When we go on vacation with Tom’s family, there are six kids and six adults. That sounds like a manageable ratio, perfect for man-to-man defense, but it’s not. Somehow toddlers multiply when they’re together. Several times a day one of us would look around and say, “Are there extra kids here? It feels like there are at least 12 kids here right now.”
Plus, two of them aren’t kids at all, they’re newborns. Each newborn required one person to hold-sway-shush, one person to retrieve things for the hold-sway-shush person, and one person to stand beside the hold-sway-shush person saying, “Oooh! Look! Look how cute! Look at that smile!”
Before we left, Tom and I decided on a division of labor. Let me just stop right there, because I hope that helps set the tone for what a trip with toddlers is like. There is a division of labor. Discussing a division of labor was not a something Tom and I did in 2004 when we went on a Caribbean cruise with 60 of our best friends from college.
Anyway, we decided on a division of labor to make sure we were on the same page — so that one of us wasn’t giving the other the side-eye because I made the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches yesterday, think you could do it today!?
The plan was Tom would hang with the older two and I would hang with Thomas, and we’d both help fill in the gaps whenever possible.
We were both totally on board. Obviously Thomas needs me, so that was a no-brainer. But I was also happy to see Tom with the big kids for two reasons.
First, I knew it would be good for our kids. I’m exhausted. I don’t have the energy or the strength to horseplay all day like Tom does. Plus, Tom has a unique bond with our kids. He is creative and silly and my kids love playing with Daddy.
Second, I knew it would be good for me. I spend a lot of the day “managing” the kids. I make food, take them to the potty, clean up messes, and shuttle them to activities. Watching Tom play with our kids is a blessing to me. It reminds me that our kids are fun. Isn’t that terrible? That I need the reminder? That I’m too busy with the day to be silly and fun and enjoy my kids? I do. I need the reminder, and when Tom dances with them in the living room or teaches them to do cannonballs off the dock, I remember.
I was also really looking forward to some quiet time with Thomas — to nursing him without someone climbing on my back, or holding him for an hour when he fell asleep on my chest. And because I’m the type of person who likes a good challenge, my goal for the week was to actually “nap while the baby is napping.”
Everything went great. Tom ran around with the big kids all morning while Thomas and I watched from the dock or stayed inside doing things like trying to take “mama with baby in a Moby” selfies. Which, if you haven’t tried it, is really, really hard. This is the best I got.
Every now and then Tom would ask if I wanted to trade places, and I would balk.
I’m weird when I have a newborn. I really, really want a break, but I also get anxious when my baby is out of my line of sight. It’s not as bad with baby three, but I still feel a primal need to be completely available and present.
I would explain all this and Tom would roll his eyes and shove me in the water.
When the baby was under the watchful eye of his daddy or one of his grandparents, I had a rare chance to play.
I got to hang out with my kids and swim and splash and feed potato chip crumbs to the fish. I took nature walks, and showed David how to make pizza dough.
Because I have a tiny baby, I almost never hold my other babies. They’re big kids, I tell them, they can walk. And they do. Except on vacation, when I wrapped my arms around them, lifted them up, pulled them close, and realized how big they’re getting. So I held them even tighter and breathed the moment deeply, and tried to not think about the day when they’ll be too big to hold.
Instead of just placating and managing my big kids, I got to be completely present with them without feeling guilty about chores or an unanswered email or my littlest baby who certainly needs to eat anytime now…
Vacation provides a break that helps me gain perspective on our routine. This time around, the biggest surprise was how good it felt to shake off my normal mom tendencies and be vacation mom for a while.
Those moments I had with my big kids were some of my favorite all week. Like any trip that includes a division of labor, I didn’t come home well-rested, but I did come home with new energy to make sure vacation-mom doesn’t just show up on vacation.
Linking up with Reflections from Me for Friday Reflections