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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Three Kids and a Reason

Everything happens for a reason, right? I mean that’s what we’re told. Surely it can’t just be a saying that we’ve adopted to help us get through the dark times. You know the ones I’m talking about. Those times when your heel breaks in the subway grate on your way out to a dinner date (oh wait…I’m a mom. I don’t remember what it feels like to go out on a dinner date and, more importantly, if they’re not Tom’s, Birkenstocks or my slippers, I’m not putting them on my feet anymore). What I’m really talking about are those times when you have a 5:30 pm flight from an airport that’s on the other side of the city (New York City nonetheless), and you’re daughter’s school day isn’t over until three and she doesn’t shimmy out of that big brick building until 3:15. Those times. But of course, this all happens for a reason (I am to believe). And maybe this did happen because we found our flight was delayed while we were stuck in traffic somewhere between the slightly whiney “He hit me” and the less slightly screeching “I want out. My buckle hurts.” A delay means that at least the little people won’t have to wait at the gate in an endless line that keeps getting longer and more endless with every passing moment that the flight is further delayed. They won’t be forced to watch everyone at the ready, poised to throw elbows in order to race down the jetway and find their coveted overhead space. They won’t have to endure the many glares and stink eyes that we inevitably get.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe the airplane was delayed because we were going to be late. This late plane was what was going to salvage this quick three day trip to Disney World, so we could start the Christmas season off with the bubbly Main Street snow and abundant cookies and hot–but not too hot–chocolate that we’ve come to associate with the season. (Although this year it wasn’t just the standard sugar cookies FullSizeRender.jpgand hot chocolate–we were finding gingerbread cookies, egg nog, snow cones. This may sound good, but when the big little just wants the sugar cookie and hot chocolate she’s come to know and love, it is actually considered a form of torture (So maybe it was me and not the big little that wanted the sugar cookie. Fine. It was me. A girl has standards.) Either way, the positives in this trip looked like they were going to be what balanced and saved the negatives, so it was bound to be a restorative, yet quick, three days that would set the tone of Christmas celebrations to come (I know, famous last words).

Even when that delay was delayed, I knew it was for some reason. I had time to put my little people in their pjs and get them looking cute and fresh. They were fed. We weren’t falling apart, but ready to slip into our seats and snuggle our way into a late night flight to the happiest place on earth. We were ready. We were. And then it was delayed. Again. No big deal I thought, especially since my daughter told me she felt she might just sleep through this whole flight (other than overnight flights, she hasn’t willingly slept through a flight since…well…you get the picture). I thought the tiny little should be easy. He was flexible, could stay up late without getting cranky, and I’d be nursing him once we took off. The combination of snuggling, nursing, and the late hours pretty much guaranteed that in no time he would be dreaming sweet dreams of properly using a spoon and stealing his brother’s cars. Easy Peasy. The middle little? He’s his own man. No one really knows what to expect out of that one, but we were prepared and had him in a one to one ratio with his daddy.

Time to board and relax. I’m no dummy (or at least I don’t fancy myself one). I’m not one to drag much on board with me in the hopes that I can get anything done thatIMG_8252.JPG doesn’t involve the little people, but still, this time, I had hope. I pulled out my Kindle and stuck it in the backseat pocket. All the kid stuff was put in its proper kid stuff space, and we took off with all the squeals and delights that have become customary for my littles. The tiny one laid back and started to relax, the middle little got sucked into his special iPad shows, and the big little was content watching a preview for an American Girl movie. Over and over and over. Then the tiny little sat up like a rocket and picked at my face. He grabbed my necklace. He kicked the arm of the chair. He grabbed his sister’s headphones. He tried to climb to the top of my head. He saw his daddy behind me. He cried for him. He tried to climb over the chair. He tried to climb through the chairs. He wiggled. He poked my neighbor. IMG_8236.JPGHe poked him again. I apologized. He kicked the neighbor. He kicked him again. I apologized. I thought to myself, when did this little ball of blub turn into the most fidgety, picky, giggly, pokey little being I have ever had the privilege of holding in my arms? (It could have been a whimsical sweet thought, but let me be honest. It wasn’t. He spilled my wine.) Then his crying began to crescendo. And finally, with seconds to go in a flight that felt days long, he fell asleep.

