There is no such thing as a vacation when you have children, at least not in the way you remember. The lazy days spent on golden sands with a Corona and a good book, the apres ski drinks that started at four and ended at the jacuzzi under the stars, the whirlwind city tours spent walking hand in hand through romantic jardins du fancy pants? Ghosts of holidays past. Holidays, vacations, mini-breaks, anything requiring leaving the home for more than a few hours with children involves stealth and military precision planning. It involves compromise, sacrifice,packing half of household goods to avoid a meltdown in the immigration hall, humor and a mutual agreement that the democratic principal may need to be put on hold for the safety, health and continuance of the family unit.
Yet we continue to do it, clinging forlornly to the hope that at some point, some day, the balance will once again tip in favor of the us, the adults. Oh, we have had successful holidays–usually when we are vacationing with other families and the children entertain one another. Or when there are additional adults on hand to offset the five am wake up calls. There have been the times when we do something that is geared for kids and is by default, extortionately expensive and makes you want to poke at your eyeballs with the umbrellas from your overpriced drinks.
My children are actually great travelers. I am the mom on the plane who gets complimented on having beautifully behaved children. My husband is the king of packing and we can fit a month’s worth of gear for four people into two small bags. My boys will walk for miles, uphill all ways, without complaint. Yet somehow these things are never enough. Inevitably when the four of us go away, we end up shouting at one another in a public forum, someone or ones ends up in tears, cold shoulders are presented on public transport and threats to never again go on vacation are thrown down with aplomb.
We should know better. We never learn.
There was the tantrum in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There was the near-divorce in Florida. The shouting in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, meltdowns in Central Park, near-miss eye-gouge on a hike in Norway, lost crowns, thrown out backs and road rash in Cape Cod. There was a broken rear windshield in Maine and getting pulled over by the police in Newport. Those are just off the top of my head.
This weekend we took a mini cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo, mostly inclusive, entry through the fjords, a deal for February break. Below are the list of the ten lessons I learned on a two-day trip.
1. Buffets bring out the worst in people. Granted, not as bad as the riotous scrum for party hats in a Las Vegas casino on New Year’s Eve, but still.
2. Regardless of size, class or location, a ship’s cabin is not big enough for four people, one of whom is a 6’5″ adult.
3. Sometimes it is worth is to just pay the $55 USD for hot chocolate and cookies, just to give you something different to talk about.
4. Six year olds take up more bed space than you think they would. Especially when you are sharing a bottom bunk with them.
5. If you leave the bathroom door open when you are having a shower, it sets off an alarm and there will be frantic knocking at your door complete with a slightly out of shape security guard clutching her chest trying to ‘calm the situation’.
6. You can still eat steak even when your false tooth/bridge falls out half an hour before departure. Also, you can buy dental adhesive in Norway. And it’s just as expensive as you would think it would be.
7. Kids are not interested in museums, sculpture parks, architecture, design, sight-seeing, ambiance soaking. The highlight of their trip will be kicking the piles of snow going up the very steep hill to the ski lift and balancing precariously on the edge of said ski lift giving their already out of breath mother a heart attack. (Mental note: Do not go to Grand Canyon until children are older).
8. If you want to yell at your kids, don’t do it in English. Everyone speaks English these days. I recommend Lithuanian, maybe Swahili.
9. Muesli/granola in NOT a good thing to eat with a precariously adhered dental bridge, even after having used the exceedingly expensive dental fix.
10. Two days together requires several days of forced separation.
So for the rest of the day the 6’5″ adult will snuggled up in a normal size bed watching the Olympics, the oversized six-year-old is checking on his online dragon breeding facility, the nine year old is probably doing something he shouldn’t be and I am writing this, trying to figure out how to make the next vacation we take a successful one. Because of course there will be another.
I never learn.