Before it happens, your mind will play tricks. You are a bit giddy, trying on “day outfits” and “night outfits” because, patently, the evenings will call for more glamor. As you fold tiny clothes into neat stacks, counting up bathing suits and sundry tutu skirts (never forget the tutu skirts), you picture the weeks ahead: smooth flights full of iPad surrender and lolli-pop sweetness (Disney Junior and lollies help, and profoundly, with different kinds of pressure that tend to manifest midair); car rides full of song and whimsy and improvised family games; sleep and serenity of the salty resort-breed; sun-kissed chubby cheeks, forever frozen in smiles; end-of-the-day hugs that scream appreciation; time to read and reflect and ponder the slide of seasons.
But then the day arrives. Departure day. And the early morning car service arrives to whisk you to the airport. And though you requested the biggest vehicle available, one adequate to accommodate, yes, three car seats, the car is conspicuous in its smallness, and the seats do not fit and your eldest child, a perennially reasonable child, is essentially sitting in the way-way back, her booster technically strapped in somewhere, but all but bobbing in a sea of your over-stuffed luggage. As you approach Newark, items of said luggage tumble on said child. And she is a good sport about it, but when you arrive – at the entirely wrong entrance to the terminal, thank you driver – this little angel announces her need to vomit. And so. Being the good parent that you are, you hoist her up over the cigarette laden trash, unwittingly approximating some iteration of the Heimlich Maneuver, and out it comes: a sweet swirly mess of Lucky Charms marshmallows, now in drippy and mocking liquid form. You have been pleading with her, and all of them, to also eat the cereal bits, but to no avail.
You wait on a long, winding line. Your children, obedient little beings for the most part, are bundles of energy, excited of course. And so they dance in place and run around clumsily, twirling their animal-shaped backpacks, flinging their little bodies under the retracting dividers, bumping into fellow passengers. You hear yourself say one word over and over: Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.
After willing your kids to eat something pre-flight – dark chocolate covered banana bits and Gatorade will apparently have to do – you board the plane. Despite the fact that you booked all five seats together months ago, your seats are not together. They are within the same vicinity, a fact that gives you considerable hope. As you stumble to the back of the plane, you assure yourself that people will help out; you are traveling with three kids under five after all! There are two men, seated next to each other, immersed in a jovial exchange, who need to move back one row. One measly row. That’s it. Hardly the sacrifice. And the man on the aisle, an older gent, a man whose probably got a collection of kids and grandkids stowed away somewhere, is swift to oblige, unbuckle and move. But the other one? A young guy? Your husband asks him in the most diplomatic way possible if he’s willing to move just one row, and this guy’s face contorts in an immediate and baffling anger. He glares at your children and begins to shake. Says no. About seventeen times. And then mumbles: You don’t care about me. I don’t care about you. You’re not going to compensate me for my time.
And so. Your family faces a fate of avian separation. You, the lucky one, are seated between the eldest (the kind, vomiting one) and the youngest (cute as ever, prone to a curdling scream). She starts to wail the moment you settle in. And then you learn that the pilot has not yet arrived. And that one runway is closed.
Two hours later, you take off. Thanks to an endless stream of Barney stickers, Blow-Pops, and Gummi-Lifesavers, the flight is decent. In an audible and grating whisper, the bitter man behind you complains about your kids the whole time and all you want to do is turn around and clock him. But you don’t. You bite your tongue and lovingly feed your progeny a steady stream of sugar and cartoons.
At the airport, as your better half is loading the rental mini-van, your clever children play soda bottle soccer on the pavement. Then you decide it would be a fun idea to give your one-year-old a sip of your Diet Dr. Pepper. Then you take a picture of your blue-eyed babe clutching the bottle of soda and post it to Facebook, along with a cute confession of your liberal ways. And then you wonder whether you should have done that. Meanwhile, your eldest, the very reasonable one remember, is announcing something through a huge orange construction cone, her little lips curled around the top.
At some point, you arrive at your destination and feel victorious. Until your baby wakes up at 4:30 the next morning. Until you realize your iPhone is mysteriously shattered into a million little pieces and the screen is smeared with the innards of a Nutri-Grain bar. Mixed berry, you presume. Until you realize that your cute clothes and nighties will remain woefully wrinkled in the bottom of your suitcase and that you will instead basically live in the overpriced, over-sized J’♥ Malibu sweatshirt you bought at a yoga studio even though you’ve never been to Malibu and you certainly don’t ♥ it.
At some point, the tides shift. Your kids begin to sleep and smile a lot. You notice that you aren’t bitching about being shredded with exhaustion. You notice that you have read a couple of books, are starting to feel relaxed. You notice that you are feeling a steady stream of joy watching your kids play with their cousins, and squeal through late-night games of Flashlight Tag on the pristine California lawn. You notice that your baby is saying new words. You delight in the fact that your middle child is sleeping with your neon yellow scarf every night because “it smells like Mommy.” You notice that you have not watched television, a typical staple of escape, for two whole weeks. And you are pleased.
But then. It is time, to do it again. Fold those tiny things into piles, messier this time. Shove said piles into clunky rectangular beasts with wheels. Stock up on items for the bribery you will again employ.
But this time? Your visions are not of beaches and sunny perfection. Your visions are of home. Of toys spilling from the cabinets, of shoes strewn by the front door, of mail piling up, of the cats you left behind.
And suddenly you can’t get there fast enough.
Any vacation with kids stories? People on planes stories? Am I the only one who has a hard time relaxing on family vacations? Do you think vacations with kids are the Universe’s way of reminding us how much we cherish, and appreciate, home?