Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bye bye vacation, hello trip!

A parent of a toddler remarked that their family no longer goes on vacations; they take trips.

I thought this observation summed up one of the facts of parenting that expectant moms and dads may realize, but never truly internalize, until it happens to them.

My friend and her husband are lifelong beach bums. They love nothing more than relaxing on the sand, taking long walks, swimming in the ocean and soaking up the end-of-summer ambiance of beach town New England.

They recently spent a week at a charming beach destination. They had fantastic weather. Their recently mobile child loved the beach. His seaside itinerary went roughly like this:

Eat sand.
Throw sand at Mommy.
Throw sand on blanket.
Request snack.
Drop snack in sand.
Dash like lemming to the water.
Scream when intercepted.
Eat more sand.
Knock umbrella onto beach neighbors.
Eat more sand as Mommy apologizes to neighbors, who are of course elderly and fragile, and Daddy struggles to reinstall umbrella.
Dash like lemming to the water. Coax parents into water. Complain about unsatisfactory water temperature. Retreat to blanket.
Roll in sand.
Take mandatory trip back into water to rinse off.
Howl like a crazed monkey.
Drop second snack of morning into sand.
Bury daddy's feet next to deceased snacks. Eat more sand while parents consult watches.
Become convinced ocean has warmed in course of ten minutes. Make mad dash towards water again. Yowl with disappointment when temperature remains unchanged.
Protest napping in unfamiliar beach front environment.
Secure transfer to kiddie pool before ten a.m.

Mommy and Daddy took solace in the fact that pool side bar opened early. They spend the rest of the day contemplating the fact that they now live to serve. They returned to the city tanned but tired. He went to work the following Monday with a surprising spring in his step. She lamented that she finally understood the old adage about needing a vacation from one's vacation.

I never understood people who said that, either.

Until I stepped off a TransAtlantic flight with a one-year-old. I just wanted a hot shower and a bed. The Grape thought that was rubbish. He snoozed over the ocean, and didn't much care that it was sleepy time in our new time zone. He was ready to rock. It was the first time I caught the Little Grape looking at R. and me with unmasked disdain.

Clearly he'd gotten total weenies for parents.

It's not just travel that changes. Where R. and I used to dine in restaurants, we now get fed. By which I mean we wolf our meals with very little elective conversation, so that we can finish the main course before the Grape tires of sitting in his high chair. Dining out is no longer a leisurely gastronomic journey. It's a means to an end.

We've even learned to put in the Grape's order the minute our butts hit the chairs. Sometimes before. Otherwise he tanks up on bread and wants to get up and explore the place before his food arrives.

It's even more stressful to visit child free friends in their homes. "The Grape is adorable!" they say. "We'd love it if you brought him along."

They know not of what they speak. Meaning: The Grape = bull. Your apartment = china shop.

I had to spell it out even more bluntly for someone recently: Your designer white suede couches and my kid do not mix well. Particularly when you place hors d'oeuvres and red wine within his strike zone on your antique coffee table. Your collection of modern sculpture, your bannister-free staircase and your unenclosed patio comprise a minefield of hazards that makes visiting you with the Grape in tow an event worthy of prescription anti-anxiety drugs.

Except then I'd be too chill, the Grape would destroy something valuable and you'd cross me off your dance card for good.

"Don't you have nice things anymore?" our child free friends ask, their faces painted with alarm.

Of course we do. They're just packed away or fenced off with an extensive system of bulky plastic gates that render the apartment reminiscent of a kennel.

"Can't you make him sit still?" they demand, voices dripping with judgment.

Absolutely. In a few years.

At least I hope so.

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