Vacation Grown-up Style

Howdy y’all! (that’s what folks say around here. We’re mid-Atlantic, but there are plenty of those crazy not-to-be-mentioned flags flying about up this way…) That’s a whole other topic.

The topic today is controversial, at least if you’re a parent: Vacation.

As far as I can tell, there are two types of these: The with-kids and the without. At the risk of being pegged with rotten vegetables and called a bad mom, I will tell you that I am a huge proponent of the latter. At least while kids are of the not-yet-ten-years-old variety.

We have lots of friends who have taken kids on vacation, and they have lots of great things to say. These great things usually include:

“We didn’t see them the whole time!”

“They were totally taken care of, completely entertained.”

“They did their own thing. Fantastic.”

Is it only me that starts to wonder why you’d want your kids with you on vacation if you don’t see them the whole time? There are lots and lots of all-inclusive family resorts and cruise lines that offer kids’ clubs and activities designed to relieve you of your parenting burden so that you can enjoy your trip in the relative peace that comes with lack of responsibility for tiny people. But if your goal is to NOT see your kids the whole time you’re on vacation–or even MOST of the time–then why on Earth would you take them along?

This is not a popular opinion, but here it is. I don’t think kids are equipped to really enjoy travel until they are past the whiny self-centered, food-driven ego stages that generally occur before they are about ten years old. I can really only go by my own spawn, and by stories related by others…but my kids would have just as much fun staying home and going to the pool with us for a few hours as they would staying in a hotel or tiny stateroom on a cruise and doing exactly the same thing. My kids don’t remember details. Like, at all. So taking them anywhere to do anything like “sightseeing” would be silly. If we took them on a cruise, I would bet money that they would be unable to tell you which ocean we sailed upon at the end of the trip, or recount what color the water was. And there is little chance that I’m going to be paying to tote them off to a cash-fueled Disney-themed week of Princess and castle-inspired kid crack-fest when all they’re likely to remember is that they didn’t like the funnel cakes and couldn’t find a good straw at the restaurant.

It comes from my upbringing and innate selfishness, I guess. My parents left us routinely when we were kids, for two weeks at a time. They flew off to exotic island destinations, just the two of them, and came back tan and smiling at each other in a way that I really didn’t understand. They did this every year that I can remember, leaving my brother and I with babysitters and relatives and whoever they could shanghai into watching us. (though, of course, we were ANGELS).

When I was a kid, it pissed me off. I didn’t like being left, and my Grandma was super overprotective. But now that I’m a mom, I think I understand. And my parents were frank with me, telling me that having time alone together was critical to our family, whether I knew it or not.

There was a time when I asserted to my dad that I was the MOST important thing in his life–my brother too, of course. And he told me I was wrong with no apologies. “Your mother,” he said. “Is the most important person in my life. You and your brother are number two.” Man, that pissed me off.

But now I see that taking time away from your kids–however you can do it–is absolutely critical to a marriage. You chose each other, long before children were involved. And if you can’t remember why…well, then you’re lost.

The Major and I took five days away this summer. And it was the first time in about eight years that I got to just sit next to him and laugh at a silly joke. It was the first time in eight years that I got to read a book start to finish without an interruption, without a priority making me feel guilty about it. And it was the first time in eight years that I looked over at the guy I married and remembered WHY. If the kids had been there, even if they’d been shuttled off to some all-day distraction, I wouldn’t have been relaxed enough to be able to enjoy any of that, or to enjoy the freedom of having space and time to ourselves. To just BE together.

My parents did eventually take us on their trips. We went to lots of islands, learned to scuba dive, and to appreciate less-than-luxurious accommodations in luxurious locales (my parents were both school teachers). But the important thing, I think, was that I never expected that they would take us. It was a privilege — one we accepted and earned eagerly after so many years of wishing we could go. And even as a twelve-year-old on my first vacation (to Maui), I knew that what I was experiencing was something special. Because I hadn’t been dragged along on countless trips that I couldn’t possibly appreciate. All those solo vacations they took were actually great for me, and undoubtedly great for my parents. For me, they created a sense of gratitude. For them, they helped solidify a strong foundation that has them still married after almost 50 years.

I’m not big on parenting advice, but I’ll offer this: Go away without your kids. Once. And don’t call home. Take the time to remember who you are at the basic level, who you were when you fell in love. Take the time to recall what your marriage is about… because if it’s all about your kids? One day you’ll wake up and find that you’re lost.

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