My dream vacation looks something like this: an all inclusive yoga retreat on a tropical beach. That is, a couple yoga classes a day; fresh, organic vegetarian cuisine that I don’t have to plan, prep, or clean up; a juice and coffee/tea bar for all of my liquid cravings; daily walks on the beach; ample time for reading, writing, meditation, and slow conversation. And no small children.
This kind of trip is not on the horizon right now. Maybe five or ten years from now. Instead, I settle for a version of this, or at least that’s my hope. I hope that I can get some reading done while away, practice yoga, spend time outdoors on a walk, maybe not cook as much. But honestly, not even the watered down version is very accessible right now. Because I have a small child, almost two of them. This is a sobering realization for a wanderluster like me. I’m one of those people who was (and is) determined to continue traveling after having kids.
It’s not that vacationing with a small child is too stressful or too tiring to even bother with, because I know some people feel that way. Rather, it’s just not what it used to be—more laid back, more down time—and it’s taken me a few years to acclimate to this truth. However, instead of stopping the vacation train altogether, it’s my expectations that need altering. No, I’m not going to have extra time to read or go for walks or sleep in when we go on vacation right now, but I still get to experience a change of pace and scenery; I get to spend time with my family; I get to explore a new or familiar place with a little hand holding mine.
We’ve vacationed to Florida many times and have had different experiences with each visit: sometimes good, sometimes not, and that’s with and without Sayla. The truth is, we’re all subject to be let down by a vacation because of expectations, regardless of whether or not children are present. It once rained every day, all day, the whole time we were there, another time I got sick.
So here were the unexpected things:
The car ride. I thought 13 hours in the car with a toddler would be rough, but it wasn’t. Sayla did great, and it was actually one of the sweeter parts of our trip; the simplicity of being in the car, talking, dreaming, enjoying each other’s presence. Breaking the drive up into two days helped, I’m sure.
The beach. I thought Sayla would love playing in the sand with buckets and shovels, but she was primarily interested in getting out in the water. “Go to the beach!” she would say.
Fireworks. I thought Sayla would love them, but they scared her.
Plumbing problems. Erik ended up having to install a dishwasher and re-do the plumbing under the kitchen sink at the place we were staying, which took about 2 days total. We live in a fixer-upper, so certainly the last thing we wanted to do on vacation.
Ants. I peered my eyes open one morning to see Erik standing in the kitchen with the vacuum: “I need you as a witness. Come see this.” There were about 100 carpenter (big!) ants crawling on the floor, counter tops, and ceiling. And they kept invading. Thankfully this happened on the tail end of our trip.
Mashes sands. This is a small beach a few miles from where we stay. The water is coffee colored because the fresh water from the river meets the gulf. A bit of a lowly beach. But this year we went nearly every day because it was so great for Sayla.
Jelly fish. I got my first stings—on my pregnant belly, mind you.
And the things we learned from this trip:
As previously mentioned, we need to adjust our expectations for vacationing as a family. It’s not about kicking up our feet anymore, but all of us being together and creating memories.
Staying at a house/hotel on the beach is ideal, because packing the car and kids to go to and from the beach is a heck of a lot of work, especially cleaning off their salty, sandy, sticky bodies. I timed it—one day it took us 25 minutes. The principle behind this: have some fun/activities at your doorstep.
We must be getting older because both of us were jealous of Sayla’s long sleeve swim shirt. Yeah, a little tan is nice, but spending hours in the sun is too much, and instead of going inside, a long sleeve shirt and wide brim hat are an easy fix. We will be those people covered up at the beach.
We have visited the coast house with family and friends, and as just us, and we decided this last time that it’s better when there are others there to enjoy it with us.
And lastly, something that’s been lingering in my mind for a while now—even before this trip—is rest. Where do we find it and how do we get it as mothers/parents? I’m learning that rest sits in pockets at this stage in life, not stretched over long periods of time. Like when we sat on the screened-in porch with iced drinks and watched the boats coast by while Sayla ate ice for about 15 minutes, a pocket of rest. Or when we gathered on the picnic blanket on the beach for lunch and listened to the waves roll in, another pocket. I may not have a whole morning to myself, but these little moments can be found throughout the day if we slow down enough to notice them.
I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of complaining; we are thankful for the opportunity to get away, to afford a trip to the coast, to have a family vacation home to stay at. Really, we’re just rookie parents learning how to enjoy traveling with kids, and this is an honest look at how that process is unfolding. Ultimately, like most things in life, it’s not about the circumstances needing to change, but one’s outlook and attitude. So we will press on to new adventures both near and far, little hands and feet in tow, with a new perspective and realistic expectations.