When our children were toddlers, I had a girlfriend describe vacationing with children as “parenting in a different place.” She was right. If you’ve gone on a trip with your partner before having children, you know that taking children, especially babies or toddlers, out of town, is not nearly as relaxing as it could be. The endless accommodations you have to anticipate for diapers or food or public tantrums are, quite simply, exhausting. Corralling your children in a familiar place like home is much easier.
– Let me be the first to say how grateful I am that my girls are eleven and nine.
– Let me be the first to say how grateful I am that we insisted on swimming lessons (and they took to them like guppies) when they were toddlers.
– Let me be the first to say that there is nothing like traveling with your in-laws to a lovely tropical location to inspire such gratitude as you watch them manage twin 2-year-olds who want to go in two different directions, both of them potentially dangerous. (All this after you’ve given your kids some cash and told them to stay within shouting distance of the pool or the shave ice stand.)
It turns out that the most difficult thing I had to manage on my recent vacation was myself.
Day 1-3: Guilt. Despite the fact that my girls were both blissfully flitting from pool to beach to cousins to snack shack and back, requiring little if any interaction from me, I found myself often sitting in a chair on the beach beating myself up mentally. “I ought to be swimming with them.” “I ought to be taking a romantic walk down the beach with Bubba.” “I probably look really lazy sitting here in the sun while my sister-in-law struggles with the twins. I should go help her.” “Some exercise would be good. I ought to go for a run or swim some laps.” I could go on, but I suspect you’ve got the message by now.
I wasn’t getting dirty looks or pleas for attention. Cash, yes. Attention, not so much. The simple fact is, the girls were having a ball with their cousins (five of them accompanied us on the trip), and Bubba was fully immersed in vacation-mode, doing what he loves best (boogie-boarding with the girls, staring at the ocean, and having a martini with his father by the pool). And yet I couldn’t turn off the part of my mind that was certain there were more important things I could be doing.
Day 4-10: Occasional guilt. But mostly, since I continually worked on reminding myself that I work really hard at home and THIS IS MY VACATION, TOO, I was able to stop and give myself permission to be lazy relax. See? I can’t even bring myself to call it lazy. I guess that word is too thick with negative connotation for me to be comfortable with.
I won’t say that I didn’t continue to struggle with that constant questioning voice asking “what should you be doing?” At some point I was reminded that someone once told me no matter how far you run, you are still stuck with yourself. So while vacationing with my kids is now a lot easier, one thing that will never change is that going away in any circumstances is “being with myself in a different place.” It was a stark reminder that working on self-acceptance is still the most important work I have to do – no matter where I am.