By Lauren Gonzalez
I am freshly returned from a week-long vacation with the family, and I can confirm that there is nothing like a road trip with toddlers to make you appreciate the comforts of home.
Last Wednesday, we abandoned our safe little nest here in Missoula and set out for a family reunion in Park City, Utah. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as I was incredibly starved for adventure – the regular routine and daily dose of same-old, same-old were slowly choking my spirit. The walls were closing in. Feeling downright giddy, I helped to fill our truck’s camper shell to the brim, load up the kids, and get our Griswold-style trek underway.
Despite the usual snafu’s here and there – a few skirmishes with my husband over my navigation abilities, a sudden realization that we’d neglected to schedule a caregiver for our dog, an AirBNB without a working oven – we all had a great time. We reconnected to each other, soaked up the warmth of family that we make due without up here alone in the Northern U.S., and tried our best to obtain photographic proof that we love our kids enough to feed ducks for an hour in the blazing hot sun (an activity we can do at home for far less money), and watch a bored, emaciated sloth bear dry hump a rock for 20 minutes at the zoo (oh, the bevy of uncomfortable questions this elicited from my two year old).
After a week spent far outside of my comfort zone in a variety of ways, I’d like to share some of the wisdom I gained on the road:
Ain’t No Such Thing As “Bad” Parenting While On Vacation
I forgot the sunscreen when we went to the pool. I allowed my kids to eat sugary snacks with dirty hands after they manhandled disgusting farm animals. Guess what? They are still alive (and more importantly, so am I).
When you’re away from home, where your go-to resources aren’t as readily available, and there are fun times to be had, I urge you to let go of your usual “good” parenting standards. Is anyone bleeding profusely, or choking? No? Then I’d say you’re doing a great job. Consequently, my daughter took a spill down the stairs of our rental home and did bleed profusely… still not a bad mom, and her wounds healed nicely.
Embrace the Possibility That Your Kids Will Surprise You
I’m the world’s biggest fan of “routine,” probably because I value alone time more than the average person. I’ve always heard that departing from routine is a horrible idea, and that children spontaneously combust if they go to bed 30 minutes late. I can tell you after five days of missing their afternoon naps, and going to bed over an hour later than usual, both kids not only did wonderfully, they slept so soundly!
Furthermore, my daughter – known the world over for morphing into a shrieking beast in the car – managed several four-hour days on the road without losing her mind. Sometimes, things do go your way. I really wish I could get back the months I spent fretting about all of the things that could go wrong.
… and Forgive Them When They Don’t
Traveling with kids is chaos on steroids. You’re toting around indecisive, noisy, fickle little monsters who eat, poop, and create mess as though they’re getting paid big bucks for it. At least they’re consistent. Instead of dwelling on how far you’ve deviated from The Plan, just keep moving. Instead of “why me?” ask “what now?” Use your energy to find solutions, rather than bemoaning the problems. Sh*t happens to the best of us.
So you weren’t paying attention to directions, and now you’re 30 miles off course with the kids screaming in the backseat – find a McDonald’s, let them play, order 10 hash browns (um, to share with the kids…), and steer yourself back on track. Maybe you forked over a hefty sum for pool passes and your kids decided to scream bloody murder, as though water will melt their skin – hand them off to an aunt, pop open a Modelo, blow up some inner tubes and float around without them. You really are the only one who can ruin your own vacation. Don’t worry – be happy.
There’s No Better Way to Appreciate Home Than to Leave It
Before vacation, I was so sick of my everyday schedule, I was ready to make a run for the border. I keep my kids on a routine because I am a creature of habit, I despise the unexpected, and I cherish the hours of alone time I achieve during regular naps, and after bedtime. These regularities keep me sane, but they also drive me batty. Every single day is measured by carefully calculated milestones – wake up, breakfast, park visit, lunch, naptime, play time, dinner, bed – EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Sometimes, I crave a departure from routine so badly, I’m tempted to whip up a batch of margaritas, down it in one gulp, and run streaking through downtown, just for a change of pace, and a taste of spontaneity. I am happy to report that, after a week of going with the flow away from the comforting/ stifling structure, slipping back into the everyday schedule feels like sweet relief. It’s good to eschew routine on occasion. It helps you realize the paradoxical freedom present within it.
Kick Responsibility to the Curb
I am a surgically precise budgeter all the way. I keep separate bank accounts for kids’ items, groceries, family fun activities, gas, and even Costco (because Costco demands its own bank account). I am constantly nagged by the angel on my shoulder, kindly reminding me that my future happiness requires present sacrifice, and it is nearly impossible to muzzle him. This is why I felt so proud of myself when I evaded him for an entire week. Every time we passed an opportunity to try delicious food, or explore Bear World (what??), I silenced the self-made financial adviser in my head. Why? Because years from now, I will not remember the state of our bank account, or how many times we had to reach into our wallets to fill up on gas.
I will, however, remember the (hilariously horrified) look on my son’s face when he interacted with a live buck deer, my daughter’s (irritated) squeals as my husband dipped her into icy river water to cool her sweaty body, the sudden burst of energy my son experienced when he was gifted a frozen chocolate treat after we dragged him all over the Idaho Falls Zoo, and the indulgent first bites of an In ‘n Out hamburger that we drove miles out of our way to find.
Experiences are the stuff of life, and they trump finances every time – during vacation, at least.
Lauren Elizabeth Gonzalez is a Missoula-based writer and blogger whose kids provide ample inspiration for her short stories, social media posts and articles on motherhood. Drawing on her master’s degree and background in conflict and dispute resolution, Lauren is also working on a series of how-to guides to enable parenting partners to build a stronger, more connected team dynamic. Find out more at www.LaurenTheFreeMom.com, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter for a daily peek inside the head of a nutty gal just free mommin’ it.