During this morning’s walk, my puppy and I passed a home where there was much activity in the driveway. Clearly a family was packing up for a trip. It appeared to be at least one or two families, plus grandparents. Two vehicles were being filled with bags and skiis, so I can only assume it was a weekend outing to perhaps NH, VT, or Maine. On our return route past the home again, they had reached the end phase of the preparation for departure. Young children – I counted at least four – were being herded out to the cars. As the kids circled the vehicles vying for their best seat locations, one excited young voice was repeating what I’m sure he’d heard several times inside the house “Everyone carry your own water bottle!” I saw a mom walking towards a car with her arms loaded with the last round of items, as a dad was pulling a car seat out of a different car parked further up the drive. I caught his eye, he waved, and I called out “Have fun!”
The irony is at that very moment, I’m pretty certain none of the adults were having “fun.” I know without a doubt that mom has spent at least two weeks preparing for this trip, even if it was going to be a three-day getaway. Coordinating schedules, planning activities, reservations, lodging, packing clothing, toys, necessities, snacks, food, medicines… and of course making appropriate arrangements for home and pet care while they are away. Dad likely pitched in some too, doing things like setting up light timers and security systems, but we all know the bulk of the planning landed on mom. This trip, no matter where or to what location, will not be a restful and relaxing event for her. Trips with young children are not about R&R. They are about adventures, about experiences, about memories, and about getting great photos. The parents, especially mom, will return exhausted and looking forward to going back to work to rest up. But if fun was had, kids were happy, no injuries or illnesses occurred, and sibling fighting was at a minimum, she will mark it down as a resounding success.
Ironically, just last night, my BFF R.W. and I were looking through one of the recent scrapbooks I had completed. The pages were full of adventures from eight years ago, when my son was 11 – 12 years of age. Bicycle trips, hikes, outings to Newport, RI and Portland & Bar Harbor, ME, camping excursions, a trip to Niagara Falls, family visits, parties, holidays – all fun things we had done together when my son was young enough to still want to do activities with Mom and Dad. Back when I was that exhausted mom who wanted to do it all and make amazing memories. And you know what? We did just that. In flipping through those pages, my friend and I were struck with bittersweet emotions. Joy and happiness in the experiences we’ve had (many of them her family and I have shared together), pride in giving our kids great childhood moments, and a contrasting dose of melancholy and sadness that those crazy young-kid-family-togetherness days were in the past, and how incredibly FAST the past couple of decades have sped by.
I realize of course, before any of you admonish us, that life is far from over, and God willing there are many more adventures and memories to be made. In a couple of weeks as a matter of fact, my college freshman son will be joining us on a short vacation trip during his spring break. This is likely one of the last times he will want to spend his spring break with us, but I know he will still join us for other trips or activities in the future, and certainly holidays and family gatherings. And, of course, my hubby and I are just starting the next phase of our lives where we will have our own empty-nest adventures with just the two of us, like a new life stage of dating. But there has still been a big shift, a change in types of activities, and who will be involved in them. We will never again be introducing our little boy to new child-like wonders and taking him to places like Disney World or Hershey Park or to a kid’s theater or museum. However, that also means that we will not again deal with packing three bags of stuff just to keep him occupied, managing panic as we attempt to track down the lost stuff toy left at a hotel, or finding the balance of too much activity before hangry tantrums kick in (well, ok, there’s still a bit of that needed when traveling with my husband).
When I think back to that family packing up their cars this morning, I realize that hopefully someday (not too soon!), we will be the cool Grandparents in that scenario. While in many ways, I wish we could go back in time and re-experience all of those adventures we had when our son was little and we ourselves were younger and more energetic, there is something really appealing about being along for the ride for round two with grandchildren, and giggling a bit to myself as I will watch my son and his future wife take over those trying-to-make-it-perfect-or-at-least wonderful roles.
If there had been time, and I wasn’t afraid that they’d call the cops on this crazy strange woman, I would have paused and approached that young family this morning. I would have told the mom and dad that they are doing a wonderful thing. That I knew they were exhausted, probably a bit stressed, and no, they wouldn’t be getting any rest. Then I would advise them to embrace the chaos. To soak in every up, down, and exhausting moment. To take a million photos, but then don’t let those photos just sit in their phones and be ignored. Print them, frame them, share them, maybe even scrapbook them. Make sure the kids are engaged, and not glued to electronic devices the whole time. Get them to look out their windows. Touch, feel, and experience their world. Tell stories and share favorite memories…because it all goes really, really fast.
Then before I left them alone to start their journey, I would have given the grandparents a wink and a high-five and said “and YOU have fun.”