The gas station was only a quarter mile away. I told Balthazar we’d walk to get cash. We’d be back by the time the doctor at the local urgent care called our names. We weren’t two feet out of the doctor’s office when Balt started to complain. He didn’t stop for the duration of the quarter mile walk.
Three months earlier, on a Sunday afternoon, Justin and I were sitting quietly working on our own computers. The kids were otherwise occupied watching a movie or playing a game. I can’t remember. The point is they weren’t left to their own devices running around the house with sharp objects.
The fall of this year had been one of the more draining I can remember. It seemed like one of the kids was always home from school, Balthazar had a random stomach issue that had him unable to digest food for two months, and my career gave me a very serious case of be careful what you wish for. I was swamped, sleep deprived, and running on empty. In other words, I was a typical mom.
So on that Sunday afternoon I turned to Justin and said, “I need a vacation.” No, in my head that’s what I said. What I really said was, “I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE. I HAVE TO GO ON VACATION.” I’m sure my eyes were bugging out of my head like a tweaking crack addict that made my husband question if he needed to put me on a 72-hour hold, but I needed him to know that I was serious. I needed to see a different four walls. I needed a holiday.
Justin and I have been together for fifteen years. If there’s one thing he’s learned in that time, it’s when I’m serious. And so without a word, he turned to his computer and began Googling places our family could go for Spring Break.
A few days later, Justin proudly announced he had booked us a week in Hawaii. I immediately started counting down the days.
By the time the day of our departure arrived, I had exhausted myself trying to prepare for the trip. Truthfully, I had decided that our Hawaiian adventure was going to be perfect. I was going to pack perfectly, instead of my normal, “Oops I forgot swimsuits!” method of madness. Everything was going to be perfect. Best of all, I was not going to drop anyone at school, or make anyone a meal, or wash anyone’s clothes for an entire week.
And then we got on the plane, which was set to depart at 9am, and arrive in Hawaii at noon-ish local time. After 3-hours on the runway, the Captain came over the loudspeaker.
When most people hear the Captain come over the loudspeaker and announce, “We need to go back to the gate to check on an engine,” most people get annoyed. They complain about airline travel and wish they had chosen a different airline. Mothers, however, hear an announcement a little differently.
We hear that Los Angeles to Hawaii is the longest over-water flight in the world and that we are currently sitting on a lemon of a plane that could wipe our entire family out. Everyone else may be pissed off that their flight is delayed, mothers only hear “engine trouble” and we stop listening.
We grabbed our kids and our carry-ons and got off the plane. Our perfect vacation was off to an imperfect start, but we still had 7 sun-filled days ahead of us. We just had to get there.
8 hours later, our flight, new plane with two working engines and all, we left Los Angeles.
We arrived at around 10:30 pm local time, which to my it’s-3-hours-later-in-LA kids, was well past midnight. They were good sports, but exhausted good sports.
The hotel was stunning, the beaches perfect, the weather amazing, but the kids were cranky. Normally, my kids are travel pros. But for a few days straight, they were cranky. Margaux was sassy. Balthazar was whiney and complaining. And If there’s one thing I hate to see around a vacation pool it’s whiney kids, enraged that their poolside chicken fingers weren’t cut the right way, or pissed off that mom is forcing them out of the pool for seven seconds so she can re-apply sunscreen.
I hate it because any kid that gets to go on vacation is lucky. But there I was, poolside with two whining kids.
For a few days, Justin and I attributed our little Whinersteins to our 15-hour travel day and the time difference between LA and Hawaii. We had never dealt with time zone issues before going East, maybe the going west and gaining 3-hours on the day part, had sent my kids into a tailspin.
But as the days went on and the whining didn’t subside, I started to question my parenting. Whining kids on vacation always seemed spoiled to me with parents who had created monsters. Now I wondered if I was one of them. Just another beleaguered parent with kids pissed off about their chicken fingers.
I started to look at my kids differently. We had always called Balthazar our bright side guy because he’s eternally optimistic and can always see the bright side. Margaux is five and loves to throw down some sass when she can, but she’s fun and funny. They like to have a good time, but here they were in paradise not having a good time. I wondered if my kids looked to an outsider as bratty as other complaining kids in paradise had looked to me.
Then on the fourth day of our trip, something wonderful happened. Justin got strep throat.
And then so did I.
And then Balthazar got a sinus infection. And Margaux got a fever. And I was delighted.
