Family Travels

More Oblication than Vacation

You’ve got a lot of nerve calling this a vacation. I’m chasing sun-punchy children around a murky pool with a spray-can of SPF, wondering how the oldest will survive on his all-Doritos-and-no-sleep diet and why the youngest appears to be missing a shoe. Just one shoe, not both.

I took off work for this. I got a dog-sitter. I’m spending $20 a night just to park my car—the same car that’s strewn with minuscule pegs from the inexplicably explosive Travel Battleship game.

Starshine Roshell

This is not hell. I understand: It’s family travel. It’s togetherness-away-from-home. It’s bonding-over-adventures and, more often, under adventures.

But it ain’t my idea of a vacation.

Where’s the cabana boy I was promised? Where’s the bottomless blended cocktail and crisply pressed sheets? Where’s the blessed silence? The divine stillness? The hallowed, hard-won sloth, for flip-flop’s sake?

Vacations used to be different for my husband and me: isolation, rejuvenation, coconut libations. Our idea of bliss is sitting somewhere sunny, doing less than nothing, and consuming our weight (pre-vacation weight, to be clear) in guacamole.

Traveling with kids is more “oblication” than vacation; in fact, it’s more work than staying at home. Destinations are limited to those with crank-machines that stamp logos onto copper pennies, and I don’t care what kind of yoga practice you rock back home, getting there is a stressful slog. Small stomachs, miniature bladders, and itty-bitty attention spans require frequent snack breaks, bathroom stops, and card games, respectively.

And at the end of it all—though I’m ready to collapse onto anything resembling a pillow, including the duffel bag or even the cushiony shoulder of the zaftig woman squished up next to me in the elevator—my children must be guided to sleep. Read to. Sung to. Coaxed.

I do enjoy spending time with my kids, showing them new things, watching them cavort and, ahem, relax the way I used to. I want them to see the world, and I even want to be the one to show it to them. But it thoroughly drains me.

While some parents seem able to accept that and move on—patiently putting “real vacations” in the “we’ll have time for those again someday” category along with, say, gardening and exercise—I’m having a hard time adjusting. I just can’t pack a suitcase and put a hold on my mail without feeling entitled to some down time. Some chill time. Some not-upending-a-foldout-bed-looking-for-a-size-two-shoe time.

When I travel with my kids, I go from being Laundry Serf to being Laundry-Serf-Who-Can’t-Find-the-Detergent-in-This-Damn-Rental-Condo. I spend all my time trying to find a safe place in the shower for my razor and reminding the boys that the walls are thin, the balcony is high, and that vase is for decoration, not for storing wet bathing suits. (Also, turns out that when a shoe is lost on vacation, it’s really lost; you know what I mean?)

I’ll say one thing about family trips: My children have a hoot-and-a-half. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve got maid service (me), room service (guess who), and a concierge (hi, have we met?) who can get them reservations at the finest overpriced theme restaurants with the resigned flash of a long-since-maxed-out AmEx card.

I wonder if my boys would enjoy our trips so much if the shoe were on the other foot. But, of course, it isn’t. Maybe it’s in the vase.

Starshine Roshell is the author of Keep Your Skirt On.

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