Vacation With Children

“Vacation With Children.”  I think that is an oxymoron.

Dodge and DadaIt has been over a month since my last post, and to my constant readers I apologize for the gap.  We took the family on vacation…a long vacation.  For my new readers, please mind the gap.  I had intended to write while away, but when faced with the option of either writing a post or spending time with my family on vacation I chose family.  In June we were preparing to travel with a two-year-old (Max) and a four-month-old (Dodge) for a multi-destination trip that included a road trip, a water park, family in Iowa, a wedding, 4 flights, and 3 magical weeks boating and swimming on Lake George in the Adirondacks of New York.  Normally this would be a tough one to pack for but then I thought, “Wait…we have kids…we’re not going out anywhere.”  So I packed a nice suit for the wedding, some tee shirts, a swimsuit, and flip-flops.  Turns out I still managed to over pack.

Max runs to DadaThe 8 hour drive to Kate’s hometown in Iowa was a breeze as we split it up by stopping off at a little hotel with an indoor water park in St. Joseph, MO.  This split the trip in half, allowed us to leave the night of July 2nd, and gave Max an activity that wore him out in the morning.  I don’t deny it…I had a blast going down the slides and splashing in the water as well.  We rolled into town on July 3rd, changed from pants to shorts, and did not leave the back porch till Saturday, July 6th.  The entire time was spent catching up with my bothers and sisters (in-law) as well as Kate’s family, all of whom…I adore!  Beers were tipped, stories were told, and stories were made.  Max played with all his cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and anyone else who could withstand his running tackle.  Dodge was happily passed around like an hors d’oeuvre at a fancy dinner party.  Life was good.

Max is ready for the weddingSaturday we made the short drive across state to the wedding where Kate’s cousin Laura got married at Iowa State and the partying continued/grew.  Old friends were embraced, games were played, speeches were made, and Max danced till Midnight when he was drenched in sweat and falling over tired.  Dodge is a baby and wherever we are is where he wants to be.  We are home.  So he got passed around till he was sleepy and then went to bed in his car seat at the back of the ballroom where it was quieter.  Suffering from anxiety (as I do) it took some work to get my mind of the fear of flying the next day and to focus on the fun at hand.  Once I did (with a little help from Jack Daniels) I was ready to roll.

Van Steenhuyse Photo Booth

Flying with kids sucks.  It just does.  At the Des Moines airport I entered looking more like a Sherpa than a parent.

  • 2 suitcases
  • 1 backpack
  • 1 oversized beach bag
  • 1 stroller
  • 1 car seat
  • 1 stuffed animal named “Muffin”
  • 1 toddler
  • 1 baby

Sherpa Dad…and a long night ahead of us including 2 flights and a long drive.  Kate and I have mastered going through security efficiently with kids and let me tell you…planning in advance what you will do makes a world of difference.  Shoes, computers, metal objects, and bottles of milk come out and go in the trays.  Phones, wallets, accessories, etc. have all already been placed in the bag before entering the security line.  The car seat and stroller are the first to go through the machine so you have a place to put the baby down on the other side.  Next comes shoes and accessories so anything that needs to be inspected can be while still waiting for the rest of your stuff to come through.  Kate takes Dodge and Max stays with me.  Next comes the computers and iPads so they are sandwiched between your items and are not picked up accidentally by another traveler frustrated by the amount of crap you have.  Last is the backpack.  I send Max through to Kate who already has Dodge back in the car seat.  I go through and my first task is unfolding the stroller and snapping the car seat into it so one child is fully contained.  Kate sits with Max and I hand her stuff to her so they can stay in one spot while I organize.  Shoes are slip ons…slip ons are crucial to traveling with kids on planes.  I gather up the iPads and computers which go back into the backpack at the same time we have put our shoes on and BAM!  We are through security (and faster than some single travelers in the other lines).  Plans are great!  Then we just have to find a spot where we can set Max free so he can burn off as much energy as possible before the flight.  Here we go!

Pre-boarding is a doubled-edged sword.  On one hand you get to take your time to settle you and your kids into your seats.  On the other hand…you are then stuck in a sweat-tube for 15 minutes with a toddler that wants to know when the plane will take off.  Are we there yet?  No.

Gates Family FliesEngines roar, flaps go up, wheels tuck inside, and Iowa disappears beneath the clouds as Dodge happily nurses and Max sits glued to the window.  My anxiety isn’t too bad so I decide not to take the Lorazepam I have with me just in case and sit back and relax.  Then it hits me…a simple thought that changes everything in how I perceive the next three weeks.  “I get to spend time with my boys.”  Now I know that doesn’t sound profound but up until that point I was stressing about traveling, if Max would sleep in a different bed, how I would handle my anxiety away from home for a month, etc.  My mind stopped worrying and started looking forward to all the things that could happen…fun things.  Boating, swimming, hiking, cuddles, sleeping in…  That was right about the time Dodge started screaming at the top of the lungs (on a 12 row airplane) and didn’t stop till an hour later when we were on the ground.  It turned out Kate and I (well…I) were more upset than our fellow travelers who were almost all parents and had been through it with their kids.  Dodge had never screamed like this before so it gave us a good scare.