But as it does, the light turned on so we could prepare the cabin for landing. And that tiny woke. And cried. And he fidgeted. And I fidgeted. And he got sweaty. And I got sweaty. And he cried. And I–wait a minute. I didn’t cry. IMG_8238.JPG(I mean not really. Not much.) Then he found the air vents and all was right with the world.

By the time we landed all of us were covered in sweat and tears, spilled apple juice and wine. We were so late we had to grab our own bags off of the luggage carousel and drag them to Mickey’s Magical Express (this is a service they usually do for you–unless it’s late at night). To our relief, immediately we were put onto one of the buses for our resort, except it didn’t go anywhere when we got on. We had to wait. And wait. (Catching onto a theme here?) When we arrived at our hotel there was no one to help us get our bags to our rooms. My husband dragged them there one at a time while I tried to soothe three intensely exhausted little people. IMG_8760.JPGThen only one of the cots we had requested was in our room, and upon calling, I was told it would take them quite some time to get the other to us. I pulled out my momma bear and that cot got to us shortly thereafter (I think the wailing two year old in the background punctuated my point). And then I managed to get all of those little bodies with their exhausted limbs, their tear-filled faces, into their beds. That night our children went to bed later than they ever have and as a result my expectations of our serene trip to the happiest place on earth shifted.

My children were going to wake up exhausted, short-tempered, overwhelmed by the day. They were going to be out of control on a day when both their daddy and I were exhausted and ill prepared for meltdowns. These three days were going to be spent just trying to brace ourselves for the flight home (fortunately it was an early morning flight). They would be too tired to want cookies and hot chocolate. The fake snow would fall in their eyes and they’d be upset. The little people would lash out at one another. That night, as my head sunk into the pillow, it seemed I couldn’t justify the stress of the nine hours it took us to get to Disney World. I couldn’t find the reason it happened that way.

And then the sun came up as it always does. And my little people were rousing. They IMG_8405.JPGspotted one another while their father and I buried ourselves deeper in our covers, and they giggled. They were eager. They were happy. After getting dressed, they chirpingly made their way to the park. There were no little hands picking at other littles hands, no squawking or screeching about fairness or wanting. It was calm. It was pleasant. It was amazing. My little people seemed unfazed by the day before, and they defied every new expectation I had created in my late night haze of exhaustion (it ended at three days when the tiny one and the bigger little got a stomach virus hours before boarding the flight home–but that’s a whole different story). Things happen for a reason.
But sometimes they don’t. Everything does not need to be the precursor to or result of something else. By far that trip to Disney World was the best trip I have ever taken with my little people. It defied every expectation and reminded me that one bad flight, one bad day, one bad experience cannot be the defining moment of traveling with little people. They move on. As parents, we have to too.

 

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Three Kids and a Hurricane

We had only halfway been tracking it in the week leading up to our trip to Disney World for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween. In fact, when I called my husband and said we should really keep our eye on Hurricane Matthew, he had the response one would expect from a FullSizeRender-3.jpgman who thinks his significant other is a slight bit paranoid. Which I’m not. Really. (Am I? Maybe I am? What if I am? But I’m not. Totally not.) As the days dripped on though, it became clear. We needed to discuss Hurricane Matthew. It seemed it (he?) would be headed toward Florida some time around Friday morning, perfectly timed with our Friday morning flight into FL. We weighed options: Go later? Cancel? What about school? Finally we settled on earlier. And so our mad rush began.

