Things I Wish I'd Known Regarding Single Parent Vacations
In Spring of 2020 when Covid hit, everyone's lives and plans went up in the air like confetti - far less celebratory though, and far more of a mess as we all tried to predict where the pieces would fall. My ex, who at one time was officially bi-coastal was now pretty much "west-coastal", and not able to travel regularly back and forth to see our kids. The safety of summer camps was unknown and thus we paired up with friends of ours who had a backyard, a pool, AND a coveted babysitter/counselor type to give our kids a covid camp experience and occupy some of their precious summer days.
As summer kicked off, restrictions were loosening, and my kids were ultimately able to travel and spend time in California with their father and his new family. When they're with him, they rent stunning beach houses, take trips to Disney, waterparks and more. They are active - going on 9-mile bike rides and 6+ mile hikes, returning home in better shape, with better tans, and ready to start school. I don't need or intend to compete, but I deserve some fun away time with them as well, don't I?
With the goal of having our own family fun, I set out the past two summers to make some memories with my kids. I thought long and hard about where to go - and last summer selected the picturesque town of Lake George - a nostalgic destination for me having spent many childhood summers there, with the opportunity to stay in the legendary Sagamore Hotel, with its rich history and stunning views. I paid top dollar for a suite, treated my kids to meals out despite the fact we had a kitchen, rented a boat to go tubing, and spent each waking moment with them.
They bickered. They fought. The older berated the younger two for anything and everything that came out of their mouths, the younger two squabbled amongst themselves over video games, bed covers, anything really. They didn't want to go out, didn't want to order in... had stomach aches, couldn't sleep, couldn't get used to the smells, the pillows and more... I still hear tales of the plethora of bees that found a gluttonous home in their sweet, fresh smoothies. These are the memories of our Lake George trip for me... but what made my social media feed was smiling, loving, fun-filled, sun-kissed faces.
Fast forward to this summer. My kids again went to California, but this time after returning home, had a solid 3 weeks before school starts. The thought of sitting in our home with long hours on devices (as is the default here) for 3 weeks was too much to bear, and I felt a spark of excitement about bringing them to my personal happy place, Asbury Park. It's an hour from my home, has incredible restaurants, beautiful beaches and chic hotels with lively and fun pool & social scenes. A simple 24 hours there is incredibly restorative for me - or it was until this time.
The four of us were in one room, and the weather was not great. There were hotel events that kept a steady base thumping through much of the evening. My boys were bored, despite the fact that what they predominantly do at home is precisely what they were doing in Asbury. According to one of my boys, "It's the one room that makes it boring." They were hungry, "starving" in fact, and then didn't eat much at dinner, only to be hungry again an hour later. The hotel, of course, did not have the right mix of snacks, the room was freezing, and all 3 wanted to sleep in my bed.
As I looked at the few photos I took and scanned for the "good" ones to post. There weren't many.
Then I realized - why am I looking for the perfectly composed, smiling pics to post, when that was not at all who we are?
We are not the chipper family embarking on a week of fun, fabulous "together time". Our smiles, if apparent in photos, are usually a result of a sneaky tickle, or a rogue fart - rather than that gut reaction of happiness in our surroundings and with those surrounding us. I spend my time away with them feeling overall frustrated - frustrated that my kids don't appreciate what I've planned, and that they can't "get it together" to at least pretend to have fun for me. Then I realize - they're kids. They need to be who they are, and they are lucky enough to get a ton of experiences traveling to see and traveling with their father. I do not have to be the travel mom! I can be the mom that's here all of the time, the mom they talk to, complain to, cry to, snuggle up with on the couch, and climb into bed with, and be a-ok with that - it's plenty for me and a role I cherish, and one I can proudly share. I don't have to love traveling with them, or even be able to tolerate it, because I don't have to be that parent!
On our last day in Asbury, after 3 days of clouds and rain, the sun was shining bright and there was not a cloud in the sky. I was awoken at 7:45 am to "Mom! When can we leave?" I rolled my eyes, got dressed and straightened up the room. I took a walk alone, sat facing the beach, and soaked up some sun. While I'd have given anything to spend the day beside the ocean or pool, with a few deep ocean breaths I was ready to leave, knowing my next visit will be exactly as I need it to be - a restorative trip for me, myself and I -- the kind of trip that serves a real purpose, allowing me to step away, decompress, and enjoy some time where I only have myself to worry about. When I have the opportunity to do these things, for me - I'm a better parent for them - and I'm able to give them every empathetic nod, every attentive ear, every hug, every kiss, and every cuddle they need and expect from their Mom.