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Family Travel Makes Us Unravel: So Why Am I So Happy?

Amongst the craziness, beauty just happens.

You know what my family is whenever we go on vacation? A walking, talking train wreck, thank you very much. The first time we ever vacationed with the triplets was a baptism-by-fire experience if there ever was one. My mind’s eye? Everyone would be all hunky dory 24/7—playing cheerfully on the beach before going back up to the condo and settling in for their afternoon naps. Alli would be the typical sweet 7-year-old she was at the time, and Caroline and I would enjoy a toddy on the balcony each and every night as our exhausted children slept contently in their beds.

Pipe dream, folks. None of those things happened. Life on the road, it turns out, is hard. Twice the work it is at home. Accordingly, that first triplet-laden vacation got off to a rocky start. And every one since has gotten off to a similar start. Our vacations are no longer relaxing. They’re taxing. Yet going on them is the key to my happiness as a parent.

I know. Counterintuitive, right? But everything I just said is true. Our vacations always start off horrendously. And the problems begin before we even leave the house. With four kids and two adults? We practically need a shoehorn and a tub of vaseline just get everything loaded into our car. Two summers ago, we had finally done just that until I realized one crucial thing had been left out.

“Honey, we forgot my stuff.”

“No we didn’t,” announced Caroline as she handed me three wadded up grocery sacks.

“What’s this?”

“Your luggage,” she announced.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Wrong. I transferred a quarter of what I had originally intended on bringing into the plastic sacks before cramming them under the driver seat, and away we went.

If packing is unpleasant, hauling three toddlers and a 9-year-old through the mountains is flat-out cruel and unusual punishment. And don’t even get me started on the potty breaks.

A rookie might think that our arrival on Hilton Head Island after 9 grueling hours in the car would signal the end of the hard part. But this jaded veteran knows better. For although the transitional phase of our journey has ended, the acclimation phase has only begun. And getting three toddlers accustomed to different beds in a condo with which they aren’t intimately familiar is a daunting task indeed. Not a lot of sleep that first night or two. That’s okay, though. Because there’s always naps to make up for the sleep that was lost during acclimation.

Puh-lease. There are no naps at the beach.

Our days are jam packed with action, and with that action comes lots of gear, which means that yours truly doubles as a sherpa, loaded like a freight train as I negotiate the climb down the condo steps and traverse the hot splintered planks of the boardwalk only to arrive at the beach upon which many a meltdown will shortly take place.

These meltdowns have different sounds associated with them, be they piercing cries, shrill screams, or yells of competitive anger directed at a rival toddler who’s absconded whatever toy it is that’s been deemed the most desirable.

Bike rides are a good break from the chaos—the ones on the spanish-moss-shaded paths which direct us to any number of exciting spots. Of course, it means that I’m hauling the fussy trio (one in a child seat and two in a cart) while my wife and I try to keep Alli in check. It’s her natural inclination to speed ahead of us, born, I suspect, out of early adolescence as well as a desire to escape the fussiness. Our destinations? Playgrounds, restaurants, or the famed Salty Dog Cafe to name but a few. Borderline exotic locales, at least in the eyes of our toddlers, which are just right for…

more meltdowns. But that’s okay, for the bike rides almost always take place in the late afternoon and by that point, we’re just a loft wedge away from bedtime. (A metaphorical loft wedge, that is. These days, I leave the real one at home.)

Once everyone is finally down, Caroline and I only wish we had enough energy to drink the aforementioned toddy on the balcony overlooking the Atlantic. A rookie might throw caution to the wind and do just that. But the jaded veterans know better. For the morrow will be upon us in the blink of the eye (and, of course, after countless trips to the triplets’ room). And that good morn will require energy. So refrain we must.

It’s a far cry from how we used to vacation. Beach trips in years gone by were littered with magazines, books, leisurely strolls, rounds of golf and the occasional well-earned hangover. Such things were easy to balance with just one child. But with four? Not so much. Like I said, our vacations are no longer relaxing. They’re taxing.

Yet going on them is the key to my happiness as a parent.

And I’m not sure why. But I think it has something to do with the peaceful moments (yes, there are a few) that spring from the chaos, like when Sam, Jack and Kirby gather round the sand crab Alli’s discovered, their sun-kissed faces registering equal amounts of wonder and awe. Or maybe it’s the way Caroline looks when she’s holding Jack in her lap, soothing his nerves from the most recent calamity. She’s so beautiful, you know. And never more so than when she’s Mommy.

Or, perhaps it’s the look I’ll get from the silver-haired 60-year-old man who smiles knowingly as I pry the stolen shovel out of Sam’s hands and return it to Kirby’s. A look that says:

Cherish this. It’ll be gone before you know it.

I always return those looks with one of my own.

I get it that I don’t get. And thank you, sir.

I don’t know what it is about us. Maybe it’s the noise. Or maybe it’s the mere spectacle of six people on three bikes. Or maybe, it’s the fact that we have it down to a science, all things considered. Or maybe it’s the perfect imperfection embodied by the walking, talking train wreck that is the Osbornes. Whatever it is, the folks who see us out and about? They almost always feel compelled to remark to Caroline and me about our family.

It used to bother me. But it doesn’t anymore.

For I finally figured out that people remark about our family because it’s remarkable.

And nothing makes a parent happier than being reminded of just that.

Visit John’s personal blog.

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