With three little people tearing through the house, it can be a wee bit hard to pack. I tend to do a handful at a time in the week leading up to our trip (my free time is usually when the two smallest littles are napping, and the clothes I need to pack are in the napping kids’ rooms. Go figure). There it was Tuesday night and I had to have it finished by Wednesday night. So I did a frantic pack. This is my least favorite type of packing. I can’t even manage it for a trip to the grocery store, let alone a rainy, hot, cold, sunny, windy, stuffy trip to Florida. But. I did it. Then when it hit me that we’d be in hotel rooms with the littles for an extended period of time, I had to pack more (I seriously hate bringing more). So I took more. More coloring books, more stickers, more cars, more dolls, more books, more puzzles, more rattling things, more rolling things, more wiggling things, more noisemaking things. More. Every. Little. Thing. And then some time in the middle of the night, I was done.

4:30 am and I hear it. Even though my husband has chosen the most gentle, soothing, sweetest alarm to wake up with, it still brings a solid cold sweat and a shock of denial every time it happens. I managed to pull myself like molasses from bed and started the task of starting the day. The last minute gather, the waking of children. The car ride. The security line. The airport. The airplane. And finally, the arrival.

There we were, tired, hungry, and, after a check in so long it was almost time for our flight home, roomless. Sure we were early, so we understood. The hurricane had travelers coming early, leaving late, not showing up at all, so we really understood (I mean, we were some of those travelers). Some smiles, some nods, and we were finally ready to get ready for the park (and food…there’s no way I was taking the little people anywhere hangry–even a Disney World park).

FullSizeRender-1.jpgWhile frantically inhaling our first meal of the day we were texted: one of our connecting rooms was ready. It was nearly two pm and perfectly timed so we could prep for the heat and the rain, head to Epcot, take the littles on a Nemo ride in a clam shell, and try to ride Elsa and Anna’s new ride before it closed for the hurricane at five (we had fast passes for 5:15…seriously?!?!?!?!). Our connected room would be ready for us by the time we got back. No big deal, or so we thought. We’d still get back in time to set up the littles’ room; unpack; and let them get some of their wiggles out, feel the lay of the land, throw their clothes around, strategically place all their stuffed animals, and evaluate the condition of the room (the five year old fancies herself a hotel connoisseur).

As we made our way through the back entrance to Epcot, the rain slowly started, and since TSA lost one of our stroller rain covers (thankfully meant for the single, not the double), we had to buy an extra poncho and rig a special cover for the five year old sitting alone. It was actually kind of perfect. She rode sitting criss cross apple sauce with the sun visor over her and stuck her sweet little face out of the poncho hood. She stayed dry, and it seemed like there was no barrier between her and the rest of us grown ups.

But that novelty wore off as we reached the Nemo ride and she had to be coaxed to go on fullsizerender-4(Bruce the shark is not that friendly of a guy in actuality). By the time we emerged, the rain had picked up and the five year old felt hot to the touch. She begged to put the stroller back and lay down with the rain cover over her, barring her from the world. We made our way, at her behest, to the Frozen ride in the hopes that the line was short since the park would close in 10 minutes. It wasn’t bad. But the knowledge of those lost fast passes ate at us while we waited with a sad little person who desperately wanted to go on the ride but was too sick to stand on her own. So my husband asked. He told them we have fast passes for after the park’s closing. And they let us in. Imagine that. We just needed to ask.

When the ride was over, the wind had started. We managed to stay dry to this point, but FullSizeRender.jpgwith the rain coming at us sideways, we knew this walk would mean we would get drenched. At least the littles would stay dry. And the five year old slept. Within minutes of being in the stroller, she slept. All the way back to the hotel, she slept. Through the wind and the rain, she slept. In the lobby while we waited to get the key to our other room, she slept. When the concierge realized that someone else was in the room we had been given, she slept. As my husband showed them the text with our new room number on it, she slept. And as we waited, she slept. As they grew more and more apologetic and more and more confused as to what to do with us, she slept. As my momma bear instinct began to wake, she slept. Through my mother in law and I deciding to take the kids up to the room we currently did have, she slept. The ten month old little though? Oh, he didn’t sleep. He hadn’t all day. And neither did the two year old. It was the perfect potion for a toxic night.

