquarium because my youngest wanted to take his brother to what he saw the year before. We found a few other adventures along the way (pictures here).

Here are my thoughts on the trip.

  • Traditions are starting to form which add to the anticipation and nostalgia of these trips – things as simple as starting with a McDonald’s cinnamelt breakfast and ending with an Applebee’s two-for-twenty dinner to review the trip.
  • I like having at least one item on the trip that stretches their sense of adventure. In this case it was riding the waterfall ($1 per person) and then we spontaneously added rock climbing at the Bass Pro Shop ($3 per person). I want my boys to have a sense that they can do anything and have fun doing it.
  • Working in assertive life lessons is something that these trips offer the opportunity to teach – pumping gas, checking into a hotel, or ordering at a restaurant.
  • Having 72 uninterrupted hours to hear my boys chatter and play, while getting to be a part of it all, was a blessing when most often I get a couple of hours at the end of the day.
  • Finding an unexpected waterfall and spending an hour trying to catch tiny brim with our bare hands was a great memory. Leaving room for these unplanned moments adds to the sense that these trips are an adventure.
  • Sliding Rock was a complete bomb – too cold for my boys to enjoy. I had to be okay with that. The waterfall more than made up for it.
  • Six Flags faced a similar challenge. In the middle of the day when it was hot and lines were long, the boys were down on the experience. It was tempting to scold them about how special this time was and how grateful they should be. But I managed to keep them going. About 3pm the lines shortened and we found our favorite coaster (the Ninja). After that I couldn’t get them to leave the park until 8pm.
  • Waiting until the week before to book the hotel at allowed us to get a great rate on a four star hotel; almost at a two star price (the commercials didn’t lie on this one and my boys were impressed).
  • Getting to see the excitement and pride on my 6 year old’s face when he rode a roller coaster with his eyes open for the first time was priceless. He was beaming and couldn’t stop asking, “Can we do it again?” I want to share as many of those moments as I can.
  • Meals are a great time to review what has happened on the trip to build the sense of story that develops. This builds the sense that we’re doing something special.
  • The travel legs of the trip can be important for younger kids to catch a nap if activities push you past their bedtime.
  • Both times we did our Bible study we reviewed the same passage and these ideas. It was great that at the end of the trip both boys could articulate where they needed to grow and talk about it without a sense of discouragement or shame.
  • Walking through downtown Atlanta, from the hotel to the aquarium, we saw several homeless people and spoke to one man. This was an opportunity to talk to my boys about suffering, choices, and generosity.
  • While in Atlanta the boys commented many times on the size of the city. This allowed us to talk about how important cities are in the advancement of the gospel; planting a little missions-DNA into their thinking process.
  • We got to read a map and navigate streets of a major city as we looked for our Dunkin Donuts for breakfast; another adventure and instructional moment for young boys.
  • Having our “big meal” at the end to review the trip was great. It slowed us down for conversation as we waited for our meal and then dessert. It was another opportunity to solidify the stories of the trip in their memory and remind them why we took the trip.

Note from Previous Trips: My mom took the pictures from our two right of passage trips and made children books for each boy using This is a book both boys love to get out each time we have company over. It is incredible to hear the amount of detail they can remember (i.e., events, conversations, etc…) and how excited they get to tell the story of the “special trips.”

These are a great keepsake and a way to get the boys to review these trips in their minds many times. Reviewing these books and seeing others get excited about our adventures build the sense that these will be memorable times. I build a sense of excitement in them and me for Special Trip V (stay tuned).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.