I didn’t think it was a good idea to go.
We were just beginning to recover from the financial stress of rehab bills and treatment costs, Chris being unable to work, and living with very little income.
It felt irresponsible to take a vacation.
When I talked through my worries and fears with my counselor, she encouraged me to let Chris decide. So much of our relationship the past few years had been me leading and making all the choices because when I tried to involve Chris, he would avoid committing or helping at all cost. He would agree with me even as I asked for help in my decision or a conversation about a choice.
So Lisa said, “Let Chris decide whether you go or not.”
Interesting. Okay. I’ll let Chris decide.
We had already let the girls know vacation might be postponed. While they don’t need specifics or enough information to worry about anything, I believe it’s important to talk to our daughters about money and the choices we’re making with our money. We talked about the big car repair expense we had recently and how it felt too tight to go on vacation right now because vacations cost money and it might not be the best use of money at this moment.
They understood but were bummed.
A week before we were supposed to leave, Chris said we should go.
And so we went to New Orleans for spring break.
I wanted to go because VACATION. But I also didn’t want to go because ADULT RESPONSIBILITIES weigh heavy on me. Allowing Chris to decide meant I didn’t shoulder all the weight of our decision. Allowing Chris to decide meant I got to follow someone else’s lead.
It felt good, but it also made me nervous.
A year ago, I would not have wanted or trusted Chris’ decision-making skills. I didn’t yet know he was spending his days and evenings drinking in secret, but I knew I couldn’t trust him. Now with over five months of sobriety, hard work, and a morning routine that involves AA recovery books and the Bible, I had seen enough action (not words, because those don’t hold much weight with me…) to know he was acting with a clear head and in the best interest of our family.
It took a long time to get to that point. There were times I never thought it could happen.
But here we are, seeing the fruit–finally–of a long, hard road where Chris is working hard, not just me.
And so we went to New Orleans for spring break.
It was just what we needed. For the first time in months, we weren’t at home living in a house where so much hurt still resided. We weren’t running away from the hurting and healing, but we were taking a short break from it.
We did a lot of nothing on vacation. I have a hard time doing nothing at home, but I’m an expert at doing nothing on vacation and my family appreciates the break from constantly-moving-and-doing Mom.
I appreciate the new eyes I gained for my husband on vacation. I got to remember the fun parts of Chris, the parts that make him a great dad, the parts where he loves adventure and learning and exploring.
We spent time with friends who have been with us through the twists and turns of the past year, friends who were with us during the first rehab stint in 2010. Friends who forgive and guide and pray for us even as they themselves have been hurt and lied to in this mess. The most powerful examples of Jesus are often found outside the walls of a church and getting to do life with people who live thousands of miles away from us but still show up when they’re needed is humbling.
It doesn’t hurt that our girls love each other and get along well either.
We went to New Orleans for spring break and while we were gone, the calendar turned to six months of sobriety for Chris Graham. The day was quiet with no mention of what the number meant. Chris is proud of his sobriety, but still carries the shame and embarrassment of what led up to his last day of drinking. So milestones are bittersweet. We acknowledge them in small ways and then move on. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the work behind him is good too.
The decision to take a vacation made me worry. I didn’t think much of the stress I was causing myself, because I am so used to carrying the weight of our family’s well-being and health on my back. Making sure all the bills are paid, making sure we’re all in counseling, making sure we’re saying I love you and backing it up with our actions, making sure everyone feels safe and secure, making sure there is laughter and lightness, making sure my kids get to be kids and that they have a healthy mom and a safe dad.
But with the vacation decision, I got to see a glimpse of what healthy marriages do. I got to feel what it was like to not carry everything on your own, to rely on your spouse to also make wise and thought-out decisions, and to trust them. I got to see what shouldering a burden equally looks like.
It feels lighter when you do that.
It looks like communication and health when you do that.
It was, perhaps, the first time I got excited for what’s to come. I got a hint at what a healthy, balanced relationship can look like, and I got hopeful for the future.
We went to New Orleans for spring break, and it was good.
If you follow me on Instagram (@themarygraham), you know that our trip was full of amazing sights, delicious food, and quiet rest. I had lots of questions about where we stayed and where we went, so below are the details if you’re interested in camping near New Orleans in the most luxurious campground you’ve ever been to and eating delicious food with your family.