My husband appeared at our door much later, defeated. They could offer us rooms across the hall from one another right now or we could wait longer to see what connecting rooms they could put together. With littles as little as ours, we needed the connecting rooms. So we waited and went in search of some dinner, the little people hanging on by barely a thread, overcome with exhaustion from an early morning, a rainy day, a late dinner, the beginnings of an illness, and the knowledge that a hurricane was lurking in the dark. Then it hit me.

I understood when the rooms weren’t ready at first. I understood that it would take them time to get them cleaned. I understood that Hurricane Matthew caused some chaos with people coming early, leaving late, or not showing up at all. But the airports were closed. People weren’t looking to check out and head straight into the heart of a hurricane. FullSizeRender-2.jpgThe rooms were set. It was eight o’clock. My ten month old was sleeping at the table. My five year old was becoming feverish again. My two year old was about to scale walls from sheer exhaustion. They needed their beds, their stuffed animals, their sanctuary, their place away from all the stimulation. And my momma bear stirred again. And I left.

I spoke with the front desk for perhaps five minutes and made my way back to my table. I turned to my husband and said calmly, “Go up to our room and meet the bellmen there. They are on the way to get our things and move us to a two bedroom suite.”

I can’t tell you exactly what happened in those five minutes. I know I did not raise my voice. I was not angry. I was protective. I explained my situation-my little people, my loves. I did not leave room for thought. I explained what I needed. I explained what I expected. And that is what I received.

While it often pays to be flexible when traveling, there are also those moments when you have to be an advocate for your little people, your family, yourself. I wasn’t going to leave with promises that vanish into the air. I wanted action. I requested action. And I got action. (And it totally helped that we had a spacious, calming, three room suite to whittle the day away in while the hurricane swirled around us.)

Three Kids and a Change in Plans

We all woke up early. I don’t remember who was first, but it doesn’t matter. We were all just looking for a reason to get out of bed. It wasn’t completely dark out, but it was still that steely cold grey. Except this wasn’t winter. It was summer. In Tokyo. During rainy season. And, having arrived the night before from NYC, it was our first day of two weeks we were going to spend in the country, splitting our time between Tokyo, Kyoto, and Tokyo Disney (don’t judge; we’re a Disney family).

I threw open the window curtains, and we watched the city wake up out of our floor to ceiling windows on the 14th floor. We waited. And waited. People started to fill the streets, but the sun stayed hidden, as it would all day. And the next. And the next. And the next. We dressed. We ate. We thought maybe it was time to get out of the hotel room and check out all the nooks and crannies we could manage to squeeze into our days before we left for Kyoto in five days. We were optimistic. Even my husband, who is more opposed to rain than the Wicked Witch of the West, was ready to take on what we thought was a little bit of drizzly morning rain.

Our first discovery just reinforced that this day was meant to be good. We followed an underground tunnel to an office building next door and stumbled right into the hands of Starbucks. Being five months pregnant, the ice coffee craving that this sweet little spot handled just helped set the blissful pace. Or so I thought. With coffee in hand, we lowered the rain covers on the strollers and crossed the street to the entrance of the long winding walkway to the rail system. No problem though. It was all covered, so stroller covers were up and little people legs were kicking with happy.

Then it happened. We got off the rails at Harajuku Station and were greeted with sheets of water. We waited. And waited. And then we just couldn’t wait any more. So, it was rain covers down and into the fray. We tried to go to a shrine. The path was pebbles, and it was surrounded by dark trees. It was beautiful in the rain, but it was impossible to push strollers through the mud and pebbled puddles. We headed to the streets. And then it got worse. We turned to the closest place we could find. The Gap. Yes. We tried to go in The Gap while in Tokyo. Even that didn’t work. It was so early that nothing was open yet. It seemed Tokyo had given us warm coffee, and then sent us out into the rain. And the littles? They were rapidly losing their minds. Their strollers had quickly become sweat boxes with the plastic rain covers on (did I mention that it was 800 degrees?). My little people couldn’t see out of the foggy, sticky wrapping. For all they could see, they could have been anywhere.

