Have Kids, Will Travel

I am completely aware that a vacation with kids is not even remotely the same as a vacation without kids (this is the whole vacation versus trip debate). To me, this is not something that needs to be acknowledged, though, because there is nothing that is the same when you are doing it with young children. Going out to dinner? Normally enjoyable, however, mostly awful with young children. Going to take a shower? Typically relaxing, but not if young children are waiting on you. Nothing is the same; that’s just a given to me.

A vacation with kids is not a relaxing vacation; The Onion got it right with its article entitled, “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean,” and so haha that’s funny, but – I don’t know – it’s still a new place and I’ll take it. If someone would pay me to travel with my children, I would sign up on the spot. I know some people don’t enjoy it, but I kind of love it. I believe there are two extremes on the continuum of parenthood best demonstrated with an X-Y chart with the X side marking EXHAUSTION and the Y side marking BOREDOM. Everything else in parenthood somehow takes into account these two factors to some degree. On the days that are easy – for example, the routine flows and everything and everyone goes along without a hitch – my exhaustion is low, but my boredom is high. On non-routine days, or, as my husband likes to remind me, on the days when he would like to create our own book of “Where In The World Is My Wife With Our Children?”, the whole lot of us come home exhausted, but also, enthused from seeing new things.

We leave our home to adventure into new and different places and paces. The monotony of parenthood for me is like treading water, and treading water for people like me is hardly different than drowning after a while. I am better at living life, and, thus, at parenting, when I change up our scene. When traveling, I find attributes that I somehow lose too easily while we’re at home: patience, gratitude, confidence, enthusiasm, creativity, flexibility. I think that’s because our eyes are really open when we’re in new territory.

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We were six hours from home and we were worlds away. My husband didn’t come up until the second week, so it was the kids and I and acres and acres of land. My parents vacationed for a few days at a nearby resort but the daily grind, which occurs anywhere where there are people under 6 years old, was all me. There were no hand-offs, no “Gonna run out for a quick trip to the grocery store/sit in my car and text people – you’ve got the kids” – none of that. And the sun didn’t set until 9:45 p.m., which meant later-than-I-like bed times, but also bonfires with grandparents while I did the dishes and looked out the window.

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A change of scene allows me to see our children differently.

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They see me differently, too.

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We travel as much as we can, and I am clear with my children on what it takes to get from here to there. We talk about the work of the trip so that everyone can understand that traveling is not always easy. Because I was alone for the first half, I had to be clear with them: “If you stay up late, whine, fight with each other, we aren’t going to have fun the next day because I will be worn out. If you don’t help me, we can’t do this.” They rose to the occasion; being in new places creates new strengths.

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God love that boy.

On the first night, I realized how alone I really was. We were on a farm with 100 acres of land that was 10 minutes from the most beautiful beach, an absolutely picturesque location, but there wasn’t a person around who would hear me scream if anything were to happen. I put chairs under the doors and creeped myself out, and then snuggled up in between my kids like the baby that I am. I skipped having my own bedroom because I was a big scaredy cat baby out on a farm, so we all slept in one tiny bedroom in one tiny bed with the baby in a travel crib until Pat arrived. It’s amazing how little space we actually need as families (when the weather is good, anyways). Even though we slept in tight quarters, we had plenty of room to shift gears.

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After enough failed outings that have left me swearing in my head, I (mostly) have learned what we are capable of doing and enjoying. This means that we stick to places where they can wander and run and where their energy can be disbursed into the world instead of having it constantly bouncing off me.

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photo copy 33We found The Promised Land – that is, any place where a parent can sit and relax while the children play. Soon enough, I will reach The Real Promised Land where I can read a book and only look up when something sounds amiss.

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I know that, for some, vacations are family time. I think I used to think that. I think that that was before I was asked to play eighty billion times a day. Now, I love my family and I love our down time, and I also love crashing other families’ family time.

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This is my best friend and her wonderful family. If she really didn’t want me to hang around, she would send me a hint because we are good like that, but maybe she did send that hint and I didn’t take it. I don’t think I would have taken it because her people are fun and my kids and I love being around all of them, so we just kept on showing up and bringing food so that they didn’t kick us out entirely.  The more really is the merrily-er.  And vacations with friends who have fun kids are where it’s at.

