When is a vacation not really a vacation? Answer: When you go with your 2.5-year-old.
We are back from a week in Southern California where it was warm and sunny most of the time, and felt like a vacation for a few brief bursts when I had the chance to get away from my get-a-way. I try to kvell more than kvetch as a parent. I know I am infinitely blessed to have a happy and healthy daughter, great life-partner, supportive family, wonderful friends and community. I know the fact that I can take paid-time off from my job and hop on an airplane makes me at least a 5 percenter, so I feel like a jerk complaining about a week of vacation. That being said, it’s not so much as a complaint as an acknowledgement that my expectations sometimes drastically differ from reality, now that I am a parent. The learning curve is steep for the first kid. What I remember a vacation being is no longer what a vacation is.
I think back to past travel, shopping for new clothes especially for a trip, making a list of what to pack and an itinerary of what to do, and enjoying the excitement of going someplace new or visiting old friends.
Now it’s more about figuring out how much room is left in the suitcase for diapers after all of Charlotte’s clothes are packed and debating if we should we even bother bringing the stroller that she refuses to sit in for more than three minutes. How many of her babies (stuffed Elmo, Cookie Monster, Knuffle Bunny, and hard-plastic, bald, blue-open-close eyed baby Sam) can we bring in the carry-on and do we have enough snacks, stickers, and episodes of Daniel Tiger on the Ipad to entertain her for the flight?
The majority of our vacation to California was spent doing Charlotte-centered activities: an indoor play-space with bouncy house and ball pit on a rainy day, a trip to the petting zoo, a visit to the Children’s Museum, and checking out at least half a dozen playgrounds and going to the beach. She had a great vacation, and I got to mommy in a new location for six days and five nights. Thankfully, I snuck in a pedicure, a dinner date with my husband, and a happy hour with my sister. We did have a lot of fun quality family time all together, but I didn’t get the chance to relax as much as I had hoped. Charlotte is pretty much done with naps, unless she’s at school where they have the kids down like clock-work at 12:30 p.m. on their little cots all snoring by 12:38 p.m. So she was cranky and whiney in the afternoons, but still up and at ‘em by 7 a.m. each morning, despite the fact that I told her we were on vacation and could sleep in.
Upon return from our time down south, I was chatting with some other parents about how it didn’t really feel like a vacation and I felt like a jerk. One mom shared that she went to Hawaii for a week with her husband, almost 3-year-old and 6-month-old baby, and she also felt bad saying it didn’t feel at all like a vacation. Another mom friend offered some great perspective that “when you go away with your kid, it’s a trip; when you go away by yourself, that’s a vacation.”
We will continue to travel with our little girl and now that I have my expectations more in check, I think our next get-a-way will be more enjoyable because I won’t be fooled into thinking that it’s going to actually feel like a vacation for me. Having a child has been a major transformation in self-realization, from things being all about me to all about her, and figuring out how to deal with it. I hope when Charlotte’s a bit older it will feel like a vacation and an adventure for all of us, but for now I daydream about when she heads off to college and I join the Peace Corp.