I’m sitting at my computer watching a slide show of photos of happy kids, untroubled parents and a family that clearly loves life, each other and having fun. Who are these people? They look an awful lot like my family. But there’s no way these happy-go-lucky folks are even remotely related to me, my exhausted husband, or my increasingly annoying two children.
Why can’t life be more like a photo montage? I mean, in all fairness, I took a lot of these pictures. I was actually present for each and every happy moment that’s parading before me on my computer screen. I can even remember most of the events without a great deal of prompting. I ought to feel as joyful and carefree as my celluloid image. But I don’t.
The mom in the photos is young, happy, and easy-going. I, in contrast, feel tired, ancient and about as close to breaking as an overstrung archery bow. I can’t even imagine my two sons sitting next to each other without trying to kill each other. And I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw my husband smile. This is making me sad.
Maybe there’s some way to “fake it till you make it.” If I just pretend to be as happy as photo me, maybe I’ll somehow morph into her. Maybe if I act like her, my family will follow suit and my kids will burst out into peels of laughter instead of screeching furiously at one another. Maybe if I can just convince myself that she is me I can bring a sense of joy and ease back into our lives.
That seems kind of impossible from my current vantage point. Maybe I’ll just write a play about a writer who wills herself into her computer to relive all the happiness depicted in her iphoto albums. I bet that’d get old pretty quickly though. I mean, how many chilly San Francisco cable car rides would it take before even photo mom got bored?
No. I guess I’m stuck out here, being me, watching her, wondering how we all got so frustrated and disgruntled about life when it really is filled with so many opportunities to love and enjoy each other. Maybe I just need to realize that we do have joyful moments, mixed into the misery of 113 degree days, unending errands and piles of dirty laundry. Maybe it’s all about focus. When you take a picture you take a moment, you breathe, you stay still and snap, the perfect shot. Most of the time in life I forget to breathe, am running 150 miles per hour and never even look where I’m headed.
I am that woman in the photos. I just need to aim my eagle eye at the good things, the happy moments, the daily victories, and not to concentrate so hard on the tirades, the tantrums and the tragedies. It’s all about where you aim the camera, set the F-stop, and how you choose to compose each shot. Plus one can always add a little bit of flash to brighten up the image a bit. Remember, as Gentle Giant once sang, “I am a camera.”
Vacationing with kids is not vacationing. It’s parenting in another location without all of your resources.
I want to tattoo that sentence on my forehead so that I, and every parent I meet along the way, will remember that taking a family trip is different from taking a vacation.
I sometimes think that once you become a parent there’s this unwritten rule forbidding you from ever having a truly restful respite until maybe your kids reach college age. The funniest part about all of this is that while we’ve all been members of a family since our inception, none of us had any inkling about how exhausting and stressful family travel actually was until we became parents ourselves.
Think about it. Didn’t you used to treasure family vacations? Did you ever once think that your parents didn’t look forward to those times as much as you did? Hah! Now you know the truth!
Vacation parenting is harder than home parenting. You have no help, first of all. Your regular cadre of baby sitters isn’t available. Your friends aren’t there so you have no one to share those endless hours at the park with. Your kids don’t eat right. They don’t sleep well. They don’t have their favorite toys, books or best buds. Then, if you filter in the expectation piece of the whole thing; this idealistic belief that these are supposed to be the best times in your life, you end up with a perfect recipe for disaster and disappointment.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t great moments that occur during vacations. All I’m saying is that we strive for this unrealistic ideal and then spend an equal amount of time and energy berating ourselves for failing to achieve it. So I’ve compiled a list of 10 guilt free family vacation rules that should help all of us as we start planning for Christmas break:
1. You’re allowed to yell at your kids on vacation and that doesn’t make you a monster.
2. You have the right to put your children to bed at a reasonable hour.
3. You will not scar your children by refusing to buy them ridiculous tourist paraphernalia that you know damn well will never be looked at again after this trip.
4. You are not a bad parent if the thought of one of your children being abducted for a few hours hasn’t momentarily crossed your mind as one way of offering a much needed parenting break. (Of course they always get returned happy and unharmed, even in your most disturbing fantasies.)
5. You are strongly encouraged to say “no” at least three times a day.
6.There is no dessert for breakfast, no matter how convincing your child may be.
7. Baby sitters exist in every city. Get a recommendation from family or friends of a friend and then give yourself a few hours off.
8. Portable DVD players are a good thing. Plant your kids in front of one for an hour and take a nap.
9. Theme parks are for young people. Rent one or bring one with you so that you don’t have to act like you enjoy those horrible, nausea-inducing rides that make your kids giggle oh so gleefully.
10. Hotels and resorts provide kid’s clubs and activities for a reason. Use them!
I guarantee that if you follow my vacation guidelines, you will feel better about yourself as a parent, you will appreciate and enjoy your little ones and all of their mercurial wonder and whimsy, and, most importantly, you may even end up having a good time yourself.