One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

There is no Such Thing as a Vacation for Mom... not even from judgmental people!

Last week we were on our annual after Christmas trip to the beach with my parents.  Winter weather is unpredictable, but no matter – the kids will swim in the outdoor pool and hot tub even when it is 17 degrees outside. But when the water is 68 degrees and air temperatures range between 17 and 60 degrees, I contend that the conditions are more appropriate for polar bears than people. 

It is important to clarify that by most accounts this would be deemed an incredible free vacation.  And it is… for the children.  I endure this trip year after year with so many little ones because I understand the importance of tradition and routine and stability and memories in lives that might otherwise be chaotic.  The beach guarantees 24-hour playtime with no food police, few chores, lots of movies, few bedtime rules, and lots of sandy wet quality time with the family. 

But for this mom, it just means I move all my usual jobs to a beautiful new location with all the supplies I can carry with me.  Once I park the van, I don’t get in it again until we leave. 

Anyway, almost every year I have to make this trip without my husband, who is home working to meet all of his year-end deadlines.  This year, I pack up seven children under the age of 6, four more under age 14, food for 7 days, our own linens so that we won’t destroy the one’s at the condo, 7 life jackets, enough water toys to fill the pool, 1 scooter, 1 X-box and all the parts, diapers, baby beds, strollers, swim diapers, bathing suits, 30 beach towels, and enough clothes to survive, all crammed into a 15-passenger van with 11 people. Ten more adult children and their kids will arrive in separate vehicles throughout the week.  We have to remove the last seat to fit all the stuff and with 5 car seats and a 6’2” 14-year-old there is not one centimeter of space for movement. 

When you travel like this you have two choices.  The first, which was my father’s preferred method, requires you to get in the driver’s seat, accelerate, travel at least 15 miles over the speed limit and completely ignore the cries of your children, “I’m hungry!  I have to go to the bathroom!  NOW!  I want some candy!  When are we gonna be there? He’s hitting me.  When are we gonna be there?  Mom, tell her to stop looking at me.  How much longer do we have?  I’m hungry. Really, Nanna.  I have to go the potty now.  When is the next exit?  Why did you just pass the bathroom Nanna?  Can I go on the side of the road? I promise I won’t get it on the car.  I can aim.  Can I pee out the window?  I’m starving. The baby needs a diaper change.  He’s poopy and he’s putting his hand in his pants.  YUUUCK! Tell him to stop. ….. I’m hungry and I’m gonna die if I don’t eat. ….”  Need I go on? Unfortunately, these incessant needs are in addition to the normal whines, complaints, and questions of a car full of kids.

The benefit of this method of travel is that you arrive far more quickly than the second method, which, in theory, shortens your period of torture and decreases the odds that you will leave a kid in the gas station bathroom or running down the side of the road trying to catch up with the van.

But it has downsides.  Like frequent calls to the suicide hotline during the four-hour journey.  And the stench of a urine and poop filled car.

The second method has no fewer downsides, but is my preferred method of travel.  In this method the adult driver determines that it is in her best interest to ignore the travel time of normal people and the biting comments from those who choose the first method of travel.  This option is a little more flexible and involves frequent stops - usually within 10 minutes of leaving the house.  Of course, under-developed bladder controls means that it doesn’t matter that you ask the kids if they need to go potty 3 minutes before -- as you were pulling out of the 6th potty stop.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Don’t get me wrong, I do all in my power to shorten the trip and decrease the number of stops.  I test their bladder size and control limits regularly.  With periodic checks, “Can you still hold it buddy?”  If the answer is yes, and sometimes when I think the answer should be yes, I whisk past the upcoming exit while trying to distract the kids.  I have made it as far as 50 miles before the panic button was hit and I was forced to pull over.

I refuse to allow them to use the side of the road. Not because I’m opposed to pee on the shoulder, but because if I do, my little boys will ALWAYS need to go potty – attempting to manipulate and test my patience on every car ride. 

I’ve also been known to use the radio tactic.  When a child won’t stop screaming or nagging or whining and I want to jump out of the moving vehicle, I turn up the radio loud enough for the car to rattle and the passengers two cars behind us to hold a dance party at the red light.  I HATE loud music.  Even my teens cringe, but that may because they are forced to listen to MY music at a decibel level that they prefer to listen to THEIR music.  The truth is, I hate whining crying nagging children’s voices even more than deafening music.

The big kids have their own list of complaints, usually related to the whines, cries and demands of their younger siblings, but these are just as disconcerting to mom. In the car, they will gladly help to the extent that it makes their trip more peaceful.  When we arrive, they are very good at making sure the little ones don’t escape and drown or run into the street, but that’s about it.  You can’t ask young teens to take on that kind of responsibility on their vacation, especially when the pool is literally outside our door with no barriers to prevent the little ones from running amuck.

Each Christmas my wonderful parents give my kids gift cards in their stockings.  Eating out is a tremendous treat in a super-size family, so the idea that each child can order whatever they want from the menu and pay for it with a gift card is fairly amazing.  Even if it only happens about 4-times a year.  So we decide to stop on the way to the beach and actually get out of the car to eat at Chick-Fil-A with an indoor playground.  We pass the first two Chick-Fil-A stores trying to make it at least an hour down the interstate before stopping for food. 

If you aren’t from the South or a place where Chick-Fil-A is as popular as football, then you may not understand the significance of stopping there at lunchtime with 10 kids on a travel route near Christmas.  Even an Olympian would have a little trouble dodging the pedestrian/vehicle obstacle course that presents itself in the path to the front counter.  But people endure it because Chick-Fil-A employees are typically pleasant, courteous and extremely quick.  And the food is almost always excellent.  A comparable trip to another fast food restaurant almost always requires more time, effort and brainpower than I can muster.

Anyway, after crawling in over and around all the stuff in the car, finding shoes, and assigning everyone a buddy, we unload and dodge the cars exiting through the double lane drive through to reach the door.  Only to find the line extending all the way to the door. 

We find 3 empty tables, but they aren’t together and we allow the little ones to go play on the indoor playground, which requires the removal of 16 shoes.  I wait in line.  Even with 20 or more people in front of me, I was at the front in 5 minutes.

Then came the challenge of calling the older children up to 
the counter to make their own order -- a very big deal that I 
don’t normally allow for the sake of sanity. 

After placing 9 orders and allowing my 9-year-old to hold her own tray, we manage to spill only one super-size sticky coke all over the floor.  A very nice young boy about the same age as my daughter jumps up to help her clean the mess.  He was sitting with his father who also jumped in to help.  I complimented both on being such gentlemen as I stood holding the two babies and 8 people’s food.

We managed to eat, most of them barefoot, and play, and clean up our mess.  When it was time to leave, my four and five year-old boys ran for the door, which was literally touching the table they were eating at.  I shouted in a whispered voice from my table for them to stop at the door, but they opened it anyway. 

An older woman was sitting at a nearby table with what appeared to be her young granddaughter.  As I jumped up to make sure the kids didn't go into the street, I heard her say to her grandchild, “A lot of good that did.” 

Realizing that there were two sets of doors and they were safe, I made eye contact with her and smiled, “I think I have too many kids.”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “Well that is pretty obvious.” 

I meet people like her frequently, but they don’t bother me too much.  What I wanted to say was short and sweet, “If some other people would get off their pedestal and adopt some of the 100,000 plus children that are available, I wouldn’t have so dang many kids.” 

But I didn’t. I wasn't sure I would want her to parent any kids.  I just smiled and gathered my kids and navigated them safely to the car to continue on our vacation journey. 

If only she knew….

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