I can’t tell you how many times I hear this same refrain:
“God, Mikalee, you need a vacation.”
Look, I get it. I obviously appear to be exhausted. I snap when I shouldn’t. I have bags under my eyes. I listen to the Wiggles Spotify station when no kids are in the car — without realizing it, and complete with hand motions that coordinate with the lyrics. I sometimes end up in client meetings having forgotten to take the Peppa Pig sticker off my forehead.
I AM exhausted. I’m a single mommy. But in reality, all parents — single or not — are likely in my same situation.
Because, here’s the deal: Most of us don’t take vacations. Personally, I haven’t had one in as long as I can remember.
However, we likely DO take trips with our kids. But make no mistake, these are NOT vacations.
Why the distinction, you ask? Well, here’s just an itty-bitty, way- abbreviated, CliffsNotes version of what is involved in a trip when you have a toddler:
- The travel planning beforehand — reserving a car that will accommodate your giant-ass car seat plus giant-ass luggage, all passengers and a driver; booking a seat on an airplane that will be the single most expensive empty seat ever because it will go largely unoccupied — she’ll be on your lap whenever possible, after all; and finding a hotel WITH an indoor pool (because undoubtedly you’ll visit your destination and the weather will suck) but WITHOUT a hot tub (because she’s “too young” according to the rules, but she will consider it an inviting bubbly bathtub, making you miserable the entire time as she refuses to swim and just lusts after the beautiful beckoning bath).
- The activity planning beforehand — because it’s super easy to find something that a 3-year-old, her two millennial siblings and an exhausted Gen-Xer mother all like to do together.
- The laundry beforehand — ensuring everyone has clothes and underwear for every day of the trip (plus one for good measure per person, plus 16 for the toddler).
- The packing — finding a way to squeeze all clothes, all hair accessories, all makeup, all swimsuits, all special accoutrements for the toddler, all toys for the toddler, all bedtime books for the toddler, all stuffed animals for the toddler (even the ones she hasn’t touched in months but will be “sad” when you leave them behind, according to aforementioned toddler) into bags that do not exceed the number of ticketed passengers and do not total more than 50 pounds each. Oh, and don’t forget the extra carry-on that will include every bottle from your medicine cabinet (because at least one of your children invariably gets sick either right before or during a trip). Like clockwork.
- The preparing for every contingency — what happens if the weather is bad, and we’ve planned outdoor activities? What happens if (when) someone gets sick? What happens to my mail at home? My newspaper? My garbage and recycling? The appointments I had scheduled? The work I’m missing? What happens when my bag weighs more than 50 pounds?
- The wind sprints through the airport — as a parent, you’ll find yourself lugging car seats and/or strollers into the airport, through security — as well as dragging more rollerbags than you have arms; because for some reason, the second you enter an airport, your kids — all of them, even the older ones — will somehow lose the ability to use their arms. Oh, and the stupid roller bag wheels and/or the retractable luggage handle will always take this opportunity to seize up.
- The security line — it’s hard enough on your own — you have to take off your shoes, practically disrobe, succumb to an invasive cavity search, turn on your laptop and take out your liquids. When you have kids, you have to do this exactly once for you, then multiply it by the number in your party — and add 16 for the toddler, because when you take off her shoes and turn around to take your own off, she’s managed to put hers on again. You’ll repeat this seven times, and now the strangers behind you are glaring and calling names including “dumbass motherfucker,” which your toddler is now repeating loudly in a sing-songy voice to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell. With her shoes on again. Double knotted, because this is the first and only time she’s managed to do that, despite your efforts to teach her for FOUR MONTHS before this ONE TOTALLY INCONVENIENT time in the airport security line.
- The airplane ride — according to your adorable child, planes are basically giant toy construction sets that she will dismantle single-handedly. First though, you have to figure out how to squeeze the giant-ass car seat into the narrow airport chair. Then, once she’s securely belted in, she’s remarkably at the ideal height to pull down the tray table; to press the call buttons; to turn on and off the lights. She’ll grab the barf bag to use as a hat and rip every page out of the SkyMall. She’ll scream at the top of her lungs, pull the hair of the person in front of you and bounce incessantly. Basically, she’ll become the Tasmanian Devil, and you’re helpless except to sit and watch and hope she spins herself out at some point. Which will only happen at the end of the flight, when you have to carry her helpless, dead-weight ass out of said plane, through the airport — all while also carrying the giant-ass car seat. And where are the other kids, anyhow? Oh well; they’ll catch up.
- The rental car — this is its own special hell, let me tell you. First, you have to figure out how to get from the airport to the shuttle and not lose a child in the process. Then you have to figure out how to get all of your stuff in the shuttle and then realize you’re on the wrong shuttle. Then you have to get on the right shuttle and not lose a child in the process. Then you have to stand in an endless line with the kids, trying to keep them entertained while you wait to get a car. Then you get to the car — and no one likes it, because it’s parked next to the convertible, and “Why can’t WE have the convertible???” Then you have to figure out how every piece of luggage, the car seat, the other two kids, you, plus your medicine cabinet fits into the 2-door Speck, because that’s all they had left.
- The planning of every day — itineraries in hand, you now have to actually endure the activities you had planned. And find places to eat and nap (repeated 16 times daily for the toddler) throughout. And no matter what, you’ll always, ALWAYS have to have a map of public bathrooms wherever you are. Because to toddlers, public bathrooms are magical places that must be visited. No matter what. Multiple times each hour, because something may have changed in the 15 minutes you weren’t in there. You never know. It happens, according to toddlers, and they’re not going to miss it.
- The return trip to the rental car company, on the shuttles, to the airport, through security, on the plane — repeat steps 6-9 above, just in the reverse.
- The laundry after — because somehow, you’ll come home with 10 times more laundry than you have clothes. It’s an odd, exponential thing. Trust me on this one.
- The aftermath of the loss of sleep during the trip — your pillow was lumpy, the bed squeaked with every breath, and all of your blankets were stolen by the toddler who slept perpendicular to you all night long in your twin-size bed.
See? Sounds luxurious, right?
Trips with toddlers are more endurance trials than vacations.
So, dear people: Please don’t tell me I need a vacation. I know.
But alas, for the next few years, I’ll continue to plan trips. And one enchanted day, in the not-so-far-off future, maybe I’ll leave my toddler with my parents for a few days and escape. And instead of going to some exotic destination, I have a feeling you’ll find me, “vacationing” in some hotel room in the heart of Reno, enjoying black-out curtains, eating when I want, with no idea where the public bathrooms are.
Completely naked, so there’s no laundry afterwards.
Sounds absolutely magical…
P.S. Because of truly magical moments like this one below, however, we parents endure these trips. And in all honesty, we’re blessed to be able to take them. Just don’t call them “vacations.” Please and thank you.