Our family of four began our trek down into the Grand Canyon on a trail to Cedar Ridge—a spot known for its beautiful vista. It was late March, and we had hoped the snow and ice would have melted by the time we got there. It hadn’t. So, we gripped onto the ledge as we descended, crouching down, trying to avoid slipping on the ice below us. Without proper traction, it felt more like an ice rink. That’s when my eight-year-old daughter said, “I’m turning around, Mom. This doesn’t feel safe.”

She was right.

So, we all ventured back up to the top of the rim.

Sure, we were safe, but we all grumbled as we walked along the rim. There was no thrill up there for the kids, and no matter where we were, it all felt like the same view. Finally, after about two miles of hiking, we sat down in the dirt to eat lunch together. We nestled in a little circle, eating our sandwiches and hiking bribery—gummy bears. But even those didn’t sweeten the mood. The air felt heavy. Finally, I said, “OK, truth circle time, everyone. What are you feeling?”

My husband looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “Well, the Grand Canyon isn’t very grand now, is it?”

Then I said, “I have to admit: I wasn’t even excited to come here. It felt like something we had to do.”

Next, my 10-year-old son said, “This is the biggest waste of time in my entire LIFE.”

My daughter chimed in: “So, let’s leave then.”

We all exhaled. It felt so validating to speak our truths about this big day on our vacation. There was no judgment or shame. My husband and I didn’t make any speech about how lucky we are to even go on vacation (which, of course, we are). We just let out those complaints—and that’s it. So, after chatting (OK, venting) a bit longer, we took our daughter’s advice and left.

There was no use staying there and pushing through. We didn’t need to find the grand in the Grand Canyon just because everyone else seems to. Our experience was ours—and it sucked. So, we moved on.

You see, we spent the majority of our trip in Sedona, where we had a blast hiking up and down the red rocks. It wasn’t perfect, of course; traveling with family never is. There was a ton of bickering in the car and the hotel room, we got lost, and even had some bad meals. But overall, it was both fun and relaxing. So, when we got to the Grand Canyon, we had such high hopes. But hopes often don’t materialize.

The moment when we all aired our frustrations, though, turned into one of my favorite parts of the whole vacation because it led to an unpredictable connection. This prickly moment led to family growth. The ability to say how much we didn’t like something and that it was a giant letdown felt healing in a way. Because from there, we could pivot forward, together.

Thanks in large part to social media, we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have that perfect vacation. We want shots of our smiling kids in beautiful places. But as we all know, there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. There are meltdowns, disappointments, transportation nightmares, and accidents. And that’s OK. In fact, I urge all families to openly address those letdowns.

That way, our kids will grow up understanding that crappy things happen, even on an epic trip. But as a family, we can come up with solutions.

Sometimes the real magic can be found in the parts that just aren’t so great. Sometimes we don’t make it to that beautiful vista or we simply don’t think it’s as fantastic as everyone else does. Sometimes, the memories that make an imprint on our hearts are found in the journey together.

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