Kids and a carry-on full of chocolate
For the first summer in ages, we have no plans to get away. At all. Even for the day.
It sounds tempting to plan a short excursion, but I know what will happen. We’ll leave town and Oliver will forget his blankie or favorite toy tractor, prompting an hours-long meltdown; I’ll accidentally leave my glasses at home or forget the baby’s extra bottles and formula. My husband will try to soothe short tempers as we take a wrong turn and, at our destination, realize the kids won’t sleep anywhere but their own cribs. We’ll pay big money to be irritated, getting home more stressed than when we left.
All the while, I’ll be barking my new favorite phrase: “We are going to have fun if it kills us!” (And it could.)
Traveling with one child was complicated enough. When we attempted to eke out a little fall-themed fun at an October craft festival in Bedford, Pa., we spent most of the time consoling a discombobulated toddler with my in-laws, who’d come down to meet us. The crowds were insane, and Ollie was overwhelmed. Ultimately our trip was cut short so we could get him back to his own bed.
We managed OK at Christmas, given Ollie could run free at his grandparents’ home . . . but the idea of traveling and squeezing four of us into a hotel room? Not unless I’m staying in an adjoining room — alone. With a carry-on full of dark chocolate.
Despite the upheaval, Oliver has actually visited quite a few states in two years. But his younger sister? Hadley is going to be our Southern Maryland girl, content to dust her dishes with Old Bay and make only the occasional jaunt across the Harry Nice Bridge. When she’s 10. Maybe 12. Kidding, of course. Sort of. Between having to pack the contents of the entire house, listening to car seat-jailed kids howling for freedom and the crust of cracker crumbs covering the backseat, “vacationing” with children is certainly nothing like the relaxing trips I was used to.
I once thought I needed a break — and I did. But my idea of feeling stressed changed around the time I started to understand that time and energy are not bottomless. We carve each up for our spouses and children, parents and bosses, friends and neighbors and siblings . . . until very little remains for ourselves.
That’s when we really do need a break. But without the chance to take one, I have to make one.
With two adventurous parents, I took traveling for granted. My parents love to get away. Dad works on the logistics of hotels and reservations, a skill honed from his many days on the road as a sportswriter; Mom finds points of interest through websites and travel guides, anticipating what they’ll see and do.
As a family, we saw many corners of the U.S. — and I’m very grateful to my parents for taking us along when maybe they could have really benefited from some peace and quiet. (We’re nothing if not chatty.) We took some epic road trips, but many weekends spent closer to home were just as fun.
Family adventures are some of my favorite memories. I still remember seeing Colorado for the first time: the majestic Rocky Mountains, wholly alien to a 10-year-old from back east with its swamps and flat highways. We stopped by the side of a road to admire a beautiful, icy creek; my dad and a young friend dared one another to plunge their hands into the water, seeing who could stand it the longest. I’d never seen water that clear. It was July, and we were walking on snow.
And I still bear the scars from a trip to Miami: hoping to come home with a Florida tan, I applied the tiniest bit of sunscreen when my mother’s back was turned. I didn’t come home pale, that’s for sure; I was so painfully sunburned, my legs still have permanent bald spots. Our next hotel in Key West had no air conditioning; I remember sizzling in the darkness as a lone ceiling fan circled lazily overhead.
Traveling fosters closeness: exploring together as not-quitestrangers in a strange land. So many of our vacation experiences have formed the basis of family folklore, including the time my sister missed out on the “best chicken ever” from Danny’s, a tiny restaurant in coastal California that I couldn’t track down if a million dollars was reserved for me in a corner booth. (In Katie’s defense, she was sick. So that’s pretty mean to bring up.)
My parents have always been a cooler version of the Griswolds, you know? And our fun, old-fashioned adventures are a tradition I definitely want to continue with my own kids. Just not right now. When I became a parent, I was unprepared for the realities of packing. And not just for trips: I’m talking packing to go get milk and bread, friends. Young Oliver couldn’t go anywhere without diapers, wipes, pacifiers, back-up pacifiers, multiple outfit changes . . .
We are better with Hadley, yes. This isn’t our first time at the proverbial circus, so I have a better handle on what we “need” versus what could be useful only in a very specific, unlikely situation. I achieve peace of mind with a “car” diaper bag — one that holds most of what I want to have “just in case” (extra shoes, emergency toys), but it can stay in the trunk until we’re struck by a diaper disaster or toddler tantrum.
Ollie took his first plane ride at four months old, but I’m not eager to leave earth anytime soon. Too stressful. Too expensive. Relaxing at home with napping children, preferably with the TV to myself? That’s a real break right now.
So Hadley is behind on Oliver’s comparable “states visited” list, but we did take her across the Potomac for the first time Sunday. In Colonial Beach, Va., the baby got her first glimpse of the water (when she cracked an eye open, anyway) as we celebrated Father’s Day and my grandpa’s birthday. Oliver was fascinated by the families bobbing in the river, cackling as beach balls flew overhead.
The water looked inviting, as did the tropical drinks others sipped on the restaurant deck where we’d all gathered. But Spence and I kept our children — and their stuff — on dry land. We’ll get back out there someday.
Until then? Maybe I’ll stick a tiny umbrella in my third cup of coffee.
Party on. And don’t forget your sunscreen.