Vacationing with Family and Other Oxymorons

brady bunch car

I just finished off a bag of Oreos.  Yes.  The bag.  Why?  Because the cookies were in the cupboard.  Why were such clearly designated “circles of the devil” in my cupboard?  Because.   I have a car, a driver’s license, and a debit card, and I’m not afraid to use them.  And besides.  Unlike cocaine, I know how to score the “Big O”.  I don’t care what you heard at Weight Watchers.  Sometimes, you need an entire bag of Oreos.  Want proof?  My children are still alive.  And we can thank my supplier, Nabisco.

I’ve got stress, people.  Vacation stress.  I know.  Go ahead.  Hate if you need to.  Roll your eyes.  Sigh in disgust.  Vacation stress?  What a “First World” problem.  Sort of like complaining about coughing up insurance money on the third car.  Or grumbling as you get off the couch to pay the gardener.   But “problems is problems”.  And I’m in deep.  DEEP.  Two weeks sleeping in a tent with my offspring loom before me.  And I’m vacation stressed-out.  How oxymoronic.  (Actually, we as mothers are used to embracing all things moronic.  Oxy or otherwise.)  Vacation stress is REAL.  So REAL.  And there are NO support groups or self-help books devoted to the topic.  I checked.  Therefore, all of us “slightly below average mothers” are left to our own devices to survive “death by minivan”.  Nothing says “vacay” like holding a popsicle and sunscreen slathered preschooler as they barf on the side of the road from “car ickness” while the older sibs bark supportively out the window, “Hey Mom, our show won’t play with the engine off!”   Yipee.  Can’t.  Wait.

So, my sisters.  Grab your own personal contraband substance (might I suggest the stale Easter candy you’ve been hiding from the kids?), pull up a screen and join me for the first official meeting of IRDTBOVWMFSG (I’d Rather Die Than Be On Vacation With My Family Support Group).

Vacationing with family.  A benign phrase.  American tradition.  Conjuring  visions of the Brady Bunch singing merrily as all NINE of them rolled along in a station wagon.  No ipods.  No super van with drop down media system.  Just NINE of them in the car.  And no one is crying or puking or contracting some disease from eating gum off the ground at the rest stop.  And what about the Duggars?  If they can peacefully take all kabillion children on wholesome family trips to Dollywood, can it really be all that hard to vacation as a family of four?

Yes.  Yes, it can.

I would like to point out the deceptiveness lurking below the surface.  Like a ravenous crocodile.  Vacationing with family.  “Vacationing” is easy to understand.  A break.  Some time off.  A change of pace.  And “with family” that is also comprehensible.  I mean, I’ve spent over a decade “with family”.  I get that we are rather a matched set.  And I’m the designated grown up making sure we eat, and bathe, and avoid anything endorsed by the Kardashians.   I’m the MOM.  I get it.  What I really don’t get is vacationing with family AS THE MOM.

Being the mother of some highly adventurous, free thinkers, the tools of my trade include a bathtub, a fast food drive-thru, and the pediatrician’s office.  These are the essentials I use to GET THROUGH THE DAY.  A vacation involves leaving all these “helpers” behind along with the beds, the microwave, and my very best friends, washer and dryer.  And when the peeps were little, I’d leave behind something every mother knows she can’t live without.  The ROUTINE.

Husband:  Why are the kids acting up?

Me:  Well, hon.  The two year old hasn’t napped in 4 days.  He’s punch-drunk and looking for a windmill to fight.  And the five year old won’t eat your mother’s cooking because she doesn’t recognize anything not in the shape of a nugget as food.  And your mother does not believe in nuggets of any shape, size or food group.  So while staying at grandma’s house, we have all the key players to reenact the Alamo.  The kids are way, way off their schedules.   This might be the time to look for a calm, non-stimulating environment to refocus and regroup.  But since we are standing in DOWNTOWN DISNEY, the mother ship of preschool adrenalin surges, I don’t know why the kids are crazy.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Husband:   (long pause) Oh.

Getting ready for vacation goes the same way ever year.  I fuss and fidget like a squirrel in the fall with 19 containers spread across the living room floor.  It doesn’t matter what I pack.  I always forget something critical.  (One time, the TENT.  Another time, the SIX YEAR OLD.)

Eventually, the dreaded day dawns.  Like a lamb to the slaughter, I climb into the over-packed minivan.  Buckle and belt.  Check and recheck.  I gaze at the monstrous amount of stuff we have to take along to “get away from it all” and wonder what on earth filled my suitcase before I had offspring.  Seriously, what?  Lipstick?  And I turn on the obnoxiously upbeat children’s music to muffle the sounds of my weeping as we pull out of the drive way.

Deep in my bones.  I know the truth.  I’m pretty mediocre at mothering on a good day.  A day that involves using 31 appliances and the internet before breakfast.  I can’t even pack the right stuff for a two hour field trip.  And now.  I have to be a grown up and keep this brood functioning with nothing but my wits and the contents of my suitcase.  At this point, my weeping gives way to slightly hysterical giggling bordering on mania which always frightens my husband more than the tears.  Smart man.

My loving husband is amazing and compassionate, but he has difficulty wrapping his head around my “vacation stress” issues.

Eventually we reach our destination.  My face has developed a twitch.  The kids are hot and hungry.  It’s way past nap time.  My thighs are sticking together.

“This is supposed to be fun.”  My husband says as he sets up the tent like an Eagle Scout.

