Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just the Two of Us

This picture, in all its poorly-lit, puzzled-smiling glory, is a good representation of the week Husband and I spent on vacation. We had just stepped off the world's longest tram ride to the top of a mountain, and I wanted to capture both us and the gorgeous view behind us. The result was a snapshot in which our heads completely filled the frame.

Having lots of kids never kept our family from traveling. We have ventured every direction except west, and our first camping-in-a-pop-up-camper excursion was in the summer of 1988, just after Boy#1's second birthday when Boy#2 was four months old. I don't remember that we ever missed a summer on the road; Husband and I love traveling and we wanted to make sure our Boys loved to travel as well.

But here is the bottom line of traveling with children: For the parents (and especially for the mom) it is not a vacation. As I heard when my own kids were toddlers, traveling with children is like going fourth class. In Bulgaria.

As parents, you must wake up when the first child wakes up, and outlast the last child to go to sleep. During the intervening hours you drive and eat and walk around educational exhibits at museums and do laundry and clean the camper and play games. You do all the things you would do at home, but you do them without any of the conveniences that are built into your day-to-day life.

You cook for six people on a stove with two reliable burners using food you hope won't poison you if not kept properly refrigerated. You heat water on the stove to wash dishes in a dishpan on the picnic table. You navigate piles of laundry by sending one parent (in the vehicle) off to the laundromat.

Even more daunting than the physical work is carrying the emotional baggage the trip entails. One child scampers through a museum in 10 minutes flat and another wants to read every single informational panel the museum has to offer. Someone always wins Up and Down the Ladder, and someone always loses. The words "he's looking at me!" become the most despised phrase in the English language. Refereeing squabbles when no one can be sent to a room is exhausting, and corralling toddlers who are venturing too near the scenic overlook's edge is nerve-racking. 

And in spite of this, travel is wonderful. The nights after lights-out when I read Harry Potter aloud by flashlight. Husband's amazing proficiency in making shadow figures on the camper ceiling. The smell of the outdoors, and the delight of a camp shower after the first shock of cold water has worn off. Singing the theme song to Oklahoma each and every time we cross the state line. Introducing Husband and my sons to the Costa Rican family that became my family during my Peace Corps years. However, I could rhapsodize for a long time about the things I loved about family travel without wanting to go back to those days.

Travel is wonderful, but when it includes young children, it is not a vacation.

Empty nest travel, when Husband and I completely fill the photo frame? Yes, please. That's a vacation.


  1. I just returned from a 3-day trip to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. First time in FOREVER that we went without the 4 kids. I had forgotten what it was like to travel without them! No arguing over where or WHEN to eat. Walking thru the museum at my pace with no whining - of course, I just told the hubs to go have a seat on the porch when he started. It was wonderful!!! I couldn't help but laugh when I read your blog because all I can say is AMEN SISTAH!!! Thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your writing.

    1. EXACTLY! I hesitated to write this because it sounds as if I didn't like to travel with the kids. I did. I loved it (and them). But it was NOT vacation. And happy anniversary! That's the cruise year, right? :-)

    2. Oh wow. You capture every feeling I have felt about "vacations" with kids. My favorite line is the one referring to traveling fourth class - in Bulgaria. That's hilarious. What a perfect post to read as I'm looking at a departure time of 11:00 a.m. this morning to go - you guessed it - camping AND biking for 3 days with our 8 adorable children. I'm so glad to know I'm not alone in my feelings!!

  2. So true. I leave soon for a 2 week "vacation" with 2 children and no husband. NOT a vacation, but it will be a nice trip away.
    P.S. I also love that Bulgaria line!