It is a summer tradition that publications cajole overworked, harried readers to take a vacation. We need to relax! American readers in particular learn that we tend not to take all the vacation days we are entitled to, which causes much annual consternation.
I do agree that it is good to get away from normal life and see different things. I enjoy my vacations a great deal. I have perhaps written a few of these cajoling articles myself. However, the idea that vacations are inherently relaxing comes from the perspective of those who do not have toddlers.
We spent this past weekend on Long Island, visiting friends who have a vacation house there. We did all sorts of fun things: playing on the beach, having a bonfire on the beach with s’mores, swimming in their pool, eating outside under the trees, watching fireworks.
I love these sorts of things, but picture all these activities with an 18-month-old wriggly child, and the general tone changes a bit. A beach bonfire with a toddler is an exercise in playing keep away. This is especially true if you have a kid who keeps trying to get closer to the bonfire, pointing to it and saying “fire! fire!” He attempted to walk straight into the pool and the ocean at various points. Just toddling around the backyard, he fell over and re-skinned his knee (add it to the pile of injuries, including last week’s stitches!) At least he fell asleep in the car on the way to the fireworks (and stayed asleep during the booms!)
Despite the inherent anxiety in such situations, I’m very glad we went. I have lovely memories from this weekend of flowers and the seashore and great food and friends. My other kids had a wonderful time. After a day of beach going and pool swimming and such, my 4-year-old told me “Mommy, I had a great day.” I try to remind myself during the wretched 5:15 A.M. wake-ups that in another 12-18 months, my life will be different. I will not need to be on alert every second I am with the little guy. Also, I figure out ways to relax when I can. For instance, when he napped on Sunday and Monday, I read by the pool for a few hours. The other kids were given as much screen time on their Kindles as they wanted so they stayed happy. When my husband took the little guy for a walk on the beach, I just lay on the towel and tried to breathe deeply and enjoy the relaxation that vacations are supposed to bring but, I suspect for those with toddlers, is simply intermittent. It’s like a weather forecast: mostly high-alert, with periods of relaxation. You have to seize those little bursts when you can.