For non-parents vacation equals relaxation, “me-time”, and adventure.
I can’t speak for all parents, but my guess is that for the most of you, vacation does not include any of the above, especially if you have young kids. Or it may include adventure in the sense of your kid getting lost at a theme park! Yeah, that happened – more later on. So, no, not the good kind of thrill you might be hoping for.
I’ve just had the most relaxing week in the past three years. Not because I was on vacation, but because my husband (with the aid of his mom) had kid-duty this entire week. My parenting hours were thereby drastically reduced: from dinner time, when I’d get home, to about 21.00 when I’d put one or both to bed, max 3 hours a day. Heaven!
No being cried awake by my youngest.
No wrestling my eldest out of bed. He’s not a morning person; he gets that from the both of us.
No trying to get everyone clothed, fed, and out the door by a certain time.
No biking in the morning.
No tantrums at school when I drop them off.
No guilty feelings for having to leave them there.
No guilty feelings for being secretly happy to be rid of them for a few hours.
No stressing about “making my train or risk reaching too late for pick-up”.
No fighting to get them ready to go home at pick-up.
No embarrassment from hearing how my neuroatypical eldest had an episode and pushed a kid, or had a meltdown for no apparent reason; it’s an ongoing process trying to figure out his triggers.
No stress in trying to distract them long enough to cook.
No guilt when I finally give in and let them have screen time for much too long.
In addition to that, no endless diaper changes, no repeating myself incessantly, or constantly anticipating the next blowout.
None of the above. It’s been pure bliss. Well I needed it, because the week before that was hell on earth, physically and emotionally (I’m partly to blame for the physical part).
Although they’re too young to remember much of what goes on in their daily lives, I wanted to do fun stuff with them so I could create digital memories for them. So Monday we went to a theme park for young kids (I’d say ages 10 and under): Oud Valkeveen.
That meant getting up early to make breakfast and pack lunches for four people (technically three, cause the kids don’t eat that much). I prepped as much as I could the night before, but I always end up forgetting stuff.
Pack extra clothes in case of poo-namies (thats when the poo escapes the boundaries of the diaper) or if we decided to go swimming.
Get the kids up, fed, dressed and everyone out the door by a certain time so we could catch the bus, train, another bus, and finally a 30 minute hike to our destination. (Don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but we don’t have a car, and since grandma doesn’t bike, we had to rely on public transportation and our feet to get where we needed to be.)
I’m getting exhausted again just thinking about it.
Lots more walking. Fighting with my eldest to get on the rides, followed by more fighting to get him off after 3 turns so we can go on the next one. Thankfully there was an enclosed part where the littlest could run free without getting lost, so we went there for lunch.
As I turn my back for one minute to clean up I hear crying. Instinctively I turn, as it’s coming from the direction I last saw my eldest. He’s not the one crying, but there’s a smaller kid next to him who is, and an angry dad picking him up. “Uh, no” I think. As I start walking over, the dad taps my son on the back and asks why he pushed his son. Not hard, just to get his attention. Still, lucky for the dad that my husband wasn’t there, or he would have had a broken arm and I’d have a spouse in jail.
Of course my son doesn’t react, because 1) he doesn’t understand what the dad is saying and 2) he doesn’t understand what he did wrong(?), or doesn’t care(?). I added the question marks, because I have no idea what goes in in that little head of his.
So I do what I always do, stay calm, apologise on his behalf, and “make” him sign an apology (hoping someday he’ll actually get what that means). I explained to the dad, that although he may look big (like a five year-old), he isn’t as mentally developed as he should be by age 3,5. The dad was appeased and they went on their way, but of course that left a sour feeling in my heart the rest of the day and a blemish on what should have been a happy memory.
I shift back into hawk mode: watching his every move and anticipating situations that may be a danger to him or may lead to a confrontation with others. So in addition to being physically tired from all the walking, running-after, dragging-along, I am now also mentally exhausted from running the various scenarios in my head and dealing with the actual ones.
