by Catherine Breese
Bad news… summer vacation season is here. Luckily, I took mine already and I am mercifully back at work; it’s just so much pressure, trying to squeeze a year’s worth of lemon suffering into a one-week joy pie. During my vacation this summer, as I lounged by the pool reading a book and watching other people’s children ruin or attempt to ruin their parents’ annual holiday, I was reminded that being a parent is long and dirty job that mostly sucks the whole time.
We saw this family climbing out of a van at the seashore. The mother was prodding at the one petulant child who evidently wasn’t super-psyched to see the beauty of Pamlico Sound. This mother then articulated within earshot of all nearby human ears the following statement: “I swear… this child has been making my life a living hell since she was born!” Poor thing. The mom, I mean. Oh, I’m sure she knows that it may be psychologically damaging to talk this way about her child in front of her child, but clearly she was at the end of her endurance, so my sympathy lay with her.
We went to an indoor water park. I know, I know. Aren’t those expensive and tacky? Well, yes. But you must believe that the crowded park was filled with parents who obviously thought only of their children’s happiness when they booked that trip. “Water park? Great idea. The kids will love it!” That quickly turns into “I told you to use the bathroom before we waited 45 minutes in line for the waterslide!” and “Can you please make your brother stop crying without hitting him!” Diapers were exploding and pizza crusts were being tossed carelessly on the ground all around us. It was a battle ground upon which kids were winning and parents losing as far as the eye could see. At 5 a.m., while all sane children sleep peacefully in their beds, the halls of the hotel were crowded with refugee dads on their cell phones and laptops trying to get a few moments of peace away from the loving family. A pitiful tableau.
Long, hot car rides, waiting in lines, spending huge amounts of money–these are just a few of the benefits of vacationing with children. It is an American rite of passage, a time-honored tradition, a Norman Rockwell painting, and, it’s entirely illusory. My parents did it with my sister and me. And I remember it fondly, obviously because I have a very selective memory that has also been clouded over by years of drinking. I remember my own mother, however, as being a in a very bad mood, from pre-vacation to post-vacation and throughout. Huh. Wonder why?
Oh, don’t you worry. I did my best to play out that happy family vacation montage, even in divorce. I dragged my children to various locations both far and near, including Disney World, with some fleeting hope of “family fun”—you know, a photo taped by the corners to the refrigerator showing everyone’s sunny mouths screaming wide with utter glee. Didn’t happen. I can, however, recall some roadside spankings**, a lot of tearful bedtimes, and hours of attempting to console crabby children whose skills in complaining, begging, and whining were Olympic caliper.
Being a parent consumes your life for at least 20 years. (More if you’re silly enough to have more than a couple of kids.) Consumes, like a drunk frat boy at a Waffle House consumes the steak and eggs special: it’s messy, loud, and barfing is to be expected. Oh, there are a few exceptional individuals who make parenting look easy and who even seem to enjoy it. But these are rare birds to be sure. Secretly, I assure myself that these people are either play-acting or they have excellent prescription coverage with their medical insurance.
There’s a Facebook page called I Regret Having Children. Much to my chagrin, it is not a comedic page. It is a supportive place for those who state unequivocally that they wish they had decided otherwise. Many post anonymously, but they don’t need to worry about their kids seeing the posts because anyone under the age of 25 left Facebook months ago. I would bet nearly every parent on earth has had this thought at least once. I am uncertain, however, as to whether Facebook is the perfect place to get this off one’s chest. But such is the weird social norm of contemporary American life. It is a safe to conclude that raising children–successfully–is demanding and difficult. Parenthood is for the valiant and the obstinate. You just have to be more stubborn than your kids, especially if you’re planning to take them on vacation.
*The title of this article is not a statement about my mother. No doubt that my kids said it about me. Generically, it is a true statement about everyone’s mother…it is also an effing awesome title.
**Look, it was still kosher when I did it. I know it’s out of fashion, now.