The Price of Family Vacation

There is an unsettled feel to the beginning of a vacation. We walked in the door of the condo and two kids went pelting up the stairs to shout exclamations about the bedrooms. The other two paced around the downstairs as if measuring the bounds of the kitchen and sitting area. I didn’t sit still either. I followed the exclamations, traveling up stairs and down, finding places for our suitcases, assessing risks, and making up new rules on the spot.
“No climbing the railing of the balcony.”
“Don’t jump from bed to bed.”
“Bar stools are not for spinning in circles.”
“This space is only borrowed, we need to not damage it.”

The kids settled more quickly than I did. They contented themselves with running across the wide lawn beyond our back patio, dabbling in the little stream, and swinging vigorously on the chair swing which hung from a high branch on a very large tree. I stood at the back door to watch them. We found this location and reserved it, trusting pictures and reviews on the internet to be true. It was as advertised and the first stressful question of the trip was answered. So many more remained. Where would we eat dinner? Would everyone behave at the restaurant? Would this vacation provide moments of laughter and family bonding, or would we be embroiled in a two day festival of squabble? A cry of dismay and pain from the swing seemed to indicate the latter.

I dashed down the gentle hill to help Patch wipe his knee, just tears no lasting injury. Kiki declared that she missed our cat and wanted to be home. Link announced his boredom. Howard was grouchy and hungry. Then the restaurant was further away than we expected and packed to the seams. I carried the tension of it all in my jaw and back, frequently forcing myself to relax both.

In a turnabout, the service at the diner was incredibly good. Patch declared that it was the best meal he’d ever eaten. Kiki and Howard threw jokes back and forth. Then Patch made us all all laugh by choosing to eat fresh cut lemons instead of ice cream for dessert. He’d taste, shiver, grin, and then do it again. A walk around the condo grounds led us to a park with hammocks, a stream, and a pond. The pond had several large frogs. Good things had begun to emerge from among the unsettled questions.

This is the way of vacations on the first day. I could not know yet whether I had pulled us all out of our lives to build bonds or damage them. Either is possible. I knew when I put the trip on the calendar that parts of it would be hard. I knew that there would be tears and frustrations. These are the price which must be paid in order to earn the memories. The tears and homesickness, the moments of despair over work sitting idle at home, the hours of laying awake late at night to count the various costs of the trip. These are the price.

Then morning dawns with the smell of husband-cooked bacon. The sky is a brilliant blue over red rock formations. Kiki follows her siblings with a camera as they hunt for frogs at the edge of the pond. Patch eats lemons. All of my kids look in awe at the wonders of weathered stone stretching in arches across the blue sky above. Patch declares that he wants to come back every spring break and all the kids murmur assent. My camera is filled with pictures of my children being unconsciously beautiful or deliberately silly. I stare up at the towering rocks with the wind chill in my face, knowing life is good. We discover upon returning to the condo that it is familiar instead of strange. These are the prizes and they are wonderous.

I will never be sorry for this vacation, despite the scrambling I did last week to prepare for it and the scrambling I’ll do next week to make up for the missed work time. The prize is worth the price.