Spring is finally in the air, and if there’s one thing that screams the change in seasons, it’s allergies. Only slightly behind that would be the proud tradition known as the Spring Break Vacation, when families head out in droves on fun, family trips — and there is perhaps nothing that demonstrates the radical disconnect between adults and children quite like a vacation.
Exhibit A: Preparation
Around our house, it’s not uncommon to hear our kids say things like, “Just thirty-three days until we leave!” The implications of a statement like that are simply staggering. For starters, it means the obsessive countdown to vacation starts even earlier than that. As a couple, we’ve gone back and forth on whether or not we should inform our kids that we’re going somewhere until two or three days before we leave, or maybe even less. “Time to get up, kids! There’s a suitcase at the foot of your bed. Please pack enough clothes for six days of hot weather, and don’t forget underpants. We need to leave in 45 minutes!” We never end up doing that, though, because they truly seem to enjoy preparing for a trip, and if that fills up their little hearts and helps their minds develop a good system of organization and planning, then that’s a positive thing.
What it also clearly shows is that our kids have very little in their lives that they actually need to do. We make our vacation reservations and promptly forget about them until about a week before we leave, because frankly, as parents and professionals, there are roughly 3,742 things that need to be done that take priority over the upcoming trip. So while our daughter wants us to focus on the new hair tie she wants for the trip three weeks from now, I’m quizzing our son on spelling words while my wife is checking the Epicurious app for recipes using the remaining food in our kitchen — namely shredded Colby Jack cheese, half a green pepper, lasagna noodles, horseradish, and frozen peas — because we do not have time to go grocery shopping until tomorrow. Evidently the only thing our kids have to do on a daily basis is sleep, eat, go to school, go to the bathroom, complain about some first world problem like deciding which pair of shoes to wear, and of course, pack for the next trip. Last week one of our daughters let me know she had nothing to wear to school in the morning. “That’s what happens when you pack a week before we leave, Sweetheart,” I told her, “Check your suitcase.”
The packing process itself can also be a fun window into kids’ individual personalities. Going through their bags as we packed, my wife and I shared some good laughs over these strange, little people we are raising. Our youngest daughter’s plane bag had not a single in-flight entertainment item, and was instead some sort of bizarre stuffed animal sanctuary. Our youngest son had packed band-aids and antibiotic spray, as though we were taking a 5-day wilderness adventure at Camp Poison Ivy. He also packed his bathrobe; evidently he had grand visions of lounging around the Mansion like Hugh Hefner. Our older daughter had, to put it simply, exactly everything she needed for the trip, including one emergency backup for each category, just in case. So if our return flight got cancelled for some reason, she would have the necessary floss-stick for the extra night, as well as a fresh outfit to wear for the trip home, while the rest of us would be wearing something a touch wrinkled and malodorous. Had we left the house for the airport without our boarding passes, she probably would have announced, “It’s okay, I’ve got copies in the Important Paperwork pocket of my carry-on.”
Now, I’ll admit that I can get a little lazy as a man when it comes to packing. For instance, my toiletries for this trip consisted of a stick of deodorant, floss, and a toothbrush. Awesome, right? Well, when you spend several days cavorting in and out of highly chlorinated water, your skin can begin to feel like a rhino’s butt looks — painfully dry. So after a shower, I searched through my wife’s toiletries and found something that appeared to be some sort of lotion. But when I opened the bottle I was smacked in the face with an overpowering scent of lavender making love to a mango, or something. Needless to say, my skin remained parched, because there was no way I was going to smell like that.
Exhibit B: Travel
When our alarm went off at 4:40 AM the morning of our flight, we dragged our weary bodies into the bathroom to shower and get ready for the fun adventure of travel. My plan was to get the kids up as soon as I had some clothes on, yet as I was toweling off, in bounced our son, fully dressed, with a smile on his face and energy behind his eyes. It turned out that all of the kids were ready and rearing to go, now just waiting for the two of us to finish so we could leave the house for the airport. These are the same children that I sometimes have to drag out of bed at 7:15 on schooldays to keep them from being late.
“Dad, do we get to do security?”
Think about that question from my son for a minute. It’s phrased the same and is asked with the same enthusiasm as “Do we get to do Space Mountain?” To them, airport security is an event, an attraction. Grab a plastic bin? Awesome! Take our shoes off? Sweet! Pull out a little baggie of liquids? Amazing! X-ray machines and metal detectors? Sick! As if it couldn’t get any better, our airport tops it off with a train ride out to the concourses. “Yes! I forgot about the train!” Follow that up with moving walkways to the gate, and my kids were on top of the world before we ever even boarded the plane.
