When Trapped on Vacation

Beth is a fellow Philly area mom blogger, and I got to meet her at our first Philly Blogger Meetup a few months ago.  She was running late and came in and immediately cracked a joke about her mom haircut.  She was cute and bubbly and fun, and I am looking forward to hanging out with her again in the near future.

“Take my booooogie! Take it nooooow!”

“No! I’m not going to take your boogie until you stop
screaming at me; you don’t speak to Mommy that way!”

“Now, now, nownownownownooooooow!”

“No, Samuel. You have to stop yelling at . . .”

“Take my boogie! Take
it now! Take it now! Take it now!”

And at this point my son began chanting his little ditty,
while holding out his finger, huge boogie attached. Our snotty interaction had startled the baby,
waking him from the necessary nap meant to get us all the way to the shore, and
he was now screaming right along with his brother and me. My husband? Silent. Horrified, I suppose, and
probably wishing he was back at work after all. Traffic? I’d say somewhere
between slow to stand-still. We were
probably still 45 minutes from our rented beach condo. We were all of two hours
into our “vacation” at this point.

When we pulled over at a bathroom-less picnic area along the
highway and walked in silence to a shaded area, I wondered what we’d gotten
ourselves into. Of course I knew traveling with kids was difficult – I’d had my
share of plane-trips-with-lap-child gone awry, but now that we had both baby,
Robby, and pre-schooler, Sam, it seemed we were in a different class
altogether.

And when we arrived at the condo and my husband headed to
the grocery store to get staples, leaving me with the kids in a new,
non-childproofed place on my own, I wondered more. After moving several pieces
of furniture to block the baby from the extremely open SPIRAL STAIRCASE in the
center of the living room and then dealing with Sam’s incessant attempts to
push the test button on the fire alarm, which was, for some reason, located at
floor level, I thought to myself, We’re
not going to make it. We’re seriously
going to have to go back home because I cannot do this for a week.
But . . . we’ll have to get back in the car
to get home . . . we’re trapped. Trapped
on vacation.

For the first two days of our trip I pouted. I guess I’d expected that if we were together
at a beautiful place and technically “on vacation” then everyone would be
happy. I’d assumed that Sam’s tantrums
would cease for one week, Robby’s random and inexplicable crankiness would
disappear, and anything approaching spousal bickering would be left
behind. So when every single one of
these joys continued without pause, I thought, Why bother? Why spend the money
and go to the trouble if no one is going to have fun anyway?

Suddenly I understood the phenomenon that had caught my
attention for years: The Angry Vacationing Family. You know who they are. You see them and notice them when you,
yourself, are doing great. It is clear
they are on a trip together, and they all look totally miserable. They are fighting, scowling, and being
sarcastic with each other. The parents are yelling at the kids and at each
other; the kids are misbehaving. I have
seen this family a countless number of times and always I wondered to myself
why they would take issue with each other under such perfect
circumstances. Well, now I knew: because
traveling with kids is freakin’ hard and those circumstances? They’re not always perfect.

There’s so much at stake when taking a trip, you know? The money has been spent, the time taken from
work, and the vacation itself is a limited amount of time in which we expect to
pack in all the fun/activity/relaxation possible. So, for example, when a certain
three-year-old’s breakfast-related tantrum results in the family not getting to
the beach that morning before the baby’s nap, it really does feel like a big
deal – it’s half a day gone, just like that! It makes you feel like you need a
vacation from your vacation.

By about the third day of our trip I relaxed my expectations;
I didn’t want to be That Family. And
really, if I was going to spend the whole time pouting then we might as well
get back in the car and head home. So I
let go of the anxiety of trying to get anywhere or do anything. If we didn’t make it to the beach that
afternoon because a nap went long, ok. If everyone was having a meltdown from
starvation so we didn’t have time to go out to dinner that night, cereal it
was. It was time to go with the flow –
that is, after all, what vacationing is all about, right? And any parent of a three-year-old can tell
you, once you let go of time constraints and trying to get them to do anything
within a certain period, easily more than half your problems are gone.

I’m not saying the tantrums, crankiness, or bickering totally
disappeared, but I didn’t dwell on it anymore. If two hours had to be devoted to eating breakfast then so be it; maybe
we’d make it to the beach that afternoon . . . or maybe not.

This simple change in attitude made all the difference. By
the end of the week both boys were braver about getting close to the waves and
the water. They became excellent diggers
of sand and splashers of water. My
husband and I mastered the art of applying sunscreen to squirming
children. One night after the boys were
asleep we even had a quiet dinner on the patio to celebrate
our anniversary, exhausted and happy from sand and sun. When I went out swimming by myself and came
within ten
feet of a pod of dolphins, I wished someone in my family had been out there
with me to experience it by my side, and I looked forward to the days when my
boys would be old enough to be out there with me on our vacations to come.

But when it was time to drive home, I couldn’t help but prepare
myself for the worst. I was sure the traffic would be horrible, the baby
screaming, and who knew what I might be expected to extract from Sam’s
nose. But I tried to relax. There wasn’t anything I could do about it as
we did, in fact, have to get home somehow, even if it had to take all day with
eight pauses along the side of the road at facility-free rest stops.

Amazingly though, the baby slept the whole way, traffic
moved along the entire ride, and we were totally boogie (and scream) free – I
imagine the huge sprinkle-covered chocolate lollypop helped. We did a three hour trip in about two,
without so much as a whimper from anyone.

As we turned down our road I asked my son where we
were. He smiled and yelled “Hoooome!”

Beth blogs at Total Mom Haircut, and she certainly
hopes that Jo-Lynne is going with the flow of her own vacation . . . and
avoiding any and all things boogie.