By 17.00 I call it quits and we start preparing to head home. Last round of diaper changes, coats on and toilet breaks for grandma and me. Thing 2 is strapped into his buggy, so I give my eldest, Thing 1, my phone as an extra distraction and leave him with grandma. I couldn’t have been gone more than 5 minutes, but when I get back grandma is walking with the buggy and my eldest is nowhere to be found. He dropped the phone, made a dash for it and slipped right through grandma’s fingers.
Immediately, the worst case scenarios flood my mind and they are only magnified by the fact that his communication skills are so weak. If called, he won’t answer. If asked questions, he won’t answer. He was wearing a wristband with my telephone number, but I’d just put on his coat, so that wasn’t immediately visible. I end up retracing my steps to the last ride we’d been to and that he had enjoyed, the bumper cars.
The ride attendant was great; she radioed it in and kept me calm in the meantime. The only thing is, I had to stay put to hear back from whoever was on that other line on the radio. Another mom (wearing a bright pink jacket) seeing my distress left her husband and child (!) and went to look for my son. ❤ That selfless gesture helped, but as the scenarios in my head shifted from what my son might be getting up to, to what someone with less than wholesome intentions might try to do to him, it all became too much and I started crying.
Thankfully, they found him not too much later, perhaps 5 minutes, although it felt like 60. He was on a ride not five feet away from where I’d left him with grandma. We’d been on it like six times already, but he apparently couldn’t get enough. He had gotten on and subsequently refused to get off. In that moment, I was thankfull for his ‘obsessive’ nature.
I could’ve gotten angry. Just like the dad from earlier, I could have asked why. I could’ve threatened him with a thousand different types of punishment, but didn’t because he just doesn’t understand. And that makes parenting him hard. Because I know I can’t give up on trying. He’s learning, just at his own pace. And while he may not get it today, some day the penny will drop. Probably when I least expect it.
In the end, I was just grateful to have my son back in my arms, alive, happy, and unharmed. So I let it all go, all the tears, resentment, anger. My son remembers none of it. Well, I assume he doesn’t, because he’s just as carefree as ever.
We went home and rested. Tuesday we stayed home. If you think that meant resting, think again. Especially with my tiny attention seeker
Wednesday, a repeat of all the prep stress. Bus, train, bus, hike, this time to Duinrell. Nothing noteworthy happened there, thank God. Needless to say, I limitted the amount of bathroom breaks I took. If I couldn’t take him with me, I strapped him in to the buggy (which he’s too big for, which meant I had to strap one leg in). The youngest would be free, but grandma can catch him if he runs.
Thursday we stayed home, see Tuesday.
Friday I had a trip planned to an indoor playground we’d never been to before, but since that involved a thirty minute hike, I decided “Ah, NO”. I allowed myself one lazy decision and went to the indoor playground nearest us. The only thing easy about that day was getting there. I split up guard duties: grandma with Thing 2 in the toddler section. That left Thing 1 over to me to flank in the bigger kids’ section, because the toddler section hasn’t been a challenge for/ entertaining to him since he was 2.5. Mister has the energy of a team of young puppies, the speed of a cheetah and the stealth of a ninja. Keeping up with his play for four hours felt like a nine hour bootcamp session.
So thats why, the following week I was happy, nay eager to hand over the baton to team hubby and relax at work. All in all, my vacation week was stressfull, exhausting, even depressing at times.
At night, I’d recall the smiles, the hugs, the kisses and the laughter. The laughter is what warms my heart the most. It’s what keeps me in the game and no matter how many figurative (and literal) punches I have to take in the parenting ring, their laughter and happiness is what keeps me going back for more. When they’d go to sleep at night, tired but happy, I’d go to sleep, exhausted and satisfied. They might not remember any of it, the good or the bad, but I will. I just choose to focus on the good. And so, I resign myself to the fact that, for the next decade or so, vacations will not equal relaxation. What doesnt kill me, will only make me stronger.😏💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽
*If you enjoyed this post, check out more nonfiction here.*