My husband, Noam, and I just returned from vacation. Swimming in a lake, hiking in the mountains amidst a sea of wild flowers, late afternoon ice-cream cones, and French toast for breakfast. Each activity, though, was asterisked – “swimming” meant spending hours gathering rocks, putting them in pails, and making sand mud-pies. “Hiking” involved the number of footsteps we could take before running out of pretzels, raisins, and juice boxes. The ice cream included enough napkins for us to feel personally responsible for the destruction of the natural forest around us, and the delectable breakfast was consumed at 7am. We took the kids.
The trip involved many hours of driving in each direction with two children under the age of four. We did the hokey-pokey (yes, you can do it sitting down) several hundred times. We sang “Hello, Everybody” several thousand times. I told stories about Maki the Magic Monkey and did my monkey-face for so long that my cheeks hurt for hours afterwards.
On the way back, the kids immediately both fell asleep. Noam and I looked at each other and let out a deep breath. We grinned. We’ve tired them out, we told each other. They’ll sleep at least three hours, maybe four, and then we’ll be nearly home. We put on Nick Drake. We busted out the chocolate. After about half an hour, I fell asleep, only to be awakened, five minutes later, by the baby, who was yelling her sister’s name at the top of her lungs. I stuck the pacifier back in her mouth, but to no avail. We became possessed with trying to prevent her from waking up her sister, who had spent the majority of the way there screaming, “When are we going to be there?” I gave her a box of raisins, which was, within moments, dumped in the car seat. I gave her toys, which were, immediately, flung to the floor. We got desperate. I gave her some old batteries, which she clanked together for a few minutes. Finally, Noam passed me his phone – the Holy Grail. That would buy us at least six minutes of silence. I sighed, and looked out the window. Only three hours and seven minutes left, I thought. Suddenly, my phone started ringing. “Shut it off,” Noam whispered. “Put it on vibrate!” I scrambled to retrieve it, pushing aside peeled crayons and doll clothes. When I finally found it, I held it in my hand, staring. The screen said “Noam.” It took a minute to register, and then I started laughing. “It’s our daughter calling from the back seat -she’s trying to reach me.” I turned and looked back at her. She gave me a newly toothy smile, and yelled her sister’s name, finally waking her.
Vacation with children is asterisked. Its elemental components – sleep, the free choice to do what you want when you want, and feeling cared for – are severely compromised. And yet, those moments – the toothy baby smiles, the wonder in their eyes as they see snow-capped mountains for the first time, and, forgetting to whine, run through patches of yellow wildflowers – glow within, lingering, like sun-kisses, as true vacations do.