We’re just back from a whirlwind 4-day trip to Boston, and I know I should be celebrating keeping the kids alive through airplanes, subways, Ubers, and staying with friends. We had fun, we all came back, we didn’t get kicked out of anywhere. That should be a win, right? But it’s been hard to stop focusing on the little disasters or near misses.
Part of it is, as a person who’s managed lots of complex stuff and made it work, I always imagined our family would run like a well-oiled machine. I see myself a stern but kind disciplinarian with clear-cut rules that help the children thrive. No matter how often this delusion is disproved (daily), it somehow still colors my expectations. (It’s possible I’m an idiot.)
And travelling really brings out the crazy. My desire for the perfect little gidgets has to confront the disheveled, chocolate-smeared reality.
When did every major tourist site open a store selling a hundred different candies in bulk, for $25 a pound? And what fool ends up not once but twice supervising his own kids, plus a 14 year old godson, telling them to “just get a little” in those infernal cellophane bags?
My godson was in great form, entertaining the kids and being a great host. But both my kids are in weird, defiant phases.
At 6, Jaden is excitable and enthusiastic for long stretches, then he collapses in a tantrum-y puddle. He longs for independence, zooming ahead on crowded Boston Streets or underground on the T. He seems incapable of listening, or slowing down, and while he didn’t get on any trains without us, or go missing at any point, it’s enough to give one palpitations. Also, he’s forgotten how to use a fork or spoon. He can’t get a cup of milk to his mouth. And don’t even try to feed him something that’s not a hotdog.
Shayla, at 9, is in full ramp-up-to-tweendom. Very earliest puberty is producing tiny bits of maturity and wisdom, sandwiched with great heaps of scorn. She’ll either not do what I ask, or do it 10,000 times slower than normal, all the while shooting me the most practiced, super-evil eye. Oh, and did I mention she’s bored? It doesn’t help that she’s tall and, combing her hair and paying attention to what she wears, she’s looking more like 12 than 9. I have to remind myself that despite trying on the tough talk, sulking, and ennui, she’s 80 percent little girl. There’s a bit of sweetness and a heap of weeping that proves it.
Then there’s the two of them together. Years of practice have honed their skill at mutual button pushing. Waiting in line at the airport to fly home, it’s a blizzard of micro-aggressions. When I manage to separate them they turn on us. Shayla’s leaning on the shaky guardrail posts, daring it to collapse under her. Jaden’s rolling around on the floor, nearly knocking over the old lady unfortunate enough to be in line with us.
I’ve about had it, and we’re nearly at bag check when Shayla’s suitcase falls over and the handle conks Jaden in the head. It was an accident, and he’s more startled than hurt, but he starts wailing. We drag them up to check in the bags, and I must look more like someone about to commit murder than a concerned dad. The JetBlue attendant starts asking Jaden about Boston. What did he do? What was the most fun? She calms him down, very kind. “It’s a trick moms have,” she tells us. I know she doesn’t mean moms and not dads. I know she’s helping, not saying we can’t deal with our own kids. She was a big help. But all I can think is, I cannot cope! Somebody find us all a mom right this second! We need her.
You’ll be shocked to hear that the late flight back, planned to allow sightseeing on Columbus Day and take advantage of being all the way across the country, didn’t go quite how I planned. We saw the sites, and it was a fun day. Sun coming through the fall leaves. But my brilliant plan was to get the kids to sleep on the flight home, so that arriving at 11pm and getting back in the door at midnight on a school night doesn’t sound so much much like child abuse. I don’t have to tell you that with those infernal TVs on each seat, buzzed up from bulk candy and excitement, they both managed to stay awake the whole flight home.
Tuesday and Wednesday mornings before school have been ugly. Oh, and did I mention we recently brought an 18-month-old puppy into the house who’s nipping at everything and collecting socks and soon-to-be tattered underwear in his lair under the bed, defending them like a crazed wolf?
On the phone I described our trip to my dad and stepmom, and they said “Your kids are going to be the most well-rounded kids in the world!” I wondered if they meant “You’re an idiotic glutton for punishment,” and it was then I realized: I’m the one acting like a 9-year-old girl entering puberty. Is it contagious? Every kind thing anyone says sounds like an insult, and I want to cry, or yell, or both.
Is this just a side effect of travel with kids?
Last night they dropped right to sleep, and Jay said “This will be a trip the kids always remember.” He was so pleased. They threw fake tea into the Boston Harbor, learned about the revolutionary war, rode the T, visited beloved family. They immersed themselves in the Boston LegoLand experience, slept in the basement with their cousin. Enjoyed cutting edge playgrounds. They negotiated with Uber drivers for which music station to play.
So just maybe Jay’s right. It was a great trip. But geez, I need a vacation.