I stare at the back of his head.  Switch the smelly toddler in need of a diaper change to the other hip and reposition the five year old whimpering about her infected bug bites while permanently hugging my leg despite the heat.  “What makes you think I’m not having fun?”

Here’s the real deal, ladies.  Vacationing with family is 900 times harder than “regular life” because your job responsibilities do not cease to exist, but are in fact compounded by lack of resources, unidentified dangers, and no escape hatch.  And usually, there is an audience of quasi-relations ready to pronounce judgment on your parenting as your three year old goes supernova in the zoo parking lot.

Yep.  Sign me up for VACATION.

Now is the time to paint your spouse a word picture.  “Let’s say, honey, that you are at work.  Someone comes in, takes your computer and your i-phone and everything called “indoors”.  They take your pens and your file cabinet and leave you outside with a broken crayon and a paper bag.  But you still have that presentation at 3:30.  And everyone expects you to maintain your quality of work.  And your boss will be there and he has invited your critical Aunt Helen.”

And then, as your words sink in, gaze deep into his eyes and whisper, “Welcome, dear.  To the land of vacation stress.”

It seems to me that we need to change the name of this American Institution.  Instead of “Family Vacation”, I offer these more accurate monikers…

1)      How long can the toddler go without a real nap?  And do we really want to know?  And why do we always find out in front of the in-laws?

2)      See how hard Mom works at not cussing when looking for a Walgreens to replace the 9 year-olds now missing inhaler.  Deduct points if she cusses in a foreign language.

3)      The Continuing Quest to find Unicorns and/or Campgrounds with Showers.

4)      “Mom, will you hold this stuffed animal I insisted on bringing?  And will you hold it for seven hours and 3 flights?  And by the way, I will need hours of counseling if you accidentally leave it at a Denny’s in Toledo.”

5)      “Vacations are for family time.  Now stop hitting your sister.  Don’t look at her or breathe on her.  Pretend she’s not even there.”

6)      Heading to the ER because the 14 year old was too cool to wear sunscreen.  On a boat in the Ozarks.  And she’s from Seattle.

7)      “Why do you people always get strange rashes on vacation?  Why do you never get strange rashes at home?  No.  Always on vacation with the strange rash business.”

8)      “Help your brother barf into the bag and KEEP MOVING.  Sweet mother of pearl, we are not missing this flight.”

9)      Adventures with Laxatives because the Five Year Old won’t go #2 on Strange Toilets.

10)   “Dad, can you take us to the arcade?  Mom wants some free time to wash our clothes.”

It seems to me that a whole lot of stress could be alleviated by not expecting an actual vacation while on vacation.  We need to head into vacations rather like a runner preparing for a marathon.

Me:  Okay, today was a good work out.  I washed a load of ketchup and cherry snow cone splattered whites in the sink and used one burner to cook dinner for seven.

Friend:  Yes, but you have to build up.  Your vacation is in two weeks.  For tomorrow’s workout, dip the toddler in a rain puddle and roll him in sand before you have to cook dinner.  Remember, you can only use the two pots for cleaning and cooking.

Me:  Excellent.  Feel the burn, baby.

Friend:  That’s what I’m talking about!  Just wait till we simulate the poison ivy!  Epic!

Vacationing with family takes stamina, ingenuity and a secret stash of Starbucks.  My friend had to camp in the rain with four boys under seven and staved off insanity using  only a French press and a semi-squashed McDonald’s cup she found in the back seat of the van.  When the cup developed a slow leak, she sealed it with chewing gum.  Mother of the Year.  In my book at least.  I have another friend who paid a taxi to deliver a pizza in the wilds of Mt. Rainier.  “Worth every penny.”  These are my kindred.

I know the world is chock full of supermoms who have bulletin boards on Pinterest dedicated to “making crafts in airports” and “potty charts for staying regular on the go”.  And I really admire you people.  From a distance.  You see, I don’t even aspire to work harder on my vacation than I do in my every day existence.  I don’t.  I want to lie down on vacation.  And read a book.  With chapters.  What sounds relaxing to me is a whole trip where I wash only my body parts, and not in the sink at the Dairy Queen.  My dream of vacation time does not include harried trips to a pharmacy, or games of I-Spy with children just mastering colors, or any renditions of “Wheels on the Bus”.  Vacation means staying at hotels without digging through the lost and found for my son’s bathing suit (seriously still can’t figure out how the NUDE little man made it all the way back to the room).

I know.  When it comes to vacation, I’m a whiner.  Not much of a team player.  Leaving a smudge on the hallowed halls of motherhood.  I understand that I FALL SHORT.  I know the little cherubs will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye.  There will be many lonely years to languish poolside and wonder how it all went so fast.  Why did I ever stress about precious family time on vacation?

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I will see a young mother with peeps in tow.  She’ll be carrying several overstuffed beach bags and a nine month old.  Her oldest will dart for the ice machine and the three year old will stand for 10 minutes in the automatic doorway trying to get his flip-flops on the right feet.  And the mother will pause with her brood.  And I will hear something like a hysterical giggle, bordering on mania.

And I’ll slowly sip my drink with its tiny pink umbrella.  I’ll raise my glass to my sister in arms.  Carrying forth the banner of motherhood while simultaneously closing the ice machine door and fixing the flip-flop.  And I’ll drink deep until every last ounce of vacation stress slips away.

Love Hollylu 7 < 8

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