Whenever we go on a vacation I have this amazing image of what I am VERY SURE will happen as soon as we set foot in our destination and the sea breeze hits our faces. It’s idyllic, spontaneous and usually equal parts J. Crew ad, Gisele Bundchen’s Instagram account and Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” (with less scariness and drinking, but all of the adventurous street stalls of food). Just me, two beautiful little boys, several days stretching ahead of us with few plans– what could possibly go wrong? It’s likely that I have some re-examining of expectations to do so allow me to tell you about this week, as I remove my own filters and get really real- like barfy, bickering, sweaty, yet mostly happy- REAL. Join me, will you?
The Great American Car Trip
I always get in the car so pumped and ready to sing camp songs, eat fun snacks, and play car games like I Spy or the License Plate game. I mean, who doesn’t LOVE a good round of Boom Chicka Boom? I know at least a dozen adults who to this DAY would bust out in song if I yelled “a booma-chika-rocka-chika-rocka-chika BOOM!” In my mind’s eye (with it’s Twitter “famous” photo filter on, duh) I see my boys chattering back and forth, bonding over the cool things they see out the window, pointing out the chintzy americana orange juice shacks that dot route 301. It’s a long day, but we bond as a family, all needing to pee at precisely the same times and taking just a QUICK break to stretch and eat the bento box organic lunches I pre-packed for this busy family on the go.
What actually happened:
About 57 seconds into the car trip I had already heard “Are we there yet? Is this Florida?” at least 34 times and the big one was very loudly lamenting the fact that we could NOT have DVD players on because he had barfed on the last trip, so nooooone of that this time. They settled in for a couple of hours of toys and drawing and I thought “seeee that, totally Giselle. I got this shiz.” A little while later though, the small one starting screaming for the bag of chips he had selected at the grocery store the day before (at like 9 am, I have my limits man). It was a full on rabid-poodle-mode tantrum and it lasted the entire state of Georgia. I gave in, he ate the chips. As the day progressed, we made no fewer than 7 potty stops, punctuated by an HOUR long lunch stop at (gasp, the horror) McDonald’s because they had the big outdoor playground and dammit they needed to run off some freaking energy. No less than 15 minutes after said stop, the barf happened– remember those chips from Georgia? Side of the road cleanup was medium in its effort and duration and we pressed on. Until the next barf. And until the very backed up I-75 due to the TORRENTIAL sideways rain and ensuing 4 accidents dotting the highway. All tolled, an 8 hour journey took 11 and did not even remotely resemble a J. Crew ad. No ballet flats or flamingo embroidered bikinis for miles.
Time to Rejuvenate and Center
As a runner, I always pack running gear and had already planned out the 3 mornings I would get up, bound out of bed and out to the beach trail, getting a few miles in before anyone even noticed I was gone. I would stretch by the water and breathe in the gorgeous salt air. I would find myself again, as I pounded the very path that inspired me to start running 3 years ago. The beautiful trail on Ana Maria Island where I said out loud “I want to become a runner, because I want to run that path.” In my plan, I would come back to a sleeping house, flip on the coffee machine, then put my feet up with a giant steaming mug waiting for small, sweet sleepy heads to emerge.
What actually happened:
First of all, let’s talk about the gnome-sized mugs my parents try to pass off as fit for human consumption of coffee. I came back from my run and had to slurp the coffee out of a fairy thimble– though I did escape to Target later in the day to purchase human sized mugs. Everyone has since thanked me. The kids got up when I did and I threw Cheerios at them as I snuck out the door and away from their slightly annoyed faces. And my run– it was beautiful, and remains one of my favorite paths ever– the ocean was churning and birds were swooping as I ran into the headwind; turtle nests marked with caution flags dotted the beach. I even took a leisurely selfie break, where I ALMOST broke my ankle on a step I didn’t see while taking said selfie– I mean, #hazard. But I pressed on and got my run in– stripping down to just my sports bra at the end in an act of fierce-ness, probably impressing the entire 75+ crowd getting their morning shuffle in. I was FEELING the burn in all the good ways. THIS was the vacation of my mind’s eye. What I didn’t know is that it would be my ONLY run of the trip, with no time for sitting and taking in the ocean air… cause something was churning and it would hit us all. Hashtag: ewwww.
Quality Time with Small Boys
I love my kids more than anything else in the world. Let me just start with that. And I had planned amazing, adventurous outings for us. We’d scour the beach for seashells to later paint and turn into works of art; we’d eat homemade popsicles in our bathing suits and snuggle up for long naps listening to the seagulls overhead. We’d talk long into the evening about their hopes and dreams (they are 6 and 3, I know, shhh, it’s MY fantasy)– and we’d examine our feelings about the recent changes in our family, while gazing over the Gulf of Mexico at sunset.
What actually happened:
We definitely did fun things– the Children’s Garden, Children’s Museum, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, the pool, our favorite ice cream spot. We watched fun movies and read new books. I even let them watch a totally NOT kid appropriate movie (Jurassic Park, no judgements please) and they LOVED IT. Also though… we all got sick, like really actually food poisoning, barfing/etc. sick. The entire family. Three generations of us were down and out for 24 hours. Which is hard to do in a 2 bed/2 bath condo where all the adults just want to lay in bed and sip gingerale. But alas, we rotated nap times, nibbled on crackers and I only woke up ONE time from a snooze with a toddler face creepily staring from 3 inches away. Mostly, everyone respected everyone else’s need for total rest and the kids survived on a steady diet of Octonauts and toast. I personally could not actually peel my body off the couch and started the day LAMENTING the utter HORROR of the fact that this was supposed to be the vacation of QUALITY TIME and painted SEA SHELLS. How could the universe be so utterly CRUEL to me?! But then, I peeked into the guest room and saw my two little boys snuggled next to their Grandpa, under a cozy blanket and realized, oh wait. OH WAIT. Well, shit. Quality time sometimes comes in very strange packages and usually not at all how you pictured it. Actually, never how you pictured it.
The Moral of the Story
I am a control freak with a very active imagination. I have done this my entire life and frankly, I might need to start getting over it. The image of what I want to have happen is never, at all, in the very least bit, the way it actually goes– and usually I end up either being SUPER pissed off OR learning incredible lessons from it all (luckily, I am erring toward the latter these days). The messed up barfiness, the mean mommy who sometimes (usually) comes out at (ugh why won’t they just sleep) bedtime, the falling off a beachside bathroom step while trying for the “perfect” selfie, and the incessant rain that plagued our time in the sun once again reminded to look for the kairos. The flash of a grin as they slid down a firehouse pole at the Children’s Museum. The little one exclaiming “this is DELICIOUS!” being his emphatic sweet self at lunchtime. Sidewalk chalk in tie dye shirts. Picking out the BEST ice cream flavors at our favorite old timey shop. Sleepy bedtime brother giggles before finally giving it up for the day. And, who am I kidding: the solo time I spent strolling the aisles of HomeGoods sipping a Starbucks iced coffee.
As much as I love, lament, and a little bit mourn the image of my J. Crew/Gisele/Bourdain vacation– well, it just wouldn’t be us. Messy and messed up, but filled with joyful noisy love; that’s US and I am really, truly learning to own it. To wave it like a damn flag, sort of to warn the rest of you that you might want to get out of the way… but mainly, to be the leader of our unique crazy parade. ❤