The “no strollers” sign was a wake-up call. We’d managed to Yelp a family-friendly seafood restaurant and then Google Maps our way to it. (Why using simple tools that previously required absolutely no effort is nearly impossible with two kids is a mystery to me, but I swear it’s a real phenomenon.)

We buckle the two-year-old into his stroller so we can go eat. He screams like we’re space aliens performing evil experiments. We wheedle the 5-year-old to walk out onto the Monterey wharf alongside her shrieking brother (isn’t it cool? looks like a street but it’s above the water!). Then our kid-friendly destination has a sign, “No strollers, no screaming babies.” Suddenly we were those people, and we realized we didn’t feel welcome.

No, we didn’t let the two year old shriek in restaurants. Or rather, upon the first shrieking we took him outside (again and again). But sitting there praying he won’t dump all the spaghetti on the floor, or telling our five-year-old just to leave the fork she’s catapulted toward that sweet elderly couple, or waking up at four am, the little one shrieking his night terrors in our thin-walled motel, I see us through this whole new lens.

Many people were just lovely; complementing us on our cute children and forgiving their acting like drunk monkeys. A family trying to eat breakfast responded warmly when our little girl told them in great detail about how she has two dads, what her pets’ names are, and many many other details. People politely looked the other way as a quarter of the food ended up in one of our laps or on the floor. But I couldn’t help feel that quite a few people saw us coming and thought to themselves, “oh please don’t sit here. Please please please.” Is that lady having a bad morning, or did we wake her several times last night with our kids’ howling? And believe me, more than once I felt like howling too.

Jay calls our weekend in Monterey a “mitigated disaster,” and in part trying to do the beach or pool in the freezing fog was bad timing (and wrong location… San Diego anyone?). But I think the worst of it for me was realizing that so many simple pleasures that I’ve taken for granted are just not going to happen for awhile.

Let’s sit by the fireplace at the lodge for a few minutes. No.

Oh, look at that little yard sale/garden shop/tacky souvenir shop. Let’s stop! No.

I love sitting looking at the waves here. Um, no.

I’ll just try on a pair of shoes in this store. Are you kidding?

Like so many incredible, delicious pleasures in life, I didn’t realize how sweet it was to be able to make stop after stop on my little weekend trips if I felt like it. Boy now I appreciate those freedoms.

Partly, I have (surprise) an overly romantic view of what any experience will be like. I never want the weekend or vacation to end, except this one! And even fleeing this disaster I was sad, though maybe not because it was over, but because it didn’t happen at all as I’d hoped.

But also I think my own fun memories of trips and family fun are from when I was maybe 7 to 12. While there are some photos of camping before that age, I suspect my parents had the good sense to avoid certain kinds of trips until then. Maybe they learned the hard way too?

At a minimum, I think our two year old needs some more words, so he can ask for what he wants (before we say no), and maybe negotiate a little better behavior in exchange for sugar or other favors adults have the power to provide. We do have a few cards up our sleeves.

I think—I pray!—that with time we’ll remember the nice parts of this trip. We’ve got smiling photos, and we sure look like we’re having fun. There were some lovely moments.

But please, please! somebody tell me all of parenting isn’t like this: searingly awful and difficult times with little tiny moments of grace, so that everything only seems fun in retrospect? That’s not what it all is. Right? Right?