Vacation. What a fantastic word. Almost as good as “poolside.” Or “charbroiled.” And “poolside” and “charbroiled” are usually part of any vacation I take, so “vacation” wins.
In my lifetime, there are three types of vacation:
Type 1: Vacation with my family when I was a kid Type 2: Vacation I took in my adult life before I had kids Type 3: Vacation with my kids
I spent the first 40 years of my life experiencing the first two types. These were either “Here’s where you’re going, kid” trips (Type 1), or “Here’s where I want to go and here’s what I want to do” trips (Type 2). I have had little experience with Type 3. Until now.
As I prepared for my two-week vacation three weeks ago, my friends, colleagues, family, and professional advisors encouraged me to take three weeks off. It’s been a tough year thus far, and I was already pretty spent and insufferable. So I took their advice. Time to recharge and become human again. I’d surely have more than enough time to reflect on the year, plan for the future, and just bask in some off-the-grid calmness. Surely.
As a quick aside, this was the longest stretch I’ve ever taken away from work. Like, completely away. I deleted my work email account and removed Slack from my iPhone, because I didn’t trust myself not to check them. This is the first time I’ve cracked open my laptop in almost three weeks, and moments ago my screen exploded into a Growl message hootenanny of email notifications (824 unread), an hour of Dropbox syncing activity, an Apple update telling me I missed tens of millions of Digital Camera RAW Compatibility updates, and a CrashPlan (an automated cloud backup service) brow-beating basically saying “You deserve what you get.”
Let me get this crap out of the way. Ok.
19 days ago, we started our Type 3 getaway by hauling our Airstream trailer up to Portland, Maine for a six-day stint. It’s an eight-hour drive from Philly, so we split the trip up into two four-hour sprints. This is crucial if you have kids, and we have two little ones, ages four and 18 months. I’m almost 45. My tolerance for tomfoolery is waning fast. When one kid slept, the other screamed. When the other kid slept, the other one screamed. And when they were both awake, they both screamed in a call-and-response shriek contest in which there are precisely zero winners. My wife and I looked at each other with those “Oh, shit” looks—already, our stress levels were through the roof, and we really hadn’t stepped out of the vehicle yet.
Our first time in Portland (a beautiful city, by the way) was largely spent eating fried things, touring, dodging monsoons, and mitigating kid meltdowns. I also had to save my eldest son from choking on a hot dog by giving him a swift wallop to the upper back (if you’re a parent, make sure you know what to do—it’s scary when it happens.) The thing flew out like a Patriot missile. We were all shaken up, but he was back to being a maniac in no time.
One day I booked an afternoon boat tour around Casco Bay that explored lots of lighthouses and adorable island communities. The first 27 minutes on the boat were neat. The rest of the trip devolved into a shitstorm of kid tears and inconsolability. Our youngest boy has no less than five teeth coming in simultaneously right now, and if the breeze so much as catches his gums at the right speed and direction, you’d think we removed his arms. And our elder boy was apparently two minutes shy of his varying and unpredictable sleep quota, so he felt it was appropriate to join his brother in uncontrollable sobbing solidarity. There we were, trapped with two rubberlike children for the remaining 93 minutes on a floating Alcatraz.
The following two weeks took us to Cape May, New Jersey, a quaint Victorian seaside town I have been going to since I was four. I brought a lot of books to read. My wife said, chuckling, “When are you going to read those?” Uh oh.
My mom joined us for the first week. She knew what a challenge it is to parent two young children in equally difficult stages of their psychological and physical development, but she was about to get a continuing ed class. Restaurants were a special exercise in restraint. Silverware instantly became the percussion instrument of choice—knives banging on plates, spoons used as cymbals. Laminated placemats became shuffleboard sticks, launching anything adjacent to them off the table at incredible velocity. Then there’s the “Want it, daddy?” game. Our 18 month old will pick up a piece of food, look at it, and try to hand it to you like it’s a gift. When you politely decline and say, “That’s okay, you have it!” he’ll look at it again, and throw it on the floor like he grabbed a hot iron. Repeat. As a last resort, we'd whip out the iPhone and put on an old Yo Gabba Gabba episode as a distraction just so you can wolf down your now cold, overpriced seafood platter. I used to scoff at parents who did that. I used to.
The casual observer might think, “Those parents have no control over their kids.” The truth is, we’re probably on them way more than we should be for their own well-being. It’s a constant conversation my wife and I have. “Do we hover too much? Do we shut them down too often?” But sometimes, there’s just not a damn thing you can do, because it’s like reasoning with bread dough.
In between all of this, there were moments of life-couldn’t-be-better joy. Those were the moments my wife and I captured and put on Instagram to promote our idyllic family lifestyle spin campaign.
The truth of the matter is, on this vacation, I expected to relax. I expected to have a few cocktails, read some stuff that had nothing to do with my profession, and grab some extra sleep. I was clearly recalling “vacation” without kids. But I have kids. Two. Did I mention that?
But here's the thing. My parents dealt with the same crap. And when you're a little kid, you're subject to all kinds of things that mess you up on a second-by-second basis. Different environments, different rooms to sleep (or not sleep) in, fluctuations in meal times, not napping, physical exhaustion, not to mention the teething and other stuff that affect them. It’s tough being a kid, and therefore, it’s tough being an adult. That's how it works. My wife kept telling me "you need to readjust your expectations." Boom.
From here on out, I won't lump "vacation" into one single, all-encompassing three week event and expect the world from it. My wife and I will take some time with the kids, take some time with each other, at different times. Duh.
I'll get the hang of this someday.