Back when the kids were small, let’s face it: “Vacation” was anything but.
“Vacation” with kids could even feel infinitely harder than normal life — with cranky babies on board, gear strapped so high onto the roof we could barely squeeze under bridges, and us nowhere near a washing machine or a working toilet when we needed one. Which was all the time.
But I am here to testify, now that our kids are 10 and 12, a real-live picture-perfect vacay is actually possible. I know because I just lived it.
Throughout our trip, my husband and I would find ourselves nudging each other (at least a million times a day) at the sight of other parents muscling through “vacation” with little kids. Each one wore a different version of the same sweaty pained expression.
We’d exchange knowing glances and pitying remarks like “GAWD, do you remember those days??”
We’d laugh conspiratorially at the memory of our own baby vacay trials, then look over at our relatively self-sufficient tweens climbing oceanside rocks without need of us or a Baby Bjørn. And we’d smile.
We felt a little guilty about how good it felt, but OH HOW WE SMILED.
Parents of wee ones still wetting themselves, chafing from seaside diaper rash, and requiring five wardrobe changes a day, we feel ya.
Oh sweet delirious well-meaning moms and dads, we see you on the side of I-95 with your toddler crouching to poop in that awful little pot of dysentery you have to tote in the back of the van.
We see you unsuccessfully applying sunscreen to the squealing greased pig that is your child.
We see your kid’s swim diaper so full it’s dragging below knee-level. (And we also see the future…how it’s about to crumble into a pile of crystalized urine diamonds on the carpeted floor of the motel.)
We see your baby eating fistfuls of sand, sobbing about what a dumb decision that was, then inexplicably doing it over and over and over again.
We see you at the candy store with the enraged toddler who cannot fathom why every single gummi worm, bear, egg, and shark cannot be his to cherish and get sick upon.
We see you manhandling that umbrella stroller with a small but freakishly heavy child strapped inside, hoisting it over subway turnstiles, up multiple flights of rocky stairs at the national park, and amongst throngs of sweaty people at the amusement park. Those folks don’t much enjoy having their ankles clunked by its tiny wheels, but you press on.
We, of course, don’t see you back at your room later, but we know what goes on there at this station in life. And no, it does not involve late nights watching free HBO.
We know you’re being forced into an 8:00 bedtime by a tyrannical toddler in a Pack & Play who requires dim lighting, whispering, and absolutely no channel flipping. We also know that the despot will wake up mad at regular intervals, thanks to the slamming doors of neighbors who have the nerve to arrive home slightly after dark.
We see you. We feel you. We know your pain, because we once were you.
But here’s the good news: We’re not you anymore. And you won’t be you forever.
Vacation with kids really, honestly and truly, does get easier.
One day, those babies will grow into relatively reasonable human beings who can enjoy outings longer than 45 minutes and tie their own shoes. (Until the kids become teenagers. Then I’ve heard they make you suffer long and hard for making them go places with you and look out the window occasionally.)
So parents of the toddler set, let’s just consider this period of life your Vacation Initiation. For a season, you must endure all kinds of feats of strength, endurance, and exhaustion for the sake of a few fleeting moments of vacation adorableness and wonder. (And believe me, you will cling to those moments for years).
But take heart: In a few years, when you’ve passed all the tests without fainting or dying or becoming an alcoholic, you’ll be full-fledged card-carrying members of the sisterhood (and/or brotherhood)!
You’ll be able to leave behind those slings, car seats, and the pointless swimmies of the pledge years behind, sport your letters proudly, and vacation like a boss. Or better yet, like a Brady (until you find a tiki doll washed up on the shore, then all bets are off).
When that day comes, you will have earned yourself a pound of maple nut fudge and the best commemorative T-shirt money can buy in all of North Myrtle Beach.
That, and another vacation.