It's that time of year again: Spring break! Or as many moms think of it... just another week, but with an exorbitant amount of sand, close quarters and a really small washing machine. No matter what you call it, or whether you are traveling to Fiji or enjoying a "stay-cation," it is a week of no school and hopefully some days off of work for Mom and Dad. Needless, to say, the additional passenger in every family's car or plane is the smartphone. I am openly "technically challenged," but more often than not, find myself with a little 6 oz electronic addiction in my hand. I will not be controlled by a bunch of wires and over-priced plastic! I am going to beat this addiction with a good old-fashioned family vacation! Sans electronics. No phones, no laptops, no nothing. OK, except for the plane. The kids can use approved electronic devices on the plane. But, this is strictly for the safety of other passengers.
Every year, we travel down south to Longboat Key, Florida. A tropical little island paradise with gleaming white beaches and azure foamy waves. I have gone there for Spring Break every year since I was 5 years old. And for 25 fabulous years, I had a lovely, relaxing time.Then one year, we had a stowaway. He was a little 20-pound butterball that woke up three times a night and successfully ended every dinner out by competing for "world's longest high-pitched shriek." This little condo-crasher seemed to think the whole vacation revolved around him! He was wide awake and ready to take on the day, every morning by 4:30 a.m., and his only beach skills involved being able to stuff an entire fist-full of sand into his tiny mouth.
Gone were the days of basking in the afternoon sun and staying up late at the tiki bar. Gone were the days of actual... vacation. Of course, it was great to be away from work, but, wait a second! This was kind of harder than work! My clients didn't usually wake me up during the night, spill my beverages or poop in a diaper. It probably didn't help that I was 10 weeks pregnant with #2. So, no liquid comforts. I couldn't drink alcohol, but my husband and I were definitely consuming a big 'ole dose of reality. We realized that just like the first months of parenthood, we were wildly unprepared for the changes that came along with a new baby on vacation.
Fast-forward a few years and we are sitting with our lounge chairs sinking into the tide. The sun is setting and we are sipping frosty Coronas. Two sun-kissed little boys run and dip into the waves, wielding their sand shovels. Our little boys. We have figured it out. How to vacation with kids. It's different then vacation used to be, it's harder to enjoy at times and a lot more work. But it is much, much more fulfilling. We learned that once you are a parent, it's just not always about you. It's usually about them, and more importantly... it's about time together as a family. Even if that time is spent removing sand from all sorts of crevices. Even if your "basking in the sun" is about 14 minutes on the deck while everyone is briefly asleep at the same time. Even if you eat dinner out so early that the tiki bar isn't even open yet. Vacation with kids is about learning, observing, sharing and adjusting. It's about the adults taking turns. It's about finding the peaceful moments to sit and soak in the memories. Before someone has a fight over a beach bucket. You won't remember how cold the surf feels the 11th time you go to the sandbar in a row. You won't remember what you ate out at dinner, or if you even did. But you will remember dancing in the sand with your little ones to a steel drum band. You will remember watching your child cautiously find their way closer and closer to the waves, building their confidence and forging a life-long love of the sea, just as you did. You will remember your first trips to the shore and for a few days, you will begin to be a child again. You will dig in the sand, forgetting about your manicure. You will search for the perfect shell and chase the sand pipers. You will fall asleep, your hair soaking with salty water, wrapped in a Disney beach towel.
Most importantly, they will remember. Your children will remember watching the golden sun melt into the ocean with you. They will remember special morning walks with just Daddy along the shore and spotting a school of dolphins. They will remember that first sunburn and the smell of the cool aloe as Mommy spreads it across their arms. They won't remember if they had to go to timeout for kicking sand at their brother, but they will remember how they loved the warm days together. Distraction. Isn't that really what a vacation is? A distraction from your daily life, a chance to escape some of the monotony? I know I use my phone as a distraction. I just don't want to distract myself from my vacation.
I can absolutely promise you that you will not remember that awesome YouTube video you are watching while your daughter finds a perfect conch shell. I can assure you, that voicemail from work is not as important as riding the waves with your son. I am positive that the Facebook news feed will not bring you as much satisfaction as filling your spouse's empty hand with your own. We will get used to our lack of electronics, just as we did to braving the security line with toddlers. Vacationing with kids is about enjoying, adjusting and growing. And being able to laugh at yourself when you need to (have you ever changed a blowout in an airplane bathroom?). But most importantly, being present. Be there, with your family, and don't miss a single sunset.
So please, join us as we give ourselves the gift of a technology-free vacation. Don't let your children remember you on the beach with your face buried in your iPhone. Use it to capture a picture of them buried in the white sand, change your profile picture to this new memory and then... put it away.