Three Kids and A Hernia…or How We Finally Got Family Travel Right

The day you’re about to leave for a nine day vacation is not the day that you wake up, turn to your husband, and say, “Honey, I’ve got some uncomfortable, unusual, sort of alarming pain. I think I’d like to go visit the doctor before we leave in an hour. That’d be just fine, right?” So I didn’t. Maybe I should have. But, what if it were something silly, I thought. Like gas. Or a pulled muscle. Or last night’s wine.

Then we started driving. And I felt a little nauseous, and according to Google, that meant I had appendicitis, so I had to come clean. I was in pain and no position made it better. And another quick check on webMD assured me of the worst: I had appendicitis. For sure. I casually mentioned that if I was in so much pain I couldn’t speak or I actually began to get sick, to just swing by the hospital. Any of them we passed on the five hour drive from NYC to DC would do. NBD.

That night, minutes before sleep, I realized that I left my contact solution at home and would have to pick some up before we flew out the next morning. I have dry eyes though. Really, stunningly, dry eyes. So I did what any intelligent being with dry eyes would do: I soaked them in my nose spray. (PSA: Do not soak your contacts in your saline nose spray. It does not do the same thing. Like, at all.)

The next day was no better except my nausea was gone. I was still alive, so I figured my appendix had to still be in tact. So, really, who knows what was keeping me from bending down, sitting, getting up, and generally walking. I had a plane to catch and no time to think about it. And I had done my research: Orlando had good hospitals, so I wasn’t all that worried. Really. I bit my bottom lip, slipped my glasses on, and moved ahead as planned, which meant holding my tiniest little on my lap throughout our three hour flight to Disney World. And he showed me no mercy; he was a small Hercules battling for Olympus on my lap. He wiggled. He kicked. He ripped my glasses off my face. All of his abuses seemed to be directed to that one tender spot. Eventually, I had to send him across the aisle to sit with his daddy (and yes I may use this tactic in the future again…I’m not so scared to cry wolf when it comes to getting some down time on a plane).

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A wiggly little not sitting on my lap.

Upon landing, I grabbed a cute doll size container of contact solution for about $852 at the airport convince store. At the hotel, I put my contacts in after rinsing them, with just a slight burning sensation (which I was pretty sure was caused just by my own exhaustion). And then we headed out for a relaxing afternoon at the park. After years of making this trip, we know how to conquer the park without feeling too crazy (read “How to Turn a Trip to Walt Disney World into a Vacation” for more on that topic).

Meandering at the park served to be painful and fairly blinding. With each hour I hobbled more and more and my eyes teared more and more. The skin around them ripped up with rubbing and more eye drops. A kind woman even stopped me and gave me a small arsenal of disposable saline packets because she just couldn’t stand to see me in so much visible pain (i.e. wretched squinted eyes and goopy eyelashes). Eventually I could only keep one eye open at a time, and even then it was a blurry, foggy disaster. Basically, I was a zombie. After having lost one of my middle little’s favorite lovies, we all admitted defeat and headed back to our hotel as the sun set in front of us.

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Glasses…doesn’t everyone like to wear glasses on hot sunny days rather than sunglasses? Stay away from nose spray (at least in your eyes). Seriously.

Unable to keep my eyes open, I feel asleep as soon as my little people were in bed. I was unsure of how to get through the next day, my pain making me slower than my 14 month old and my eyes making me grumpier than all three of my littles when they haven’t been feed an appropriate snack in a timely manner. The day had been rough; I was sure the next would be rougher. But I still wasn’t going to bow out of the fight. Not yet at least.

That night my middle little crawled out of bed because his head itched (yep…his head itched…). As I picked him up to walk him back into his room to bed I felt a sharp pain. And then I knew. Like a flash. I had a hernia. After googling to assure myself, I told my husband and then spent the next day limping around the happiest place on Earth, feeling a bit of relief at having a clear diagnosis. We all worked our Disney magic; we rode the rides, snacked the snacks, and saw the sights. By four that day, we felt done (which is admittedly a privilege that comes from getting to Disney often), and my biggest little asked if we could leave the park. She never asks to leave the park. But she did. And my body was all too willing to comply. And that’s how we started to figure out how to get it right.

With pain shooting through my body, my eyes still recuperating from their little stint in nose spray, and a disinterested five year old, we decided to change our plans for the next day and do a late breakfast at a Hollywood Studios, which we could walk to, and then spend the afternoon taking the biggest little to the pool while the other littles napped. And that’s what we did. A slow morning without rushing to find shoes, scrambling to pack snacks, and repeatedly fighting to keep toddlers in clothes (seriously, it can’t just be mine…) served to create a stress-free stroll to brunch. A stroll my battered body could easily make.

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Napping little person. Tip: We use chairs to create bed rails for our little people.

After a few short hours exploring the park, we made our way back to the hotel. I waved good bye to my pool-seeking daughter and husband and put the other little people to sleep. Then, this momma opened the balcony doors and sipped a midday grown up drink. It was bliss. The sun was out and the grounds were quiet. And I finally felt like it was vacation.

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Relaxing on the balcony while little people sleep.

The biggest little came back to the room singing and full of sunshine. She made a new best friend, Lily, and she was going to meet up with her at the pool again tomorrow. (“Um…by the way, can we go to the pool tomorrow?”) She didn’t mind missing the rides or the characters; she had a pool and a new best friend. And she didn’t seem to notice that the water was 60 degrees and the air a mere 70. Her pleasure at being able to be free of having to be somewhere or do something superseded any discomfort she may have felt. She was allowed to be a rowdy, energy-filled kid and she was happy in this moment. She was free. And in her wake, she left a taste of that freedom for me.

And we continued this trend for two out of the next three days we were at Disney. We cancelled all our morning plans, shifted our dinner plans, simplified our days, swam in pools, took naps, canceled “to dos”, and asked the little people what would make them happiest. Our days became less about squeezing every last Disney drop out of the day and more about taking advantage of every last family moment of the day. There were dance parties, ice cream treats, and aimless wanderings, surrounded by little people conversations, grown up chats, and new best friends. There were giggles and little people secrets, snuggles and new games.

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My biggest little splashing her way around the pool with her new best friends.

It took a (self-diagnosed) hernia and a near blinding by nose spray to slow us down, but it set us straight. In our need to beat the system and conquer Disney, we had forgotten the human element. We were all apps and and reservations made months before. We forgot to remember down days, slow days, stop-and-smell the flower days that can’t be accounted for. We forgot about insular, family days and exploratory, new friend days. We just forgot. And all it took was a little hernia to remind us. No matter what wonderful plans we have laid out in front of us, we need to be in the moment and be open to what that moment is asking of us, even if it means changing those well-laid plans.

(Even though, it turns out, I didn’t have a hernia at all, it was still a good lesson to learn.)

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