This Is No Vacation!
We need to come up with a new word. A word that replaces the word “vacation” with something that means “the trip where Mom loses her mind and decides that she can manage to take the children off to some far away place all by herself for a week while Dad stays at home and continues to work and come home to a nice, quiet house with few responsibilities.” Because “vacation” is not the right word.
No, when I think “vacation” I think about drinks with small paper umbrellas and massages at noon and sleeping in late. Not being a Sherpa to kids under the age of 6, fighting with TSA agents over whether a sippie cup of milk is or is not allowed for a cross-country flight (since the TSA web site is a bit unclear), waking up at dawn, and watching kids’ flicks on DVDs on an endless loop.
And yet, somehow, I find myself doing this over and over again each summer. As if I have no capacity to learn. I’m a smart woman, really. And yet… yet… despite my friends trying to intervene year after year, there I go, cheerily announcing insane plans to travel with the kids with the optimism of someone who has clearly undergone a full frontal lobotomy --- until about two weeks beforehand when the gravity of what I’m about to undergo really hits me. But by then it is far too late to back down – the reservations are made, the kids are psyched, and I’ve already bragged about it being “no big deal.”
Now JavaBoy is built for travel. His sense of curiosity allows him to put up with disruption of routine and any discomfort. He’ll happily sit in a car seat for hours if given enough snacks, drinks, and an endless supply of DVDs. JavaGirl, on the other hand, is clearly The Worst Child To Travel With Ever. She hates long car rides. She hates a lack of control. She doesn’t like having her world disrupted. She takes her shoes off every time you put her in the car. She can scream, really, really, really LOUD. Oh, and she gets car sick. We have yet to take a long car ride without her throwing up on her car seat at the most inopportune time – i.e. in the most desolate stretch of highway in the middle of the night.
My first insane trip with both children on my own was a driving trip to Florida. JavaGirl was merely 3 months old, and had terrible acid reflux, JavaBoy was 28 months old and still in diapers. I had prepared for everything – I had toys strung along the ceiling of the car with the plastic links, I had the DVD player, I had Dawn dish wipes for cleaning bottles on the go, I had the remote control light up/musical baby mirror -- I was prepared for EVERYTHING… except the screaming. It was on this trip that I learned – the hard way – that JavaGirl REALLY doesn’t like long car trips. She screamed, a LOT. The worst screaming stretch was during a speed trap section of highway that takes you through Starke, a prison town, where the speed limit changes about every 20 feet and there are very few places to stop and I swear was the hottest stretch of road on our entire trip. And she would scream about every 20 feet as well. I would stop, pull over, try to see what was wrong, settle her down, get back in the car, get us going, go 20 feet, and she’d scream bloody murder again – ear-piercing screams. I called my husband and threatened him with his very life if he ever routed me through that horrible highway again (he swore it would be faster) and finally gritted my teeth and decided to let my poor baby scream it out, because we only had half an hour to our final destination if we didn’t stop but it would take us two hours if we stopped every 20 feet. She stopped screaming literally two miles from Grandma’s. The screaming (JavaGirl’s and mine) were worth it in the end, as the children got to see their great-grandmother.
The next summer we decided to meet my mother in Hilton Head where she had a business trip. Hilton Head didn’t seem THAT far away – I mean, heck, I’ve driven to FLORIDA. Of course what I didn’t know at the time was that JavaDad was going to start a new job and be gone the week prior to me leaving. So… already tired from having the kids on my own for a week, I embarked on yet another road trip with the kids to Hilton Head. JavaGirl, of course, barfed along the way, and at various times screamed, “I want OUT NOW!” which meant pulling off to the side of the road at inconvenient times to let her get out and walk around until she felt comfortable enough to get in her car seat again. Once in Hilton Head, my mother was, of course, working, so I was on my own with the kids, carting them back and forth from the room to the beach or the pool (with the requisite floaties, kites, towels, buckets, shovels, etc.) We rode up and down the elevator so many times I lost count – but I think every hotel guest got to know my children by name. Of course it was during this trip that the bank decided to freeze my bank card – clearly they thought someone must have stolen my ATM card because SURELY a mother of two small kids wouldn’t have been nuts enough to drive down to Hilton Head…. Right?
Last week I took the kids on their first cross-country flight -- the kids and I visited my father in California. I had great fears about JavaGirl being stuck on a plane for 5 hours with no ability to “pull over.” The trouble began at security. I thought I had been so smart to limit the toys to how much each child could carry in a small backpack on their own backs. But once it was JavaGirl’s turn to hand over the goods, it was game over. No way was she going to put her ladybug backpack with her beloved Poodle into that large machine with what looked like a big monster’s mouth. Nah-uh. Nope. I started explaining to her that Poodle WOULD come out the other side and it was okay, when the 6-foot TSA agent started to lunge at her, yelling that she had to take off her backpack and reached to grab it off her and I was about to go into full mama bear mode when fortunately for both of them, she handed me her backpack and I was able to step between both of them and put it on the conveyor belt. We proceeded through the line without further incident. Amazingly, the flight went pretty well (God bless Jetblue for their child-friendly pre-boarding, DirectTV and endless supply of snacks), and JavaGirl only tried to insist “I want plane down NOW!” an hour and a half before landing. I was able to dissuade her with more snacks and a nifty MatchBox cars pop-up set my friend lent me.
Each trip has been long, challenging, and very hard on me. And certainly no vacation. Yet they have also been rewarding, memorable, and well worth every obstacle. My kids have seen relatives who live in distant places, learned a bit of geography and seen amazing things, and hopefully have learned a sense of adventure along the way (even JavaGirl). I’ve grown as a mother as well. After the first trip to Florida, it certainly made the idea of taking two kids to the grocery store a lot less daunting. Each trip reminds me what an important role JavaDad plays in our family – and hopefully also reminds him how much we mean to him. So I relish each adventure – but I still wouldn’t call them vacations!
When she's not hitting the road with her small children, J.J. likes to park herself in front of the computer and write about life, family, and technology at http://caffeineandaprayer.com.