We have a friend who has the following to say about family vacations: if you’re traveling with one or more children under the age of five, that’s not a vacation — it’s a trip.
Since she’s a mother of two (one of whom is under five), I would have been inclined to take her word for it before the fact, but just for giggles let’s see what the dictionary has to say:
Vacation (noun): a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity.
By that definition, I’d say our friend has under-stated the matter.
Earlier this month, we returned from our family vacay along the opulent sands of Stone Harbor, NJ. And because we took our children with us, Mommy and I immediately needed a vacation from our vacation. Since we brought the kids back home with us, however, we didn’t get one.
Last summer, Mommy and Ryan went to the shore without me and Jack. It turned out that in the course of rebuilding our attached garage’s termite and water-rotted front facade, one of the vertical tracks to the garage door collapsed, bringing down the door and effectively leaving a giant hole in the side of our house.
I was uncomfortable blowing town for a week while our house had a giant hole in it. Since Ryan loves the beach even more than Mommy does, she took the Woog to the shore while Jack and I stayed put.
The trip was a disappointment for Mommy. She and Ryan were not close to the beach house in Stone Harbor where our family friends, The B’s, and their kids and grandkids were staying.
Last minute, Mommy had booked an AirBnB condo close to the boardwalk in North Wildwood. Although it was relatively affordable compared with the usurious rentals in Stone Harbor, Mommy reported that the condo was cramped and borderline shabby. Worse, the place was equipped with whimsical air-conditioning whose feeble wisps were no match for the unit’s uninsulated, super-heated roof.
I won’t lie and say I’m sorry I wasn’t holed up in this boardwalk tinder box with Mommy and the kids, but I felt badly about it. These trips mean a lot to Mommy and Ryan, and they only happen once a year if they happen at all. Not to mention, the Munch and I missed them. (And frankly, Jack wasn’t very good at swinging a hammer).
So, sometime last fall I said to Mommy, “Why don’t we get in early for next year, rent a real house in Stone Harbor, actually close to The B’s.”
Mommy considered my offer tentatively. “But you hate the beach,” she said.
Certainly, this is technically true, though it’s a fairly flat descriptor to convey my abject loathing of the beach. I despise it. I dread it like the Cleveland Browns dread the playoffs.
“But I like you,” I said. “And I like the kids, and I like The B’s.” Then, paraphrasing Chief Brody, I added, “Plus, it’s only a beach if you’re standing on it.”
Mommy gave me the side-eye. Keeping Ryan from trying to swim to Portugal was a full-time job, she insisted. “I can’t corral him and Jack.”
“No sweat,” I said, buffing my fingernails on my shirt. “I got the Munch.”
“On the beach?” Mommy asked.
I shrugged. “Sure. We’ll see what shakes.”
No good deed, et cetera.
At that time, Jack was still a baby. He was crawling. He was containable. Memories of parenting a toddler were shrouded behind the haze of several years.
Even if I’d had perfect recall of what Ryan had been like at that age, it wouldn’t have done me a damn bit of good, because I’m quite sure that as a toddler Ryan had been positively tranquil compared with the Hun-like marauder his younger brother is.
Jack’s early months, alas, offered no early warning. Cutely-crawling Baby Munch left me woefully unprepared for dealing with the inexhaustible dynamo, the relentless boundary-breacher and constant furious force of kinetic energy he would morph into as Toddler Munch.
By spring, however, when Jack was running both me and Mommy into the ground like a pair of decrepit plough horses, it was too late. Mommy had already booked a house in Stone Harbor for us to share with her sister (known as Aunt Biz here at Chez Woog and Munch) and her fam.
The implications were obvious: if Jack actually was coming with us, we were likely to have on our hands what is known in the parenting literature as a very big fucking problem.
The day before Jack’s inaugural trek to the shore, this VBFP was immediately identified by Aunt Biz — a veteran mom herself, and primary parent of two normally active kids.
She and her crew had just arrived at our house. Aunt Biz and I stood in the dining room, as the Munch hustled from room to room, ransacking the place.
As we stood amid the debris, she said, “You know, I never understood those parents who put leashes on their kids.”
Jack scurried up to us, smiled, and let out one of his trademarked skull-cracking yawps. He handed me a vacuum nozzle, and sped off.
“I think I get it now,” she said.