That day it rained on and off (as in the sky exploded. All. The. Time.). We hid out in restaurants and stores. A bank. Places we hadn’t actually meant to see. We tried to wander the city streets, but could barely keep our heads up. Finally, we went back to the hotel early to let the kids stretch their legs before dinner and to let our water-logged skin snap back into place. When back at the hotel, with the help and input from the concierge, we tried to make dinner reservations, offering our own options and options and options to those given by the concierge, but we found that most places wouldn’t allow children. (In fact, the place most recommended to us because we had children was Denny’s. Yes. I am talking about “Moons over My Hammy” Denny’s. You can imagine the pain this caused my husband who considers himself quite the foodie. To be fair, our food issue was not only due to having children with us, but also by the fact that my husband is allergic to shellfish and I was pregnant, so unable to eat most fish. Probably not the best place to travel expecting to eat local cuisine under those circumstances. So, there’s that.) We found one delicious, recommended Italian restaurant (weird I know) that would take us and one great Indian spot as well (that’s weird too, huh?). The rain though, lasted days, but in those few moments it didn’t rain? It was running through gardens and exploring new streets, new stores, new cultures (we fell in love with noodle places). Unfortunately, it was like a deluge most of the time.

On day four we were taking a bus trip to Mt. Fuji. My husband and I offered this as a short-term beacon of hope for the littles (seriously, they had Tokyo Disney coming in a few days). We were going to go from a bus, to a boat, to a cable car, to a final train home. It was a little person’s dream. Except we couldn’t see out of the bus windows because of the fog. And the boat drifted quietly through the thickness. And if it weren’t for the gentle lurching of the cable car, we’d never know it left the ground. We were so close to Mt. Fuji, as far up as cars can go, and yet we had no idea. We couldn’t see up or see down. In fact, we saw nothing. It was like we were behind the veil of a fogged-over stroller cover. We knew we had to make some changes.

That night we decided to leave Tokyo on the early train to Kyoto rathFullSizeRender (3).jpger than spend one more day with the ins and the outs and the rain of the city. We vowed to come back when the kids were bigger. When they cared about good food. When they found new skylines profound. (Sometimes, the thing about living in a city like New York is that while other international cities are exciting, if they are too international, too modern and westernized, they just become a comparison.) My husband and I were excited to get the little people on a high speed train. We were excited to get to Kyoto. We were excited for temples, for the philosopher’s path. We wanted to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We were excited to slow down and to feel Japan.

One high speed train later, we were at our hotel in Kyoto in a “traditional” room. The beds were on the floor and all the furniture was close to the ground, which is great if you have a four year old and a one and half year old. (It is less great if you are pregnant.) The rain started to lighten, and on our first morning, we saw a bit of sky. A clear sign we made a good decision. An indication we needed to get out and explore. Kyoto was a welcome weather change. While it was overcast, it was only raining 50% of the time. It was hot and sticky, but still, we managed to dry out between showers. This trip was starting to turn around I thought. IMG_6826.JPGThe Temples were beautiful. But in combination with the rain and a bajillion steps, were a slow (think molasses) process. The little people got to be outside without their foggy rain covers. But, the little people were hot, and the little people wanted to run around (on the Temple grounds unfortunately). We took them to the Children’s Center at the hotel, hoping to give them an outlet. We found ourselves lingering in our hotel room a little later each morning and coming back a little earlier each afternoon. And then we recognized that feeling again. It was time to leave. Earlier than planned.

