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Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Phuket Experiment: More Than Just a Holiday

It started out at first as a sense of anticipation - I was busy packing for our upcoming trip to the Southern islands of Phuket and Krabi in Thailand last month, when it suddenly dawned on me how precious the time was going to be and just how much I was looking forward to spending two whole weeks with my husband and son, just the three of us, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

I had been waiting for the break from housework and the everyday routines of life, but as I thought about all our previous trips, I realised that our holidays have been more than that. They have been times of building into one another's lives and having the luxury of space and personal moments to make invaluable deposits into one another's love tanks. Holidays have also been a time to work on areas of growth we have been wanting to see at a particular stage in time, in our marital and familial lives collectively. Moreover, we have noticed that our son seems to blossom the most during the times of pure, unadulterated attention from the both of us. These have seemed to be the times he has chosen to cross significant developmental milestones and to achieve a greater awareness of himself and others.

So I thought, why not then make it a much more intentional exercise, an experiment of sorts? Why not dare ourselves to think bigger and build deeper, and try our best to make the precious time count for much more in the longer term? It was somewhat of a scary thought as I did not know if it would work, and so I decided to call it an experiment. I  immediately shared the idea with my husband, who enthusiastically agreed. We would call it the Phuket Experiment. The objective: to select an area that we have been wanting to work on, either in our marriage or in our parenting journey, and to implement that idea as a goal for a day of our holiday. At the end of each day, we would review how it went, and hopefully some of these short goals would become longer term ones for our family. It was not meant to be anything too ambitious. We just wanted to try out some of the ideas that had been on our minds but that we did not have time to experiment with in the busyness of our everyday life.

We decided to take turns setting the goals for each day. The first day, we started with something small - to eat healthy and try to improve the general health of our family. Z had been having a bout of stomach flu just before the trip, and we wanted to consciously choose meals that day which would help to nourish and nurse him back to good health. As for the parents, we decided to eat all the salad on our plates that day and for the rest of the trip, including the garnishing!

We moved on to other goals. There was the day we decided not to say anything critical about other people. It was liberating to approach the day with a grateful spirit and not a complaining spirit. Then there was the day we decided to help Z to be more polite, and another day when we decided to try not to use "good/ bad boy" in our speech but instead to affirm him more specifically for aspects of his behaviour. We also had a day of learning to be grateful for the little things, and a day of learning how to play make-believe with Z, after reading the work of Stanley Greenspan. Yet another day was spent with the goal of learning to be more conscious of one another's needs. Mark wanted to be more attuned to Z's needs and I wanted to be more attuned to Mark's - he was used to taking care of me and for me, of Zeph, so it was a nice role reversal! 

It was exciting to embark on a new goal each day, although some of the goals were spread over the course of two days when we felt we needed to work on them further. Most of the time, we found ourselves not only trying out a new goal, but also continuing to practise the ones we had previously set in motion. Then there were goals we decided to take home with us and continue working on, and are still continuing to pursue even now, a week after the trip! The effects have been priceless. We have seen Z blooming under our watchful attention. His smiles lit up each day, content in the conscious presence of his Daddy and Mummy. He surprised us with new words and empathetic behaviour, and even with slowly lengthening attention. One night, he sat in bed listening to me read him a whole chapter from The Little House on the Prairie!

Most significant to me was the goal of adopting a worshipful attitude throughout the day, culminating in a time of family worship. I had truthfully been rather disappointed as we had not been able to achieve the goal the day we had set out to work on it, due to Z being very tired that evening and falling asleep before our time of worship. We decided to carry the goal forward to the next day, and I decided to stop worrying about it. Mark reminded me that these things were not to be rushed and were divinely appointed.

It happened when we least expected it. I will never forget the scene on a beach far away from the maddening crowds. The neon-lit sky above was slowly dimming on the horizon, vast waters still sparkling like a sea of diamonds; the soft sand spreading out beneath our feet.  Our little son raised his hands to the sky, praising our Creator with all of his little being. He was learning what it meant to worship the God of the universe, newly conscious of what we had been singing to him throughout the trip - songs about the Lord of the sunshine and rain, of good times and pain, of the mountains and sea. Z was witnessing the beauty of creation for himself at the tender age of two, when it seems like you're seeing everything as if for the first time. That day, we sang our final song for the day as the sky dimmed. We thanked God for His work in our lives. Our Phuket Experiment was only beginning.

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