For most of the summer, I sat in an overly air-conditioned office, daydreaming about my family’s upcoming trip to the Caribbean. It was going to be the first official summer vacation in my 1 1/2-year-old daughter’s life, and we were all set to spend a weeklong jaunt with my mother-in-law, my husband’s siblings, and their significant others. I naively imagined lazy days at the beach: My daughter would make sand castles while I swam in the cool ocean and my husband squeezed in some paddleboarding. Little did I know.
I should have realized early on our vacation wasn’t going to be the summertime-and-the-livin’-is-easy dream I was envisioning. Trouble started early, when putting together a suitcase for a tiny human proved much more difficult than assembling one for a full-grown person. Sure, her bite-size shoes and frilly dresses took up minimal space, but then there was all that other stuff you have to pack when traveling with a toddler: the arsenal of diapers, the nasal bulb you will regret leaving behind if she gets sick, the zip-up blanket so she doesn’t suffocate in the middle of the night like you’ve been warned so many times might happen. And don’t even think about leaving behind the special baby sunscreen made out of nontoxic mineral ingredients and the natural mosquito repellant (there’s Zika down there!), and the pacifiers, and the bottles, and, duh, the special bottle brush, plus the tiny plastic cutlery and plates, and the easy-to-squeeze baby food. And really, how will she manage a week without the bath toys, the beach toys, the jumbo crayons, and the bedtime books she barely understands?
When departure day arrived, things got off to a smooth start. We were already checked in, traffic was light, and the Uber arrived promptly. With my daughter strapped into the car seat, I pulled up a podcast to listen to during the ride to the airport. Ten minutes in, I was forced to hit pause after she vomited all over the backseat. I cleaned it all up while assuring the driver we didn’t need to pull over, only to have her puke all over my hard work five minutes later.
After changing her into a new set of clothes at the airport—not a particularly pleasant task to do in a JFK bathroom—we went to our gate and were suddenly surrounded by strollers and slings and kids hypnotized by iPads. I had never before seen so many families with small children on the same flight. Once we boarded, a flight attendant announced that the video system was down. I couldn’t imagine the horror of those childless few, now without the option of tuning into the entertainment program.
During the relatively short flight, my daughter was kept entertained only by a series of repetitive tasks. In the three and a half hours we were up in the air, she walked up and down the aisle 58 times, opened and closed the window shade approximately 132 times, and ate around 12 foreign objects off the floor. Of course, when she did finally fall asleep, her nap lasted only the length it took to read one magazine article, making me realize that packing two books for the trip was perhaps overly optimistic.
After we landed, we made our way to the rented beach house that would be our home for the next week. While the rest of our family oohed and ahhed over the view and the breezy rooms, my mind was elsewhere, surveying the many potential hazards I immediately spotted: the sharp table corners, the glass sliding doors, the pool with no surrounding gate. I was never more in love with my husband than the moment he pulled a bag of socket covers from his suitcase.
From then on, the trip was clearly divided between us (the parents) and the rest of the group, aka the non-parents who were actually on vacation. We took to calling them “the others,” like the suspicious group of islanders on Lost. They were completely foreign to us. They had no early wake-up times, no nap or feeding schedules to uphold, no responsibilities other than getting the perfect tan.
Our daughter’s portable crib was placed in our room, causing our sleeping arrangements to vaguely resemble a hostage situation. At home, she would usually wake up around 8:00 a.m., but that week she was up by 6:15. Every morning we pulled her into our bed and begged her for just 10 more minutes of sleep. We even offered up our precious iPhones (usually off-limits) in exchange for a little more time. It was fruitless. At night, she made it clear that even the slightest sound disturbed her. In turn, we were forced to sleep like statues, terrified to tiptoe into the bathroom.
At the beach, the others swam laps and napped in the shade; I tried and failed to teach my daughter how to dig a hole in the sand. She was far more content scooping gulps of sand and placing them directly into her mouth. We bought a neon green floating contraption so she could swim in the ocean, but of course she hated it, preferring to constantly run on her wobbly feet toward the ocean and have me chase after her. When she did swim, she loved being in the seawater, but not as much as she loved swallowing big gulps of it. Whenever I would yell “No!” she would laugh hysterically, open her mouth, and do it again.
One night, the others suggested we go out to dinner and didn’t understand our hesitation to join. “Just have her fall asleep in the stroller,” one of them said. At the restaurant, everyone ordered cocktails while my husband did stroller laps around the parking lot. By the time the appetizers arrived, he still wasn’t back, so I accompanied him. As we were singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for the hundredth time, a waiter arrived to tell us our food was getting cold.
When her bedtime finally came, we were exhausted, but still looking forward to the many possibilities of what we could do during our limited kid-free time. I could start reading The Girls or perhaps watch Olympic gymnastics. I could pour myself a healthy glass of wine and look at the stars. But most evenings, by 9:00 p.m., you could find me passed out on the couch, my book opened to page three.
My mother constantly texted me to ask for photos of her only granddaughter at the beach. “Please send one of her in the swimsuit I bought for her,” she wrote one day. “Why haven’t I gotten any photos today?” she asked another day. I explained I was busy and hadn’t had a chance. “How is that possible?” she replied.
Toward the end of our “vacation,” my husband came down with a stomach flu, spending an entire day tethered to the bathroom and running a low fever. I meanwhile envied him for having a legitimate excuse to sleep in. “Must be nice,” I said after bringing him chamomile tea. Shivering, he didn’t seem to know whether I was kidding or not. Frankly, neither did I.
In the end, of course, our vacation (or, as a friend put it, our “relocation”) was filled with many lovely moments. My daughter learned how to say a few new words; she danced in front of a live Caribbean band at sunset; she fell asleep next to her uncle under the shade. One day, she grabbed my wide-brimmed hat, put on my sunglasses, and stared at me, looking as adorable as can be. On the flight back home, I spotted a baby, no more than a few months old, sleeping in a car seat. “Remember when she was that tiny?” I asked my husband. “I miss those days,” I said, already sure that, in just a few years, I would be saying the same of these.
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