-On the drive down, we stayed in Cave City, Kentucky for the night. We had planned to boondock (just pull in somewhere, like a Wal-mart, to sleep without unhooking or plugging in), but we didn’t make it far enough south to get to warm weather so we had to pay for a spot and turn on the heat. So we camped at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Mammoth Cave and spent time at Dinosaur World the next morning before getting back on the road. The girls (and Blue, because it’s dog friendly) loved Dinosaur World. I don’t think we’ll do another Dinosaur World because once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, but it was a fun one-time spot. (We’ve camped near here before when visiting Mammoth Cave and also highly recommend the KOA at Horse Cave. We stayed there over the Memorial Day weekend a few years ago, and the place was clean, had cute animals on a small farm, and put on a great fireworks show.)
-We stayed at the amazing Reunion Lake RV Resort in Ponchatoula, Louisiana for the majority of our trip. It looks good online, almost too good to be true. But when we pulled in, I realized it was even better in person. We stayed in a spot overlooking the lake (site 159, to be exact) and only a stroll away from the lazy river, swim-up bar, adult pool and hot tub, and the family pool. Oh, and also near the mini-golf course, playground, and the basketball courts. The last two days of our stay were spent watching them build a huge water attraction/obstacle course in the lake near us. We had amazing 80 degree weather most days, but their busy season starts April 1st and I can just imagine how busy and exciting this place is in the summer. If you have a camper, put this place on your list. There’s also a restaurant, game room, bar, and a Sonic Drive-Thru at the entrance. You could park your rig here and not need to leave all week.
-From Reunion Resort, you’re within a 10-15 minute drive to tons of great local places to eat. Two we tried and really loved were Our Mom’s Restaurant & Bar in nearby Hammond (spend an evening walking around their main street) and Habanero’s in Covington (their homemade chips and salsa plus the bacon-wrapped BBQ shrimp tacos were a hit).
-One afternoon we ventured to Kliebert’s Turtle and Alligator Farm and had an unforgettable experience. Their website claims the farm was established in 1957 by the original “Swamp People” and I would one-million percent vouch for this claim. Guys, I want you to visit this place, because it will be memorable, but also it will scar you a little? I don’t even know how to explain it. The girls got to sit on lots of animals, even ones we probably shouldn’t have. Our guide (who until a few weeks ago, was a waitress at a local restaurant) WRESTLED an alligator in bare feet so she could tape his mouth shut so we could all pet and sit on him. It made me so nervous and I did have a little mental breakdown while trying to be adventurous, but you only get to see that madness if you follow me on Instagram. I get sweaty and giggle/cry if I think about it too much. But seriously, visit this place and then tell your friends. It’s the weirdest experience ever and I don’t want you to miss it.
-Between the two of us, Chris and I have been to New Orleans six or seven times so we didn’t do much of the typical Canal Street or neighboring areas visits. We didn’t have the desire and kids probably shouldn’t go there. But we did visit Jackson Square, shop at the French Market, watch beignets being made at Cafe du Monde (and eat at Cafe du Monde…), and enjoy gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice at the Gumbo Shop. If you’ve got a Jr. Ranger badge collector, there are a few National Park places to explore near the water as well as a children’s museum and aquarium.
-We had planned to spend one last day in New Orleans before heading home, but a pretty wicked storm rolled in and so we packed up early and headed north. We had dinner in Bessemer, Alabama, at the delicious Bob Sykes B-B-Q and ended the night in Huntsville, Alabama, where we slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot (it’s where all the cool people camp, FYI…) then walked into the U.S. Space & Rocket Center the minute it opened the next morning. This is where they hold space camp, and since it was spring break, we braced ourselves for tons of kids and field trips, but apparently if you go right when it opens, the place is empty and we got to do everything we wanted with no waiting. By 11:00 things were getting crowded and lines were getting insane. We stayed until lunchtime and then hit the road home. You could easily spend a full day (or more) there, but it was at the end of our trip, we were getting tired, and ready to be home. But if you’re near Huntsville, definitely visit the Space & Rocket Center.
So glad to see all of you enjoying life and being together.
Thanks, Susie. It’s nice, for sure.