Sickness was going to be the smoking gun that I was looking for. Maybe my kids weren’t brats. Maybe they were fussy from being sick! Even strep throat sounds better to a mom than kids who are ungrateful assholes.
Justin had gone to the urgent care himself, having come down with our family plague first. The next morning, I took Balthazar so he and I could both get strep cultures and sinus exams.
We had planned to arrive when the urgent care opened so we could be first in and not lose a half-day of vacation. But when we arrived at 9 am sharp, there were 15 sick people ahead of us. With only one doctor working on Hawaii standard time, my cranky kid and I were going to spend the bulk of our day trying not to get sicker in the waiting room of the urgent care.
After filling out the endless paperwork every doctor requires, I handed the receptionist my Visa card to pay my co-payment.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” she said handing me back my card. “Your card’s been declined. It says you have to call fraud protection.”
When some random steals my credit card information and buys two grand worth of stuff at Best Buy, no one bats an eyelash. But a co-pay at an urgent care, suddenly fraud protection is on high alert.
I handed her my Amex.
“I’m sorry, we don’t take Amex. Visa, MasterCard, Discovery. Just not Amex.”
All I had was an Amex. No checkbook. No cash.
“You can get cash at the service station up the road,” she chirped.
“Sure,” I said, “It’s not like we don’t have the time.”
So I grabbed Balt and said we were going on an errand. The Shell station was about a quarter mile up the road. I figured we’d walk. There were still 13 sick kids ahead of us. We could walk back to LA and still not miss the doctor.
When we arrived at the service station, Balt asked if he could get a snack. I figured if he was chewing, he couldn’t whine and so I enthusiastically said, “Sure, get anything you want. Just no candy.” I figured a hyper whiney kid would push me over the edge. It was bad enough I was spending my vacation with a sick spouse and whining kids. I didn’t need to add energy to the mix.
Balt picked up a bag of chips, the only thing he could find less healthy than candy. He was thrilled when I said he could get it.
There was a little section of the mini mart that had pens and tiny notebooks. Balt stopped when he saw one of those black and white writing journals we used as kids. He looked at it for a moment then asked if he could get it.
“Sure,” I told him. The book only cost about 50 cents. And I’m never one to turn my kids down when they ask for something that seems like something a smart kid would want.
He smiled and said, “Really?! I figured you’d say no.”
I got my cash, paid for his stuff, and we set back on our walk to the clinic.
Balt was quiet for the first time, holding his notebook tightly. After a minute he said, “Mommy, thank you so much for letting me get this book. It means so much to me. I’m going to use it as a journal and all my other ones have broken.”
It was the first nice thing he’d said in days.
I smiled and asked him what he’d write about.
“This trip. It’s the best trip ever.”
“Really?” I said. “You don’t seem like you’re having much fun.”
“I am. I love Hawaii. This walk is the best part. Just being with you.”
“Aw man,” I thought to myself. “Now I’m a jerk for being so annoyed the past few days and he’s adorable and delightful over a 50-cent notebook.”
In that moment, I wished my life were a TV movie. That’s when the camera would pan in and I would have gotten all choked up and lamented all the life lessons I learned about gratitude on that walk back to the urgent care. I’d realize I was the one who was cranky and that life was bountiful and had given me the blessing of kids who were cranky in paradise. I’d have an Oprah moment as I joyfully got a sunburn walking my sick kid, who wouldn’t share his chips, back to the doctor’s office where I’d gratefully spend half of my last day of vacation waiting for the benevolent doctor to look up my kid’s nose and say, “Yeah. He’s sick.”
But life isn’t a TV movie filled with A-Ha! Oprah moments. We moms are more likely to have an aw man! moment than an a-ha! moment. Parenthood is messy, disappointing, exhilarating, draining, thought provoking, and thrilling. It’s everything, but easy.
There is no perfect day nor a perfect vacation. There are no guarantees for the good days nor bad. There are only the little moments, the black and white writing book that makes your kid’s day for no particular reason on the vacation when the whole family got sick, that we hold on to to make up for the whining and the complaining and the nagging and the crying. From the kids, too.
I hugged my kid and told him I was glad he liked his book. I smiled for the first time in days and vowed to enjoy my last half day of vacation. I may have only gotten a half day of vacation, but I was willing to take what I could get. Lord knows, I’d earned it.
It took me only a day of being home to start planning the next family vacation. My kids might be a-holes again, but at least they’ll be a-holes in paradise.
*Don’t forget to hit LIKE and SHARE on this post, please. And feel free to chime in with your terrible vacation stories below. Could they be as bad as mine?