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All I remember about growing up is that we were always doing fun things with fun people. If I can recreate any experience for my children, that would be it. Hands down. Or… up.

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I find that the most fun days are when the kids are happy and the parents are happy – does that really need to be stated? Anyways, this is where our six children played while we tasted wines at this vineyard’s tasting room. Why are vineyards not catering to parents with young children? This should be a thing.

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If we could, my husband and I would love to get away for an extended time without our kids. Since we can’t easily do that, we take them with us. There are always moments of more work than play, more inconvenience than convenience, and sometimes I just flat out overestimate what we can do as a family (this was Pat’s second day with us after being alone for quite a while; guess it was a little much.)

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There are moments, though, on vacations with our children that beat any child-free trips around – I will never run down a sand dune again without some little kid by my side. He partly ran and partly rolled and never stopped smiling, so then neither did any of us.

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Sometimes we wonder: What in the world did we do before them? What did we find fun? I’m not sure I even know any more and I’m not sure I even care, though I certainly wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out.  But for now, their fun is our fun and we’re good with that.

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We’re back now, and I’m ready for early bed times and a show on TV while we lie on the couch. Trips make me excited for monotony again.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

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  • Oh my gosh, YES. I love everything about this (and that Prachett quote, which I had never heard, is perfect). I agree with you on the top right hand corner of life’s matrix. Indeed. That’s where I want to live, too. I don’t much want to go anywhere without my kids (though to be fair we’re in the Promised Land and have been for a while) … I can’t remember, really, life before them. xox

    July 20, 2015 at 12:56 pm
  • Kim

    Annie I wish we were neighbors! It’s a joke that I run a mom camp in the summer because we are always on the go and I too am really bored when not exporing with my kids. I too, find I am better at parenting and see my kids differently when we change our scenary, even if only for a day. I usually send Jim a photo text of kids and I somewhere and his response is always the same WHERE ARE YOU? And quickly followed by COOL! I too, admit that we have had epic failures on our day trips especially when it was me, two toddlers and a baby. I tended to over estimate what we could handle:( But now I can pretty much gauge what we can feasibly accomplish alone and if we are so lucky, with Dad, when he can join us. Life is an adventure and the kids learn more about it theough experiencing it !! So cheers to you on this awesome piece and to hopefully making wine tasting at vineyards a “thing!” 😉

    July 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm
  • Annie- I am so happy to ‘meet’ you through Lindsey’s site. This is such a beautiful post- both the words and the photos. And I love your continuum of exhaustion and boredom. I have never thought of it that way and you are totally right. I spend a lot of time avoiding exhaustion and as a result we are bored more than we should be… Off to change this!

    July 22, 2015 at 11:46 am
  • Our most recent trip was one of the failed outings that you describe above – expecting too much of a toddler, saying too many “nos” and far too few “yeses.” I love the idea of not letting this trip keep us from others, and getting it right (or closer to right) the next time.

    July 22, 2015 at 5:57 pm
  • Well, this writing spoke to me on so many levels. You observe and interpret it all so well. And those photos? Every one took me deeper into the story you were telling. I just got back from a train trip to Utah with Grady and it was by far the greatest trip we’ve ever had. Not sure how that would work with three kiddos, but it was worth the long hours spent getting to our destination – that was part of the fun.

    July 22, 2015 at 7:09 pm
  • I love this. Exactly what I needed this morning. I am traveling solo with my kids for two weeks and am totally treading water right now;) I will re-read this when I need to take a deep breath and replace my anxiety with curiosity. Thank you.

    July 23, 2015 at 12:44 pm
  • I am home for one day between trips and relate to this so much. This is the first summer we’ve really traveled with our kids and it’s been enlightening. Things that seemed hard simply aren’t, and the exhaustion and logistics are worth it. We are all heightened on vacation- more fun, but more grouchy. It’s interesting to witness and it also has led to more intimate family time. I’m a fan.

    Also- the whole traveling without kids thing- my husband and I recently spent 10 days in Italy without kids. And the thing is, while wonderful, it isn’t the same as traveling before kids. I still can’t completely relax, I still think of them all the time, sometimes parenting in my head. I missed them too much. Long weekends away work just fine.

    Just found your blog through Lindsey Mead, happy to find you.

    July 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm
  • Monika Borkowska

    where is this magical place, please? I am booking it as soon as I learn the location.

    February 11, 2016 at 1:34 am

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