My husband and I had previously avoided Disney World like the plague. Neither of us had ever been there as children so we had no attachment to the place. I come from a family of horrible snobs (who are about as much fun at parties as you would imagine) who looked down on such bourgeoisie, mainstream vacation destinations as Disney World. Plus, it was really expensive for a family of ten.
Then our children started telling us they were the only kids in their whole school--no! the whole town!--that had never been to Disney. I have cousins in Florida so we thought we'd go visit them for spring break, swing by Disney, get 'er done, cross it off our parenting list and never speak of it again.
"This will be horrible," I told my husband. "Like getting your spleen removed without anesthesia. With a rusty, Civil War-era, butter knife. We will hate it and we will probably hate each other. But then, like a fever dream, it will all be over and the kids will stop bugging us about it."
I had grim determination. My husband had doubt. We white-knuckled it, went to Disney World and wouldn't you know, we had a blast.
All we do in our regular lives is tell our children NO. All day long, day after day, we say NO because we're trying to Not Raise Monsters. And when you have several children, like we do, you have to say NO even more frequently. In fact, we are The House of No. And for those few days at Disney on vacation, we became The House of YES.
"YES, you can have ice cream."
"YES, you can go on that ride again."
"YES, you can stay up late."
We relaxed. We laughed. We had silly, bourgeoisie fun.
Our kids talked about that trip constantly, referencing it all the time. They had so many wonderful memories; we couldn't believe how much they loved it.
Our oldest is in seventh grade now and since everyone tells us you can't pull your kids out of high school, I knew I was down to my last couple of years of maintaining the illusion of being in charge. I had never pulled kids out of school for a vacation before, but I figured this was the time to do it-- another Disney trip while I still could, while they still wanted to go.
So I planned an elaborate extravaganza and even used guilt and nagging to rope in my kids' favorite Aunt and Uncle, my husband's brother and his wife. They don't have kids of their own and are very fancy, so a trip to Disney is totally outside of their wheelhouse. I have a feeling it'll be something like watching the Obamas shop at Target; they arrive in two days and I'm a tad concerned I'm going to pee in my pants at the sight.
When you have young children, your vacations become "vacations." You're really just taking your big-top-crazy show on the road: same stuff, different locations.
Kids, like honey badgers, don't care. They don't care if they're in the Magic Kingdom and their siblings bug them: they're going to bicker, just like they do at home.
Kids, like honey badgers, don't care if your dinner reservations aren't for another hour. They're hungry now and they're gonna get grumpy.
One time, a friend of mine called me in a panic from a long-anticipated ski trip, the first big trip she'd taken with her two young kids. One child had been throwing up all night and the other child was throwing fits because honey badger don't care. My friend was so confused: she thought this was going to be a great trip? She thought she was going on a relaxing ski trip at posh resort?? What the hell was happening to her vacation, because whatever this was, it sucked!
I calmed her down by explaining that nothing was wrong, she just forgot to put air quotes around the word vacation. That's how it is now, Mama, because honey badgers don't care where they are-- honey badgers gonna do what honey badgers always do, regardless of how much you're paying per night for your ski chalet. You're on "vacation" now, Cookie.
Getting ready for a "vacation" with kids makes me want to cancel our "vacation" every single time. I get more and more stressed out the week leading up to the trip, running around getting everything organized and prepared, which leads me to say to my husband the day before we're supposed to leave, "What was I thinking? This is insane. We shouldn't go."
And he says, calmly, "You say that every single time. You're just having your pre-trip anxiety."
And I usually come back with something equally calm, pleasant and romantic, such as how he has no idea how hard this is because he has never planned a trip like I have and besides that, all he has to do is show up and everything is already taken care of and how would he like it if he had to do all this work and, and, and....
That's the kind of pre-trip week I had, with the added bonus of me having some weird swelling in my leg which required me to go to a million doctor appointments instead of packing, my son hurting his finger at his basketball game and my youngest waking up with a sore throat with white spots the day before we supposed to leave.
We began dividing and conquering: You take him to the ER for an x-ray, I'll take these two to the doctor for a strep test, I have to swing by this doctor to look at my leg, you have to bring her to music classes, then everyone has basketball games.
I was already right at my breaking point when we got the two positive strep tests and a fractured finger, but then my husband came home from coaching our daughter's basketball team without the antibiotics for our kids (all four of 'em!) because, oops-- the pharmacy was already closed for the day.
I went nuclear.
So he did what every good coach does during high stress moments in games: he called for a time out.
He help up his hands, made a "T" and said, "Time out! You need to take a time out: go upstairs and calm down."
Oh, I will take a time out, buster. First, let me grab a glass of wine and then you can bet your life I will take a time out. Upstairs. Alone. In my own room...wait, this is a punishment? I should go nuclear more often.
He found a 24-hour pharmacy and got the children their antibiotics. We got our son's finger splinted the next morning. We got all their schoolbooks to take on vacation. We managed to pack. And I calmed down and didn't want to cancel the trip.
Everything went smoothly yesterday, our travel day. Once at Disney, we laughed, screamed on roller coasters, had a great dinner, and said YES. But after tucking them in late at night, we wanted to collapse ourselves. Holy crap, is it ever tiring wrangling children on a "vacation." We stayed up and decorated the room for my daughter's birthday, instead.
The next morning, after opening gifts, we raced to the Magic Kingdom for a special birthday breakfast. Halfway there, our youngest announced she wasn't going to walk anymore, ever. That was fun.
We finally made it to breakfast, very late, but they still honored our reservation. Our youngest refused to get in the family photo and that was okay, too. Then another child got in on the grumpy act and then another and another. That wasn't okay. I decided we all needed a time out.
We headed back to our resort for naps. What could be so difficult about this? We're in Disney World for crying out loud! The happiest place on earth!
Tell that to my kid who was so angry about being forced-napped that he made noises that sounded like an opera singer; which made his siblings laugh; which made him angrier and more opera-y. And like a snake eating its own tail, this cycle continued until he passed out like a narcoleptic in the bed opposite the bunk where his sister was sleeping off the last of her strep.
Those two are still sleeping as I type this out in the living room. My husband took the two older kids out to explore the resort after they finished their homework. I've been texting with a friend whose kids are now college-aged and who has a totally different perspective; she encouraged me to just relax, have fun and chill out--they grow up before you know it. I relaxed. I sat down to write. I am working on chilling out.
After all, I'm on "vacation."