Thursday, June 21, 2007

So you're planning a "family" vacation?

One summer, when Allie (now 13) was 21 months old, and Neal (now 12) was 6 months old, my husband and his brother got this brilliant idea that we could all ride together in a van from Texas to California to visit their parents.

When he announced the plan to me, I looked at Dennis as if he had just beamed in from outer space. What on earth could he be thinking? Us, two babies, his brother and his wife, their two kids (ages 6 and 9), AND THEIR DOG, 3200 miles in a van? NO WAY! (Remember, these were my dark years. Anything that made me get out of the house with the kids filled me with utter dread! I did not see that having a few extra pairs of adult hands could potentially make this trip easier for me. Oh, no. I only saw that it was an impossibly futile endeavor, specifically devised as part of a sinister plot to make me miserable).

But we were poor, hadn’t seen the grandparents in a while, and I was trying hard to be a good sport.

So under much duress (including a heated discussion in which I dissolved into tears), off we went. Every seat in the van was taken, and suitcases and coolers took up every inch of floor space. There was no such thing as in-car video systems or portable DVD players, so we brought snacks, toys and books in a feeble attempt to make the 27-hours-straight-through trip pass more quickly. I distinctly remember wondering, Isn’t Benadryl supposed to make the kids, both in car seats, sleep? Why are they awake the ENTIRE way? It was May, it was hot, we were sweaty, the dog was panting, everyone had diaper rash and upset stomachs, and I was unhappy and grumpy.

Then, as if to punctuate the ill-conceived nature of this trip, Allie had just been prescribed her first pair of glasses. All through the trip, we put the glasses on her. She ripped them off. We fished for them from among the books, toys, Cheetos and sandwich crumbs on what little of the floor was exposed. We put them back on her. She ripped them off again. On and on it went…for s.i.x.t.e.e.n. h.u.n.d.r.e.d. miles.

When we got to California, things got a little better, but not much. The kids didn’t sleep according to what I considered (in my mommy “all-knowingness”) to be a good schedule. Even though Dennis was knocking himself out trying to help me, I made side-ways comments and heaving sighs, thinly hiding my complaints about how much work this trip was making me have to do.

This trip is so etched in my memory, not only because it was a case study in insanity, but also because (I realize now) it marked perhaps THE lowest point in our marriage up to that time. I was so overwhelmed, so wrapped up in my “mommy” role, that I let it suck the joy right out of virtually everything else. I was the walking black cloud.

In my attempts to make the trip tolerable for the kids, I succeeded in making it miserable for everyone else, including the most important person in my life, my husband. So much so, that, when my mother-in-law offered to babysit the kids while Dennis and I went to dinner and a night in a hotel to celebrate our tenth anniversary, all I could do was talk about the kids, and how "off" they were. I was so exhausted (and still secretly seething about all I had to go through with the trip), I chose to ignore the romantic implications of our night together. We kissed goodnight, and then [awkward silence here]…I rolled over... and went to sleep. On our tenth anniversary!

Even now, TWELVE years later, I blush with embarrassment thinking about my poor husband. He admits now, that, yes, it was a crazy trip to attempt. Why didn’t we just fly – it probably would have cost about the same, since the two were under age two? We were cheap ("What could we save, $25? Okay, we'll drive!"). We were dumb. But even under the worst of circumstances, Dennis didn’t deserve the way I treated him. Not just in the romance department (which showed the depths of my utter selfishness), but also in making him put up with my sorry attitude. The. Whole. Time.

I started telling this story because we are getting ready to take this same trip in a few weeks (this time it will only be seven of us, in an airplane, for four hours – what a breeze!). I was going to write up a few tips, a sort of ¨What Not To Do¨ for traveling with kids.

Instead of the usual "be flexible," and "keep your sense of humor," I think I will just give you my finest tip of all:

Even if it’s a “family” vacation, don’t forget your husband.

Surprise him with a little romance. Respond enthusiastically, even to his fumbling attempts to take you out of "mommy" mode. Plan something special, just for the two of you, even if it's just holding hands across the table while chaos ensues at the other end of it. The kids will get over it if the schedule is not perfect, or if you don’t get to all the activities you had planned. Chances are, they will not even remember it.

Yes, you will still be exhausted. Every vacation with kids is a “working vacation.” Just embrace it.

But I’ve noticed that a romanced husband makes an even better dad, which makes for an even better family vacation. It just took me a very long time (and a few more trips) to figure that out.


Lori - Queen of Dirty Laundry said...

Great reminder! Big Daddy and I are undertaking a long-ish trip with just one of our girls soon, and I am hoping for a great time. I just have to remember not to let my expectations get in the way of an actual good time.

You know?

Jenn @ Knee-Deep in Munchkin Land said...

Thank you for this list!! Especially about not forgetting the husband! We're going to Florida in September and this post will be at the fore-front of my mind!!

Ami said...

I needed to hear that today. Thank you, Katherine!

Raquel said...

thank you! I needed to hear that, so often with my 9, 4,3, and newborn I "forget" about my hubby, i thin k we all need to be remined of this :)

Unknown said...

I didn't know that Allie (hmmm, I'm still getting used to the names--but keeping using them and I'll soon have them all straight!) wore glasses as a baby. Amanda got hers at 6 months and once she hit one year old, I often said that I was glad she got them early because by the time she was "grabby" they were a part of her.

