17 Aug “Mom, I need to go potty!”
By: Stefanie Castro, RN, BSN
One of the most popular questions amongst parents after summer break is, “Did you go on vacation with the family?” I cringe slightly at this question. If by vacation, you mean I vacated all of us from our home for a week and slept confined to a small room with two beds and a pretty view, then yes, I went on a family vacation. But I wasn’t sleeping in or soaking up the sun for endless hours undisturbed with a margarita in my hands. Although I may have had an alcoholic beverage in one hand, the other was used to point to my kids, sternly expressing their need to stay within my line of sight when playing near the pool. Vacation isn’t quite the word for these family trips, yet I can’t figure out what I would call a getaway with my children. Memorable? To say the least! All I can say for certain is I have seen every restroom on the island of Oahu thanks to my children and their million potty breaks as we traveled to Hawaii this July for “vacation.”
My first visit to the island was for my honeymoon 12 years ago. My husband and I arrived at our hotel, walked straight down to the beach, and took a nap on the sand. Oh how I took that moment for granted, along with many other things that pre-parenthood had once gifted me. When we first got to our hotel three weeks ago, we went straight to the pool. You must be asking: to relax? Did you sunbathe in a lounge chair by the pool? Let me stop you right there—relaxation and vacation with my children mix as well as oil and water. No—we were in search of food because apparently from the time my children ate on the plane and the time we made it to the hotel, they were at the beginning stages of starvation. That’s the thing about a family vacation with kids—patience is not something these little beings possess just yet. Additionally, the kids didn’t have their regular outlet to play on their own. They relied on us as parents or one another to entertain themselves, which can cause some pretty major fights between siblings. And let me tell you, my kids were on a roll with the whining, fighting, begging, pleading, peeing. It’s almost like they saw I was taking a break from work, housework, laundry, and meal preps and thus felt I lacked stuff to do. At one point my kids were fighting so much, I finally said, “I can’t take it anymore! You guys are driving me nuts.” A random parent came up to me and said, “Thank you for saying that! I’ve been feeling that way all day!”
The reason I’m writing about this isn’t to complain, though let’s face it complaining feels good sometimes; it’s to give a voice to something many don’t talk about. Traveling with kids is not easy, nor is it a vacation. And I was naïve enough to believe the older they got, the easier it would be. That’s true in some aspects, but when one milestone makes it easier to care for them physically, another milestone, just as challenging, takes its place.
It’s a lot of work, and to say it plainly, it’s a lot of work for me as a mom. For example, I don’t pack for just myself. I pack for 3 human beings. Along with a traveling pharmacy, just in case someone comes down with some illness and we don’t have the ability to get what we need there. This may sound extreme, but let me rewind to the summer of 2017, when we went up to Seattle for a wedding. Stomach flu hit our youngest, which then meant we all became plagued. Oh, the nightmare ensued. I swear I have PTSD from the experience. This time around I traveled with Tylenol, Benadryl, Epi-pens, inhalers, Pepto-Bismol, Claritin…I was a living, breathing CVS. To top it off, I added GPS to my list of qualifications due to all the searches I made for good spots to stop for potty breaks throughout the trip.
When I look at family photos of people traveling with their kids, I know there’s more to the story than what meets the eye. I know for certain my kids were up late, stayed out in the sun way too long, drank pool water, ate poorly and the cycle just continued every day of our stay. This adds up after a few days. They’re tired, pushing through the exhaustion just to keep from missing out on any of the fun. In addition, they fought with one another because we were confined to two queen beds in a single room. Multiple times I turned to my husband and said, “At least I’m not doing laundry.” As a mother and wife who has what feels like a thousand moving parts—cooking, feeding of those in my house, keeping the house in order (which feels like I’m failing at lately), never-ending laundry, picking up toys, getting the kids’ days in order, working, making sure the dog is cared for…the list is endless—having a break from that routine is necessary sometimes. Being away allowed me to step away from some of my mom duties. Not having to cook, pick up Legos (they will be my demise), or do laundry is what I look forward to most when we head out of town. I get to sit back and watch the disaster unfold, knowing there isn’t much I can do about it most of the time. And in accepting this, I enjoyed my vacation much more. I didn’t think about the agenda of each day. I didn’t plan very much at all. I simply let the day take us where it needed to go. And it helped me to turn my mind off. I didn’t need control. I needed peace. And not trying to gain control gave me the peace I needed at the moment.
Although there were a lot of interesting moments while on a vacation with my school-aged children, I will say I feel extremely lucky to have been able to travel with them. It was something my parents did with me throughout my childhood and although now I look back and I realize I was a terror at times as well, many important stepping-stones came from those moments in my life. My love for travel and my courage to take my kids along on such adventures comes from my childhood vacations. And there may be many moments my children don’t remember on this trip or previous ones, but I will say, my husband and I love to think back and laugh at all the random stuff that happened and how we conquered them together. It not only makes us chuckle, but it’s something that brings us closer together. It’s odd how some moments may push you to tears at that time, yet will cause a riot of laughter even years later. Yes, the kids are at an age where they bicker and push buttons, but it makes for some really fun stories.
As I mentioned earlier, going potty during this trip was a theme. But with all this being said, I’d do it again. The fact that I have the privilege to take the kids away for a week will always be something to treasure, no matter how much I wanted to pull my hair out sometimes during the trip itself. We visit new places, build memories, and find new adventures along the way. Nothing in life is perfect, including family vacations. I’m honestly thankful we didn’t get sick on this trip. It made me believe we can conquer family vacations once again. And as my children get older, there will be less of the “Mommy, can you take me potty?” and more of the “Do we have to hang out together?” situations, which I’m hoping my children are immune to in their teenage years. If you’re still planning your family vacation, embrace the fact that it’s work for you. There’s no escaping that aspect of the journey. But if you let go of expectations and simply make the best of your trip, you will find the vacation is a lot more fulfilling and rewarding.
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