When was your last vacation? Mine was four years ago, when my husband and I traveled to Italy for a wonderful wedding in an idyllic old castle by the sea. My mother came over to watch our kids and we jetted off to relax, read books, hang out with loved ones, and celebrate our friends’ nuptials in the glorious sunshine.
While I recently went to Portugal with my family for 10 days, I don’t consider this to be a true “vacation” because, you see, my kids were with me. After that “vacation,” I am convinced that mini breaks with my husband are the way forward to an actual “break,” because the only break I had in Portugal was a nail — and my sanity.
The entire thing was exhausting! If I wasn’t putting on sunscreen (a struggle in itself — children refusing to stand still with complaints that it got in their hair or near their lips), I was buying slushies the color of the sky, trying to keep the kids afloat in the sea, washing sand out of their hair, or applying bug spray. Every two minutes one would cry because the other had taken over the water float, my 4-year-old daughter whined if her 9-year-old brother refused to build sandcastles with her, and my son complained that he wasn’t getting time to do what he wanted to do. I was endlessly trying to diffuse World War III. Meanwhile, my husband hated the heat (and he is an Australian!), so he would retreat indoors to watch TV, leaving me in charge.
Every time I opened a book, a child would appear saying they were “starving.” I’d trudge back up the hill to our apartment to get fruit, only to be met with blank stares and folded arms upon my return. No, they weren’t hungry for anything good for them — they wanted slushies, lollipops, cookies, ice cream, and anything else horrifically bad for you.
Evening meals out in restaurants were fraught affairs, as the kids barely sat still and constantly bumped into waiters as they raced to watch lobsters run around a tank. The seafood-only menu was thankfully accepted by my son (he loves mussels!), but my daughter would refuse to eat anything except French fries. There wasn’t a single meal that didn’t involve one kid knocking over their drink, squirting ketchup all over themselves, or causing a waiter to drop what they were carrying. At one point I thought (as I nearly cried) what a good comedy film it would make — except I was living it.
A quiet walk through one of the old Portuguese towns near where we were staying was in fact a constant struggle to stop the kids from begging for souvenirs — footballs, key rings, toys, rubber rings, shark-shaped inflatables — nothing was off-limits. Occasionally we would find our daughter halfway down the street with something in her hand from a shop several blocks back. The embarrassment of returning the said item was excruciating, so we just ended up buying it. That is, until she followed me to the car from a supermarket with an entire basket filled with toys she had picked out. Then we simply returned them and apologized.
And I haven’t even mentioned the “safety” issues that arise when vacationing with kids: balconies that kids lean over to “get a better view;” ocean waves that they hurl themselves into and then get crushed by; cars driven on the opposite side of the road, so every time your child steps off the pavement they’re looking in the wrong direction!
I don’t think there was a moment when I actually relaxed. Bath-time took so much longer, trying to get rid of the sand from every crevice and using half a bottle of conditioner to get a comb through my daughter’s hair. By the time the kids went to bed, I was so shattered that I would hit the hay, too. Forget romantic evenings with my husband — one child would appear nightly saying they couldn’t sleep because their room was too hot. Then when we switched the air conditioner on, the sound it made was “too noisy.” We ended up playing musical beds, where my husband ended up on the fold-out couch in the living room, my son in bed with me, and my daughter trying out every room until she zonked out.
By the time we were packing to leave (with seven tons of wet, dirty laundry), I was relieved. Then there was the joy of flying home with kids whom seem to want to get up every 10 seconds to go to the bathroom, fight over the iPad, demand cookies, and refuse to sleep (even though they’re exhausted). By the time the plane landed, my nerves were shot.
So, when people ask me, “Did you have a good vacation?”
I nod, and smile, and say, “Oh yes, it was blissful, thank you.”
But I am lying. It was simply childcare in the sun.
Which is why next time, grandma will be called, and I’ll be taking my husband on a romantic weekend — just the two of us — to truly have a vacation and relax. Sorry, kids.More On