We needed to stop this trip. We needed to make it a vacation, which it would never be if the little people didn’t feel happy too. Too many days of seeing the world from behind foggy stroller covers had made them restless. Too many days of staying quiet. Of sitting still. Of not being a part of the world around them. They felt all give and little take. And we felt helpless to find them their kids space. So we gave. And we agreed to go Tokyo Disney early.

I want toIMG_0315.jpg say I feel ashamed to admit that I left such a culturally significant, spiritually in tune place as Kyoto just to take my little people early to Tokyo Disney, but I would be lying. I learned about Japanese culture sitting outside on a bench at the Mermaid Lagoon and watching parents and children, groups of teens, couples, and generations. I saw values in how people waited in line at Aquatopia. I learned custom in food choices. I watched my children’s faces and saw them grow. I heard their questions about the world because this world with princesses and talking animals was more relatable to them. I talked with my husband, reconnected without interruption, because my littles were soaking in every inch of what was happening around them. And it never rained. And what started as a trip ended as a vacation.

Three Kids and a Wrong Hotel Room

So we’ve been doing this for nine years. It was supposed to be no big deal. I’ve done this without kids, while pregnant, with one kid, with two kids, with two kids while pregnant. It’s the perfect sunset to the sticky, sun-drenched summer. My littles talk about it all year. It’s comfortable; it’s a time of peace and restoration. A simultaneous farewell and a welcome.

We always go to the same hotel in Vermont over Labor Day–well, actually there were two years we went different times of year, but they never involved the little people. This year was met with the same glee-filled anticipation. We were prepared for this trip. I was prepared for this trip. I knew what to expect. I had a plan. My husband was in on the plan. The kids knew the plan (well, the 5 year old was in on it, the two year old probably had his own plan involving dinosaurs and diggers, and the 10 month old…he’s 10 months old. My plan is his plan.). We had my in laws with us; they knew the plan. The hotel knew our plan.

We pulled into the circular drive of our hotel, and my husband went to check us in. It was sunny. But not humid. The first indications that fall was about to knock on our door. Other than the kids’ desperate pleas to get out of the car and get to the playground, all was moving forward nicely. Just as I had envisioned.

We finally crawled out of the car, stretched, and made the same walk we’ve been making for years. We found the same elevator and pressed the same buttons. Up floor four and then to our two specially chosen rooms. We’ve been here enough times to know the exact rooms we want. They’re big (a necessity when you still need two cribs and a refrigerator brought up by housekeeping); they’re connected to our in law’s room (another necessity when you need a staging area to put kids to bed who have three different bed times); and, perhaps most importantly, the rooms overlook the outdoor bar and fire pit where our monitor still has perfect reception. If anyone has been trapped in a hotel room after a child’s bedtime, you understand that this is of the utmost importance. The wine doesn’t hurt either.

My husband took out the key card, swiped it, and…nothing. A red light. They must not have activated the card I thought. An inconvenience, but not the end of the world. So back down to the lobby my husband went. And then I heard it: there were voices. From inside our room. I frantically texted him. I had been wrong: the hotel, apparently, did not know our plan.

With my stomach swirling, my head exploded with thoughts of being stuck at 6:30 pm huddled in a damp bathroom until the work of putting each child to bed separately had passed. And my hands went numb with the thought of dealing with that final, dreaded, bedtime of the five year old who begs me to stay with her until she falls asleep. Every. Single. Night. Even at home in her own bed. I whipped out my phone, “Fix this!” I yelled to my husband. I begged him. And his response was, “There’s nothing they can do. We’ll make the best of it.”

THE BEST OF IT?!?!? This from a person who would not be stuck in the bathroom, who would not be sitting in a dark room, desperately trying to fight off the sleep that I would eventually blame on dry contacts. I was angry. I wanted him to be angry too. I wanted to feel validated in my anger, but all I got was a measly, “We’ll make the best of it.” I don’t think he understood how tragically far from my expectations I now expected “the best” to be.

