We’re sailing along Highway 44, nearing the 270 interchange. Instead of slowing for the curve I accelerate – it took us over two hours for my husband to pack the car “just right” (there was a trip to the hardware store involved) and I’m scared if I show even the slightest hesitation he may ask me to pull over to reevaluate his method of coordinating the beach toys smallest to largest.
I love my husband… I love my husband… I think to myself. It’s more like a yoga chant — something you say to yourself over and over to keep from killing someone.
I think back to the preparation it took to get us to this point. I’m not exactly sure how long it took to pack my 3, 4 and 5-year-old daughters for the beach. If you count the mental preparation… carry the one… well it was sometime before I was born. Floaties, life jackets, swimsuits, towels, spf 1 million sunblock, hats, sunglasses, goggles, food, drinks, sand shovels, fish nets, medicine, malt liquor... cleaning the car, changing the oil, figuring out how to remove the ten-ton seat so we could fit in our cooler filled with road snacks. Attaching the portable DVD player. Watching the portable DVD player fall off the headrest over and over. Smashing the portable DVD player in the driveway and then repeatedly punching it with my bare hands until it was dead. And then my husband swooping in at the last minute to rearrange everything so it makes sense in his anal retentive mind.
I love him, though. Have I already mentioned that?
We fly onto 270 south and I finally feel my shoulders start to relax. Only two hours behind schedule, but let’s not dwell on that. We are finally on the road. This vacation is happening.
“Mom? I have to poop,” I hear from the back seat.
I turn up the volume on the radio and accelerate.
“Mom? My belly hurts.”
“Maybe playing Who Can Stay Silent Longest will help,” I offer.
I pull off the highway and stop at the first gas station. She is in there for an unusually long time. I consider telling her we’ll be back for her in a week.
“Mom,” she says, coming out of the bathroom holding her stomach, “I’ve got the firerrhea.”
What is normally a 12 hour trip turned into an adventure into the depths of hell. We literally stopped at every gas station bathroom from St. Louis to Florida. But even the nastiest bathroom (I’m looking at you, Arkansas) was a trip to the Ritz compared to what happened in Mississippi.
It was a particularly long stretch between exits and nature called. Actually it screamed. If I didn’t pull over immediately we were going to have a situation. I pulled off at the next exit – a two lane road that took us into a wooded area filled with No Trespassing signs and Confederate flags. I did what any good parent would do – tossed the toddler potty into a ditch and yelled at her to go as quickly as she could before rolling up the window, my foot poised to hit the gas at any moment and flee.
Finally, somehow, we made it to the beach and my 5-year-old’s crapsplosion had subsided. I was excited to finally kick back and relax in my chair with a good book and a cold drink, the hypnotic sound of the waves lulling me to sleep as my husband splashed with my kids in the waves or they made sand castles at my feet.
This was our second trip to the beach; our first was when my girls were 2, 9 months and I was 5 months pregnant with our third. My husband and I alternated nap duty up in the condo, realizing at the end of the trip we hadn’t actually said more than two words to each other the entire vacation. We’d packed diapers, baby food, diapers, formula, diapers and more diapers. It was exhausting. That was the trip that we (literally) drove through a tornado on the way home and part of me wished it would just take us to Oz so I could finally sleep.
This trip was going to be different. We were going to be one of those perfect Pinterest families whose family smiles and stuff. I cracked open my book and took a big, relaxing breath. Vacation had arrived.
TWO MINUTES LATER:
The pool. They all wanted to go to the pool. A hotel pool smaller than the one in our neighborhood, fifty feet from our house. The pool that doesn’t require a two day tour of truck stop toilets. The next two days were a constant negotiation - spend an hour in the ocean and then you can swim in the pool.
And I say two days because on day #3 my 5-year-old (yes, the same one with the ‘firerrhea’) got stung on the leg and hand by a jellyfish and practically ran on top of the water for the shore, vowing never to touch salt water again. That pretty much ended it for everyone.
Travelling with kids is such a different ball game. There is no rest. There is no relaxation. There is no sleeping in. There is no mercy. My husband and I have done some major expectation management since those first two trips to the beach. First and foremost, we now call it what it is — a trip.
A vacation is what my husband and I do when we drink mimosas for breakfast and take naps at 10 a.m.
Celebrate 10 years of films, food and fun with your dream team this summer at the Art Hill Film Series from the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Celebrate Shark Week at the Saint Louis Zoo, where you'll get free admission to Stingrays at the Caribbean Cove when you come to the zoo dressed as a shark. You can also enjoy lots of shark-themed activities, shark-themed snacks, and live music on the weekend.