The last ten days we spent in Vero Beach, Fla.--a trip that began with our whole family (plus my mother's extended family) for the holiday and extended through the following weekend with just me and the girls with my mom, sister, and grandparents. It was a marathon.
The biggest adjustment about traveling with children, I've found, isn't the packing or the plane ride. It's recalibrating expectations of what a "vacation" means. Gone are the days lost to a book on the beach, where the greatest worry is a passing cloud or running out of sunscreen. Oh, no. Because just getting to the beach requires so much work. So much work! And then once there, you've got to make sure a wave doesn't swallow your oldest child and that your youngest doesn't swallow a seashell. At one point I found myself wondering, Why bother with beach chairs? No one sits in them.
But once I submitted to the fact that no one was going to nap, or sleep at night, or eat anything but french fries and burgers and ketchup and ketchup and ketchup, it was all worth it. Of course ten days with that much sun and that much salt (and so little sleep) is untenable, so my girls had their fair share of meltdowns. But intermixed were great moments that pushed and pulled at my heartstrings. Such as, watching Cecile make like a minnow at her daily swim lesson. I've said it before and I'll say it again: That girl is a student. If I may brag a little, she listens to teachers so well, and now she's swimming float-free on the pool stairs and can even paddle her way to the side of the pool from six or seven feet out! I am so proud of her. And then there's my little Genevieve who could not get enough of the surf. With each coming wave she'd jump up and down, up and down holding on to my hands, shrieking with excitement, making big splashes. She's fearless. And she has a real taste for sand, too. Literally! What's the line: eat a pound of dirt? Let's just say we've checked that off our list.
But what I loved most, I think, was watching others enjoy my kids (when my kids were behaving, of course). There, I found joy in their joy. When you're in the trenches, when you're the one doing the work, it's easy to overlook how your kids are changing. And being around people who don't see your kids every day--or month, for that matter--really highlights just how much they've grown. And right before your eyes, no less. Witnessing others' wonder forces you to stop and savor.
These girls: they are my happiness. They are no vacation, but absolutely worth more to me than any trip around the world.