As we walked out onto the beach for the first time in seven years after a thirteen hour car ride with five children, I realized something. Having been up since 3am, I was tired, and it was raining. Much to our chagrin, summer decided to take a hiatus upon our arrival. Weariness was winning the internal battle for gratitude, and all I could think was, “the beach isn’t as fun as I remember it. Was this a really expensive mistake?”
The kids, however, were just thrilled to finally see the ocean and could’ve cared less about the circumstances. Witnessing all the “firsts” never gets old, and this was certainly no exception. Pure joy and excitement so raw it was contagious, even in a downpour. Kids have a unique ability to make the best of any situation.
It dawned on me there’s a terrible secret we parents keep. Most of the time it’s not even intentional, but we’re complicit in deceiving the world nonetheless. We disguise it under the smiling family photos with an enviable backdrop. We crop out the chaos and leave only our feet in the warm sand by a good book that we were actually able to read on the beach. From the outside, it looks so, so, good…
Do you want to know the truth about vacationing with kids?
I’ll just say it because someone needs to: it’s kind of awful. Making memories is a lot of work. It’s hard, tiring, and rarely goes as planned, none of which I realized until I was on the parent-side of things.
What you don’t see in all those photos is the long hours in a hot car with sibling rivalry and spilled snacks and crying babies and a constant barrage of “are we there yet?” Y'all, travel-whining is like normal-whining on drugs. Trust me on this one.
You don’t see the inevitable combination of fatigue and stir-crazy which makes it impossible to fall asleep at a foreign place in a strange bed. Or stay in bed without getting up to tattle on siblings. Again.
You don’t see the chaotic and stressful process of packing seven people with enough food, clothes, and books to literally move them from point A to point B for an entire week.
But the other truth about vacationing (and parenting and all of life) is this: the flip-side of terrible/awful is wonderful/awesome, and it seems you can’t have one without the other. Vacation is both, and, incidentally, the awful makes the awesome even sweeter.
There’s something magical about being plucked out of the ordinary that sears memories into our consciousness. While normal, everyday moments of reading books, fighting with siblings, playing outside in the dirt, or taking a walk to the park may fade, they will never forget this vacation to the beach.
They’ll never forget the first time they saw the ocean, even though it was cold and rainy.
They’ll never forget building castles in the sand with their uncle or swimming in the pool the until their backs were crispy.
They’ll never forget the baby walking to the house naked after all the sand had been hosed off, or how the towel got wedged in his tiny buttcrack.
They’ll never forget combing the beach for “treasures” with grandma or hunting for crabs late into the freezing night with nothing but the moon and a flashlight to cut the dark.
They’ll never forget how the world’s biggest sandbox felt beneath their feet, the smell of the salty air, the sound of the crashing waves, or the thrill of riding them to the shore.
Vacations are an invitation to step away from the hustle and business of life, to switch our focus, and to broaden our perspective. It’s a chance to unapologetically put family first, set down our phones, to-do lists, and gnawing “shoulds” and instead appreciate relationships. It’s an opportunity to take in the beauty of God’s creation and learn from a culture and people different than our own.
Summer decided to return for our last full day at the beach and just in time for a long trip back home in a minivan without air conditioning. We shook the sand from our feet, waved goodbye to the ocean, who seemed to wave back, and offered as much water and grace to our red-faced traveling companions as we could muster. The van wreaked of exhaustion and dead sea life, which no doubt hitched a ride in a bucket buried in the trunk, and in the cool, early hours of the morning, we arrived safely back home.
The truth about vacationing with kids is that it's terrible and draining and frustrating and disappointing at times. But it's also wonderful and awesome and an incredible blessing to experience alongside each other, for you can’t put a price on the value of making memories.
Vacations are an opportunity to live abundantly and fully right where you are, and no matter the cost or inconvenience, it’s always, always worth it. You won’t regret it.
Ok, maybe you will sometimes, but you'll get over it. Vacations are like childbirth: somehow you block out all the painful moments and want to do it again!
Here's to next year.