By Rachel Turner ~
I spent a lot of time trying to put my finger on what was so out-of-the-ordinary about cruising with my family. They’re my family, after all. I should know them pretty well by now. What’s so adventurous about floating through the Caribbean with a piña colada in hand? I’m not complaining, just guessing this adventure is something I’d do quite well.
As I began to think through the logistics of getting my family packed and out of town on a nine day cruise, I realized that these waters were indeed unfamiliar and I started to experience anxiety. What do I pack? What if I forget something? What are we going to do with the dog? Who’s going to get the mail? What are we going to do on a nine hour road trip after the tablets die?
It’s not that I’ve never travelled. My mother spent our childhood choosing exotic vacations over exotic gems, road trips over Rolexes, and fun family outings over fine china. We grew up hitting the road on our way to seek adventure and whatever else Skymiles and Marriott points could buy. In fact, trips with my family are some of my best memories.
I remember our train ride to Washington, DC. My parents couldn’t get to sleep on the train and we laughed uncontrollably for most of the night. We spent our first full day in our nation’s capital sound asleep in the hotel room with the Washington Monument outside our window and the French Open playing on the TV. In Aruba my mother got scared climbing out of a cave that we were exploring and insisted that she was going to make a new life for herself in the bottom of that cave. One of my all time favorite memories is when my father got so fed up with our kid-centric Disney vacation that he declared how tired he was of watching sea animals jump and he was off to find a beer and a ballgame.
Travelling with my family was wonderful. I loved it. I’d pack my Walkman, all the cassette tapes I could get away with, enough AA batteries to justify an additional carry-on, and I’d climb into our backseat ready for a glorious week of zoning out and seeing new places. Hangin’ Tough would be playing on a loop and I wouldn’t have a care in the world. Ah, vacation.
Funny that I never noticed the weeks of prep my mother did to get us ready for each trip. I failed to see the suitcases that lay open for days, even weeks, as she methodically hunted down items, prioritized them, and packed her little heart out. I somehow missed the long discussions about currency and how much and in what form my parents would be bringing with us during the trip. I never realized it was probably not my parent’s dream start to a vacation by coaxing my sister and me out of bed at 4 am and into a pillow filled warm car to begin a long journey.
I never saw those things. Why? I was in the backseat, and backseat vacationers don’t have to trouble themselves with such things. It’s the front seat vacationers that do all the work. I realized that this was my first long vacation as a parent, and I worried if being a front seat vacationer was going to be more stressful than relaxing.
For weeks I contemplated passports, excursions, swim floaties, emergency medical insurance, budgets, dog boarders. I was looking forward to our week long cruise on the Oasis of the Seas with my husband, two kids, my parents, sister, and brother-in-law, but the road to packing us all up and making the necessary plans to get there was a feat.
Being the adult in this scenario is a whole other view and I have to say, I resented my kids a little bit. I wanted to vacation unencumbered with contingency plans and emergency phone numbers. I wanted to stop having nightmares about flat tires on the side of the road or my fearless four year old unintentionally flinging himself off the side of the cruise ship. I wanted to stop analyzing what went wrong on the Titanic so that we could all stay calm, cool, and collected while boarding our life boat
Then there was the packing. What an odyssey. How did those pioneer people pack up a covered wagon to travel for months to their new home without so much as a CVS to pick up something they forgot? Here I was, worried that I hadn’t packed enough Cheezits for nine hours.
Why do parents take their kids anywhere? It’s not relaxing. Is it even worth it? I contemplated these questions while desperately trying to find matching socks to pack for my offspring. Somewhere between loading up my excited children to head to Florida and stepping off the ship to come home, I got my answer.
My answer came in the form of my oldest son as he watched, in fascination, as a rocket launched out of Port Canaveral on our first day. It came again when my youngest caught a glimpse of the really, really big boat for the first time. It happened when my husband grabbed a beach towel and went off to jet ski; when my oldest and I hiked to a fort in San Juan and tried tropical flavored ice cream on the way back; when my youngest got to meet Shrek. I saw it in the light of my parents eyes as we all sat around the dining room table each night to talk about our day. When I realized that my little family of four hadn’t spent this much time together in a long time. Yes, I even saw it sitting poolside while sipping a Pina Colada. We were making memories.
Even with all the packing, stress, and budgeting that front seat vacationers have to do to go on vacation, we sit by with the wisdom to savor each of these precious moments and hold them tightly to our chest. I’d trade a thousand AA batteries to be a front seat vacationer any day. I was wrong in thinking the point of vacation was to relax. That wasn’t the point at all.