Flying With KidsIn the Detroit airport the look of exhaustion and defeat must have been written all over my face as I kept getting the stink-eye from everyone we passed in the terminal.  “One short flight to go, one short flight to go, one short flight to go…” I kept telling myself over and over again in my head.  Then…they started canceling all the flights.  All of them.  Some super storm was pounding New York state and it was almost 11 o’clock at night.  I ran to our gate and spoke to the pilot…no…pleaded with him to take a shot at getting us to Albany.  He said there was a window of opportunity and he felt we should be fine.  It was a small window.  As the little plane climbed through the clouds lightning crashed all around us and jostled the plane heavily.  Max asked if it was fireworks and I told it was, but it was past his bedtime and he needed to go to sleep.  He laid his head on my lap, I nervously looked out the window, and Dodge slept happily having tuckered himself out from the previous flight and receivied a dose of infant acetaminophen.  When the plane touched down in Albany I mustered the strength for the hour-long drive up to the lake house and it breezed by in what seemed like minutes.  We made it.

Gates Family SwimFor 3 weeks the weather was perfect…I think it rained twice and I swam every day.  The lake was 82 degrees at its warmest and 76 at its coldest.  Max was amazing, Jake (my 8-year-old nephew) has become a man-child, and Dodge…Dodge didn’t transition well.  Dodge slept the first two nights from exhaustion of flying and then on the third night he screamed from 7 PM – 1 AM.  SCREAMED!  Then passed out.  He repeated this for three more nights and I learned a valuable lesson:  Don’t vent on Facebook.   When a kid screams (and they will), the best thing you can do is put them down and go scream into a pillow, hit a wall, take a break, or do whatever you need to do to calm down.  I vented on Facebook and just let the hateful words I had for my son at that moment in time spill from my brain, to my fingers, to my social network.  The fallout the next day was not worth it.  While I agree that publicly posting my feelings (which were abrasive to say the least) was not the best judgement, I was upset by the reaction and words that some “friends” had for me including people legitimately fearing for my son’s life.  Many friends asked what they could do to help or offered wisdom from their experience (which I appreciated).  Others, whom I have not spoken to in years, were judgmental and condescending.  Some friends who don’t have kids (or serious relationships) chimed in with judgement which I always find absurd…how can you judge what you do not understand or have not experienced?  It was at this moment I asked myself if I wanted to keep writing So Long Freedom, if I wanted to remain friends with certain people, and if it was a good time to deactivate my Facebook account.  I realized what people perceive of me online and who I am in real life are two different things.  So I decided a vacation from writing and reading was in order.  I took my month away from writing, I blocked certain people from seeing certain posts from me on Facebook, and removed people from my circle of social media friends I did not feel I needed to stay connected with.

Max BoatingMy time at the lake house in Bolton Landing was exactly what I wanted it to be and the opposite of what it had been the previous year.  It was relaxing and I felt like I fully recharged my batteries.  Max and I swam, Dodge played in my lap, Kate and I cuddled, my nephew and I bonded, I got good work done as well, read a few books, and I just turned off my brain for a while.  It was the best summer vacation of my life.  There are too many stories to tell right now but I will try to tell them as I can over the next few weeks…or they may just be mine to know.  All and all, I left Lake George feeling like a new man, excited to get home to Wichita and start tackling life with my new mindset and recharged batteries.

“Vacation With Children.”  Maybe that is not an oxymoron?

Max Headphones PlaneThe flights home were easy and without incident.  Our day started at 3 AM to get dressed and drive to Albany for an early morning flight.  Max asked me questions about the planes and I answered, Dodge slept, and when Kate and I could keep our eyes open no longer I slapped headphones on Max and zoned him out with Sponge Bob and Dinosaur Train.  Last year I had looked to my vacation to heal my anxiety (which it did not) and when I left I felt I was being torn apart.  This time, I was ready to go home.  We arrived home shortly after lunch on Sunday, July 28th and Dodge rolled over and crawled for the first time to welcome us home!  In the month we were away Max learned everything he could from his nephew and is full of phrases I’ve never heard and is more active than ever.  Dodge went from a smiley baby to a boy and all of a sudden can hold things, roll over, and is starting to crawl.  I can’t speak for Kate’s evolution as it is her tale to tell but for me, I felt like I came to terms with my anxiety more and better accepted the role I have to play with my family.  Much like that revelation on our first flight out of Iowa, everything suddenly seemed so simple.  “I get to be Max and Dodge’s Dad…I get to be Kate’s husband…I get to have this life I have.

Life is a gift.  All it took was a panic attack, years of therapy, two kids, a patient wife, an amazing family, a 34th birthday, and a relaxing vacation to realize it!

Looking North On Lake George
Looking north on Lake George towards “The Narrows” at sunset.

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One thought on “Vacation With Children

  1. Glad you all had a nice trip. Can’t wait until you get to meet your new nephews (newphews?) and for Max & Dodge to meet their new cousins. Love you guys.

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