Not sure if I’d feel differently about vacation if I were purely a stay-at-home mom. Probably not. But for me, family vacations mark a special milestone in my life as a mom. Last weekend, we headed to the beach for some autumn sand and surf, and reflection.
First, I am grateful that my kids are old enough that we all enjoy vacations. For years, we had none. I couldn’t face packing and traveling with three small children. Instead I needed to collapse at home, and recover from the pressures of fulltime working motherhood coupled with raising three small kids.
When we did vacation, it was invariably to in-laws, where the improved adult:child ratio released stress like air hissing out from a bike tire. But eleven years into motherhood, I’m happy to report we have rediscovered vacations. This milestone testifies to the fact that my husband and I, and more importantly, our three kids, survived the impossibly steep learning curve of early motherhood. I have made progress in taming the savage Steiners. The children now pack their own suitcases, try new foods, sit in a restaurant without tipping over the table and knocking milk glasses on fellow patrons, and – true joy – can sit in their own row on an airplane without tormenting other passengers, including me.
Second, although technology is usually a working mom’s best friend, I am grateful for technologic breakdowns. My husband accidentally locked his Blackberry in the rental apartment safe -- for the entire vacation. Our cell phones didn’t work consistently and the Internet connection was intermittent, which all meant I couldn’t check email or voicemail. I also couldn’t track DH down when he ran late. This translated to hours of mindless sitting around, which has unexpected pleasures like watching stray cats hunt mice and spying on someone far wealthier than I will ever be meandering the Atlantic ocean in a vintage sailboat.
Furthermore, my children have learned to whisper in the mornings. Translation: grownups get to sleep late every day during vacation. A simple pleasure that no one within earshot of our family experienced during nearly 10 years of raising babies and toddlers.
My children can cook. For themselves and for me. Our 11-year-old son makes a mean Bolognese sauce. Our nine year old daughter makes Caprese salad and squeezes fresh oj. That pretty much covered breakfast and dinner every day.
My kids, for reasons I don’t totally get, adore me. They gave me long massages on the beach. They wrapped their arms and legs around me in the still-warm sea like octopi. They brought me handpicked flowers and made sure my favorite ice cream flavors were stocked in the freezer.
Of course, not all was bliss. We had a handful of spectacular family fights, including one that resulted in every person on the beach glaring at me (me of course – not my husband) because of my kids’ eloquent, highly vocal refusal to pose for a photo.
So in short, what I say to all working mothers with kids younger than mine: if I made it out of early motherhood alive, you can too. The endless chaos of getting up before dawn, feeding and dressing multiple children an hour before your brain functions, the endless go-go-go of daycare and school drop offs and pick ups, frantic calls from the school nurse about a vomiting child or your boss wondering where-are-you- the-meeting-is-about-to-start, followed every evening by hours of dispute resolution, dinner prep, bathtime, story time and no-time-for-me-time. It is over. Replaced by other childrearing and work/family juggling acts, surely.
For me, the early years were shockingly hard. This stretch feels like a very well-deserved vacation indeed.