Susanne said...

Oh Katherine, I love that you're human!

I remember a few instances like this, where I just couldn't get over myself enough to enjoy anything and I was going to make darn sure that neither did he. Like you I blush when I remember it.

Great tip for family vacations. I'll have to stamp that on my forehead or something.

Barbie @ Mamaology said...

Thanks for your advice! We are attempting a 5 day trip in August,with our little new born and her three sisters. I'm sure I will be thinking of your post often:)

Hope you have a GREAT trip!

Deidre said...

Thank you so much for this reminder, Katherine. This doesn't just apply to my family vacations right now. My children are small, so I feel like I'm in the 'dark period' right now. It's so easy to just pass my husband in the hallway and give a quick update to our day. I needed the reminder to look up, take a minute and enjoy! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Katherine! If I remember correctly, your in-laws live relatively nearby my parents. My family is moving to California, same town as my parents, in about four weeks. Any chance we could meet up? I'm sure there are any number of McDonalds along the 99. :)

Keri said...

Thanks, Katherine, for this timely reminder, as we'll soon be setting out for a 12-hour drive with the 3-year-old and 9-month-old. I'm afraid I've often been guilty of being a "walking black cloud" myself. Certainly my laid-back, always-cheerful, peace-maker husband doesn't deserve that from the wretch he took as his wife, especially during a vacation that takes a chunk out of the savings account and is supposed to be FUN! :)

I'll keep your wisdom in mind when the time comes....

Mary@notbefore7 said...

I have missed your thoughts. My computer isn't getting your new blog entries and I realized it while on a different computer today. Anyway, I'll work on that, but in the meantime, glad you're back.

This is a great reminder. I am going to FL with all 3 littles in the car and hubby in Sept. We do it each year, but this is the first time with THREE under 5.

I think I'll set up a family member to babysit and we'll get in a nice dinner! Thanks

kittyhox said...

We just got back from a trip that sounds a little like yours. We only put 1200 miles on a rented minivan with one 13 month old, so to a much lesser extent. The part that made it a little tricky was bringing along my elderly in-laws. Gosh, it was a long trip! ;)

As we drove the last hour home today in the pouring rain while Nicknack alternated between wailing cries and shrieks (and my husband white knuckled it in heavy traffic) I actually wished for one of those in-car DVD players, which I'm usually kind of judgmental about. :)

It's so hard to control one's attitude when one is tired! But that includes husbands. I need to remember that! I wouldn't put up with half of the stuff my husband let's me get away with...

Anonymous said...

WOW! I feel like I missed the memo and have so much catching up to do. I agree that we need to remember the dads.

The things we did when we were younger. When I first got married 17 years ago--we decided not to go on a honeymoon as my family was travelling to CA from NY for the wedding.

We can always do it another time.

We started having children 2 in 11 months. I learned about just making it through stages--the bottle stage, the diaper stage, the pre-school stage etc.

We can always do it another time.

We moved often with my hubbies job. He was relocated on the Wed after we were married 360 miles away. I was under contract with the school so I needed to stay back for 2 months. A typical conversation with a co-worker...So how's Married Life? My response was always I don't know he is already gone.

We can always do it another time.

Now we have teenagers! I moved my two precious bundles of joy (3 at the time) from San Francisco, CA to Salt Lake City, UT. I did this by myself as daddy was already re-located to SLC. We bought a house and were miserable. He quit his job and we did one final move to Albuquerque, NM. We are staying here until the kids graduate from high school.

We can always do it another time.

In the beginning we moved 6 X's before the kids were 3. I had said that when they are school age we stick somewhere anywhere I didn't care.

We can always do it another time.

I am hoping and PRAYING that we will be able to honeymoon before we are 60ish. We now have college on the horizon and

We can always do it another time is wearing thin. I love, adore and still even like this guy. He puts up with my fussiest days and still makes me laugh.

Our Anniversary is this coming Sunday so God willing we will have a day of laughter and joy. Our son will vote us back on his island, our daughter will have a calm lull in her hectic emotional life, the 3 cats will get along, the fish and the sparrows will even lay nicely together.

I might even get a kiss with hands on my hips :)

And I know in my heart of hearts that we can always do it another time...will come sooner than later.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to update everyone--17 years of marriage--How did we spend our anniversary? you ask? He gave me 2 pounds of chocolate and a beautiful card. Card begins with Why do I Love You? Inside he writes Not all the things in life can be put into simple well thought out organized words. Sometimes a simple I Do is the best way to continue what the same two words started 18 years ago.

I have the card taped next to my desk at work. It still gives me chills. Have a great day everyone :)

Unknown said...

I wanted to thank you for the several blog posts you wrote about young mom's, wives....and so forth. It was such an encouragement to read. I love reading your blog and I look up to you so much for the wife, mother and person you are. And knowing that it took you some time to get there, is such encouragement for me, because I feel like I fail everyday. I am NOT a good role model right now for my 3 year old, 1 year old and the 4 other day care kids who are in my house from 7-6 M-F. They are 18 mos, 2, 4, and 5. I get stressed too easily it seems..I walk around huffing and puffing and I do not show the children Jesus' love. And I am NOT the wife to my hubby that I should be, because I am being selfish. I know my faults, I know what I need to work on and I know that I need to get closer to God, spend more time with Him and He will help me. But knowing that you used to be there too...helps me sooo much. So, thank you!