When we finally boarded and took our seats, my son looked up at me and asked, “Dad, do we do security again when we land?” I shook my head. “Oh,” he said, with disappointment in his voice. Just think, our kids would probably rank the TSA as the single most important agency of our government.
If you have ever had a baby when traveling on a plane, you know that your major hope is that your child does not throw a huge fit and scream for two hours straight. As long as that doesn’t happen, anything else goes in the “win” column. On a flight years ago, our youngest dropped a bomb in her diaper that would have made the Enola Gay proud. The smell was like taking a cricket bat to the side of the head, and my wife and I looked at each other in fear, knowing there was still over an hour of our flight remaining. There was only one thing we could do besides the obvious solution of opening the emergency door and activating the oxygen masks. We politely warned our closest neighbors on the plane that things were going to get worse for a few seconds, organized all of our essential equipment, took a deep breath in, and together executed what might go down as the most perfectly executed tag-team diaper change at 30,000 feet of all time. In less than 10 seconds, the baby was cleaned up and dressed again, and the offending diaper had been wrapped around itself, stuffed in an air-sickness bag, and then triple-wrapped in a thick plastic bag. We consider ourselves lucky that that moment was our worst experience flying with a small child.
Now that our youngest is seven years old, the flights themselves are a breeze. We alternate between video games, reading, snacks, movies, sudoku, and laughing at ridiculous items in the Skymall catalog. If it’s a longer flight, there’s usually a nap mixed into that list as well. There’s also the mandatory trip to the lavatory that my son has to make everywhere we go, but that will all be worth it if fortune shines upon us, and he is one day assigned a school research project on bathrooms of the world.
Can you, as an adult, imagine being disappointed at not having to go to the baggage claim? Of course not, but that’s the reaction we got from our kids as a reward for packing so efficiently that no bags needed to be checked. That’s to be expected, though, because Rule #2 of being a kid is conveyor belts are cool (Rule#1: everything tastes better through a straw). Fortunately for us, they quickly forgot about their loss with the extra special treat of taking a taxi to the resort. Who knew that a thickly accented Middle Eastern man in a dirty minivan taxi could bring our kids such joy?
Exhibit C: Activities
If you surveyed a million parents/adults what a perfect vacation would be, the results would most likely be something like this:
4. Pool/Beach Chair
5. Book or Magazine of choice
6. Favorite drink
Just repeat those items over and over in any combination, and most adults would describe that as a fantastic vacation. Yet for some unfathomable reason, children want to actually “do” things. Things like jumping into the pool 522 times in a row, riding the same water slides over and over and over again, racing around the “lazy river” instead of just peacefully floating with the current, playing water volleyball or basketball, building sandcastles, splashing in the waves, exploring dunes (or just bathrooms), and worst of all, they always want you to either watch or do it with them. What that means for us grown ups is we are left with a decision to make: screw the magazine, or show our kids that the article “What to do if you feel him pulling away” is more important to you than they are. So most of us leave our pool chairs empty and we follow little feet on some adventure, but we find ourselves secretly hungering for the day when they are old enough that we can finally enjoy serenely sipping sangria while our kids read next to us by the pool.
See, I think those thoughts too, but then I feel this subtle nudge from my subconscious that says “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” and I feel convicted that I selfishly wish that my beautiful children would grow up already. Kids look at the everyday with a sense of wonder; every minor occurrence is the beginning of an adventure, every new acquaintance is a friend, and every song is an inherent invitation to dance. They are busy experiencing real life in this amazing world while we, in our jaded cynicism known as “maturity,” seek to drown out the life happening all around us so we can focus on ourselves and our own pathetically small worlds. We are so concerned with goals and destinations that we barely notice the journey in our periphery, but it is in that journey that our kids place their focus. I know deep down in my heart that theirs is what life is supposed to look like, and I envy the perfect simplicity and sincerity of their lives — where everything comes through grace, where forgiveness comes easily, and where fun is all around us. Perhaps parenting is not about turning our children into responsible adults, rather a second chance for us to enjoy the beauty of childhood, to “change and become like little children” by looking at the world through their eyes.
So wherever your next travels take you with your kids, I encourage you to try taking a vacation like they do. “Cannonball!!!”