Ed note: I apologize if the images on my blog are not appearing for you! I am working to get to the bottom of this now!
We’ve just returned from a weeklong beach vacation with extended family, and I am still digesting the magic and mayhem of traveling with young children. There were gem-like “golden moments” at every turn. I watched my husband fly kites with my children on the beach and had that strange other-worldly sense that I would forever remember the particular cast of light, the joy on my daughter’s face, the smell of salt water and sunscreen. My daughter learned to swim — fully — on this trip. She has been taking lessons for weeks now, and had mastered components of swimming (dunking her head, holding her breath, kicking, freestyle arms, etc), but finally it all came together during her weeklong stint with a pool at her fingertips. Magic, as I said.
At the same time, I observed on this trip that, in spite of knowing the contrary to be true, I still persisted in the hope that there would be long stretches of solitary reading, card-playing, and strolling on the beach, and so I think my expectations of family vacation remain doggedly misaligned with the realities of caring for young children while visiting a new destination. To be fair, I did manage to read 1.5 books, play a round of “Oh Hell!”, and go running along the delightfully flat North Carolina terrain three times. But, on the whole, relaxing this trip was not. My son was sick for half of the trip and my daughter is prone to motion sickness, so there was a lot of Doctor Mom on call. But even setting aside these ailments, I noticed that young children need their parents more than usual when traveling — they need to be reassured of their new surroundings and sleeping arrangements, introduced to and supervised (occasionally policed) in their interactions with other guests, acclimated to new rules and routines. I’ve heard the phrase “vacations with children is just parenting in a different location,” but it seems more accurate to say that vacations with children require 1.5x my usual parenting energy.
I recognize these complaints are drivel. Traveling is a luxury, period, but especially after the forced inertia of the pandemic. I write this keenly, as Mr. Magpie and I have not vacationed much in our married life together. Before children, we found that nearly all of our potential vacation time was claimed by obligations — weddings, family reunions and special occasions, holidays, group outings. These were fun and festive but they never had the hazy freedom I associate with “vacation.” It felt like we never had sufficient time left over to plan something just for ourselves, doing what we wished. Beyond that, I traveled so much for work in those days that I craved and prioritized the stasis and quiet of home on the weekends. We took one long trip to Spain before we had children, and it was heaven based solely on the grounds of autonomy: we could fly when we wanted, stay where we wanted, eat how we wanted, beholden only to ourselves. We were the anchor. Once our children were born, because we lived far away from grandparents (in Chicago and then New York), it seemed impossible to get away just the two of us, and we shied away from traveling with the children. I saw other families make it happen — often several times a year — and marveled at their courage. I have often thought to myself, “Where there is a will there is a way,” and I suppose I lack the will? Put differently, travel has not been a top priority for us as a family.
Perhaps that will change, now that we are out of diapers and travel no longer requires as much bulky gear. This most recent trip, I could not believe how “light” we traveled — no travel crib, no stroller, no big bag of diapers, no clutter of bottles. I want to expose my children to new places, cuisines, experiences, and maybe it gets easier the more you do it, and the older the children get.
But perhaps it won’t change overnight. And that’s OK, I tell myself, perhaps convincing myself? I’m not sure. The older I get, the more I realize that a lot of the things I feel like I “should” be doing relate to the implicit values of those around me. For example, I wrote earlier this year that I felt a budding sense of guilt that my children had a long, slow summer ahead — that I should have signed them up for more camps, lessons, activities, excursions. I realized this guilt began to take shape while answering the common, innocuous question: “What are your children doing this summer?” I’d answer tentatively and then feel a shiver of dread as I’d listen to my friends share the active itineraries of their own brood. I felt, I suppose, that I was not doing enough for them. But why? I had an instinct that I wanted my children to have long, buggy days in the backyard, rainy afternoons in the local library, popsicles and scooters in the cul de sac. I do not know how long we will have a full-time nanny to look after them in these pursuits. There may be summers ahead where camp is the only option. There may be summers ahead where the chaos of last summer’s move no longer colors our world. But for this summer, my hope for my children was a barefoot, placid, catch-fireflies-in-jars kind of season. And it took some soul-searching to realize that it’s OK to have objectives and priorities for my family that differ from those around me. The same goes for travel, I think. It’s OK that we prioritize other things right now — financially, logistically, experientially.
It’s interesting how frequently my emotions around parenting get tangled up with expectations — ones I’ve set for myself, ones I sense from others. I wish I were better at “just letting things be,” going into experiences with lower or less-fixed expectations, slicking off the perspectives of others. At the same time, I cultivate those expectations because I care — I want the best for my family! — and the opinions of my friends and family matter greatly to me. So for now I will just need to exercise the routine of “returning to center” whenever I am feeling adrift: reminding myself why I’m doing what I’m doing, recognizing that different is not “less than.”
+Love is…making a salad for someone else?
+Parenting is emotional because we care.
+Portraits of a heart.
+Just ordered myself this tinted lip balm.
+Speaking of clogs: one lucky fellow pixie-foot lady will be in heaven to realize that my favorite clog boots are only $120 (usually $400)!
+Attractive bedding options at reasonable prices. I did want to mention I’d read that Target’s affordable 400-thread-count sheets were top-rated as a budget pick for high quality, straight-forward white sheets and I bought a back-up set for us and can attest to their quality. Pretty damn good for the price if you’re looking for traditional white sheets that feel soft and breathable but don’t break the bank.
+This felted octopus is beyond adorable.
+Easy chic jumpsuit.