When we set out on this adventure of spending six weeks in Panama, we didn’t realize how much it would affect our family. We had never spent so much consecutive time together, done so many new things together, and been so far away from home together.
Before we left, we had a few expectations, or at least hopes about what we would gain from this experience. We wanted to grow closer as a family, get away from the routines of home, and gain a greater focus on what’s really important. We also wanted to learn a little Spanish, increase our appreciation for other cultures and how people in other places live, and become more grateful for what we have. This trip has done all of this and more.
Faith and Fear
What we didn’t expect was how all this extra time to talk and think would teach us about other things. One of our greatest realizations was how much we limit ourselves by fear, often without even knowing it. The bad things that happen in life aren’t usually things that you prepare for or think about. When bad things happen, they’re usually unexpected, and you can’t prepare for them anyway. You just need to deal with them when they come. We often waste our energy worrying about those things in advance, especially if we have no control over them. Preparation is good. Worry is not.
There were a lot of things to be afraid of when coming on this trip – a lot of things could have gone wrong. And we were probably overcautious in some areas. But if we had listened to our fears and stayed home, rather than pressing forward in faith, we never would have had this wonderful time together as a family. We also discovered a lot of other areas in life where we have fear, and after analyzing, found our fears mostly unwarranted. The girls even discovered this, having now overcome their fear of bugs. I think we will be living our lives with more faith and courage now than ever before.
I also discovered that I really could continue running my business from a remote location, just checking up on it once or twice a day (or less). We also loved not having the distraction of a telephone. Just hearing it ring causes Jennifer to tense up at home, so we’re thinking about getting rid of our phone – or at least turning the ringer and answering machine off and just using it for outbound calls. Too drastic? Not if it isn’t necessary – we prefer e-mail, since we can answer it on our own time. And friends and family will still have our cell phones if a call is necessary (which it usually isn’t).
A More Connected Family
As you can imagine, we had a lot of time on this trip to interact with each other as a family. It was wonderful to be able to not only watch our children have these new experiences, but to experience it with them! Jen and I had a lot of time to practice and talk about becoming better parents, and we learned some important things about how we parent, how our kids react and learn, and what our weaknesses and strengths are. Our overall feeling, however, is a much stronger connection between each member of our family. We feel like we know our kids better than before we left, and we love them more. We also feel more love and trust from them. To us, this is priceless. We have a renewed resolve to become better parents for these great children, to set better examples for them, and to get them at least through adolescence without ruining them. :)
We thought we might get really tired of being with our kids 24 hours a day, but we realized it’s actually a lot of fun! Whereas before, parenting often seemed like a chore, now it’s a joy. It’s not necessarily any easier, and we’re not necessarily any better at it. And yes, we do take breaks from them. But now more than ever, we love spending time with our kids, teaching them, watching them grow, and experiencing new things with them.
The other thing we didn’t expect was an increased desire to home school our children. I went over this a bit in another post, but I wanted to bring it up again here because it’s something we gained from our trip that was totally unexpected, and will have a huge impact on our family.
Gratitude and Self-Reliance
There were times in our solar-powered house in Bocas when we had neither power, nor water, and very limited food options – and it would cost over $50 to travel by boat to the nearest grocery store. Fortunately, Jen was extremely resourceful (one of her many talents) and was able to come up with some great meals from what we had. We were never able to use the television well in the house because there wasn’t enough sunlight to power both the television and the refrigerator. Most nights, we got ready for bed in the dark, both because we didn’t have power, and also so as not to attract the mosquitoes.
Experiencing this together was actually a lot of fun (except when the Internet went down – I did truly miss that :)). But it helped us gain a much greater appreciation for things like electricity and water which we take so much for granted at home. This experience, along with seeing how those in other small villages live, and our country’s current economic situation, also increased my feeling of urgency for becoming more self-reliant and prepared for emergencies. It makes me want to get more food and water storage, and even look for alternate sources of power. Many people in Panama are completely self-reliant, growing their own food, collecting and filtering their own water, and generating their own power. I had never seen that before.
Every night before bed, we continued to do our nightly ritual of singing a hymn, reading the scriptures together, and praying as a family. Our hymn diet wasn’t diverse. We alternated between English and Spanish versions of “I Am a Child of God” and “Families Can Be Together Forever”, as well as a few others like “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” and “Book of Mormon Stories”. Marie almost always requested “I Am a Child of God – in English”. :) At home, we usually read a verse or two from the scriptures, and then a story from the Friend magazine, or another book. Here, since we wanted to pack light, all we had for reading material was my iPhone, so our reading was entirely from the scriptures.
We started reading the Book of Mormon together this year, page by page, rather than just select chapters like last year. And we’re surprised by how much the girls are interested in it. Rather than just a few verses, the girls usually want me to keep reading and reading. Some nights we got through an entire chapter! This mostly happened during the times when we were without electricity, sitting in the dark. Probably because of the lack of distractions, darkness makes for a nice environment to read and discuss the scriptures. Now that I know our girls can take more, I think we’ll read for longer spurts once we get home as well (at least through these more interesting chapters of 1 Nephi).
Spanish and Panama
We all picked up quite a bit of Spanish, although not as much as I’d hoped. With all the moving around we did to different cities, I never got into a routine of studying for a certain amount of time each day, or anything like that. Most of what I picked up was from listening to Jen. I think if we were to do this again, and language learning was a strong goal, we would pick one spot to stay in for a few months, spend more time meeting the people around us, and take time to study every day. Still, I’m pleased with my progress as I can now actually pick out individual words in a sentence, and understand a lot of what was said.
We learned a lot about Panamanian geography and culture, and what it’s like in the different parts of the country. We gleaned so much more from this trip than if we had done a quick 1-2 week vacation or a few days’ tour of the country. We feel like we really experienced Panama! (Although some may dispute that because we never did ride their “red devil” buses or go to Kuna Yala). But we feel like it was just about the right amount of time to be gone, and that we did all we wanted to do.
A Priceless Adventure
Spending six weeks in Panama has been a fantastic adventure that I am so glad we got to experience, and I feel it was worth every sacrifice to make the effort. I believe it will have an impact on our family for years to come. I truly can say that I personally feel closer to my family than before we left. I feel like our love for each other is stronger. Our appreciation for others who are different from us is stronger. And I am a happier and better person because we went.
So, what will we do from here? Well, we’ll probably stick around Utah for a while, but we’re already looking at other places in the world for our next trip, which we want to make even longer. There is so much to gain from these extended trips that we can’t seem to get at home in quite the same way. So far we’re looking at New Zealand, The Philippines, Thailand, or Mexico, but are nowhere near a final decision of when or where. We just know that we want to do it again.