The cribs came. I squeezed them in. The fridge came. I squeezed it in. We unpacked, a physical acceptance of the situation. I was still angry. My in laws left their door open. We left our door open. There was only one otimg_6488_bedrm_equinoxher room on this floor (the room between us, the
connecting room). The kids happily skipped back and forth. I looked out the window. The fire pit was still there. Still burning. I turned around. My two year old wanted to be put into his “bed.” He wanted the 10 month old in with him. He wanted the baby’s food. And they giggled. And ate together. And they giggled some more. He doesn’t usually like the baby. But there they were giggling. I had never expected he’d figure out how much he liked his little brother while trapped behind the bars of a small hotel crib. And that’s when it started to go away.

They never knew there was a problem. To them, it was as perfect as it needed to be. Their expectations weren’t of perfect rooms or carefully controlled plans, but of being with their mommy and daddy without exception and exploring their own little freedoms. Instead of trapping them in my in law’s room during bedtime, maybe they needed to have more of those freedoms. The day, the hotel, the rooms were perfect to them, and so it needed to be perfect for me…just the way it was.

And when I let my plan, my vision, go, it fullsizerender_boys-in-hotel-cribwas. As I put the littles to bed that night, one by one, my husband took the others to the deck, to see the fire pit, to roll on the lawn, to be kids in the final dusks of summer. They made smores. After the baby fell asleep, I came out to get the middle little and watched him follow his sister with awe as she made new friends and played ball. He desperately wanted to keep up and be as big as her. After he was in bed, I came out and watched my big girl, about to go into Kindergarten, do cartwheels in the moonlight, listened as she told me the facts she knew about the moon and space before scurrying off to do “just one more” cartwheel with her new friend. Then I put her to bed, and she fell asleep before I finished folding the covers over the frame of a little girl who was now not as little as she is in all the memories I have of her in that place, most of which were not the result of a plan gone right or an expectation fulfilled, but of accidents, chaos, and veering off path.

(And yes, I did then go back down to the fire and order a glass (or two) of wine.)

Three Kids and a Van

Most of the traveling I’ve done with my kids has been on a plane, though that’s starting to change a bit now that there are three tiny people and all of their tiny travel “essentials.” (I use quotes around essentials for the 5 year old who believes that she needs to bring at least 42 stuffed animals to sleep with no matter where we go, a belief I fear is rapidly spreading to the 2 year old.) After a monsoon-season trip to Japan last year, we decided this year we’d take a less intense vacation rather than a trip. We struggled to figure out what we wanted to do, and ultimately decided we’d make our Spring trip to Disney World longer, so we had more of a chance to relax at the pools, and then spend a week in OBX with family friends. And then, with those destinations in mind, we made the biggest decision: We. Would. Drive.

We had steadily been increasing car sizes with each child: from a Mazda 3, to a Mazda CX-7 (it doesn’t even exist anymore), to a Mazda CX-9. So that’s where we were. A CX-9 and three children still in car seats. It wasn’t going to be so bad–except I seemed to be the only one who could figure out how to buckle in the big kid in the middle. And when I shut a back door, all the seats slightly shifted to the other side and then slightly shifted back upon shutting the other door. Oh, and the big one has always gotten car sick and asked if we’re there yet even before our driveway has faded from the rearview mirror.

The day to leave for Disney was inching its way towards us. We’ve made triannual trips to the magical place for five years. There was nothing to be nervous about. Right? Oh yeah, the drive. But what was the alternative? Then we figured it out. Comfort. We needed to make the drive part of the vacation. But how do you do that when the little people can barely lift an elbow without hitting one another? So Saturday night my husband and I had “the talk.” You know the one. Where you decide to trade in your SUV for a minivan? Where you leave behind yet another part of your Brooklyn Cool for Suburban Quaint. I mean, my husband wouldn’t even allow the term “minivan” in our household. Until that moment. It felt like a forbidden confession. We both knew we needed one but were afraid to say it. Honestly we went to the only dealer open and got one of the only two minivans they had available. The next day.

The kids were in love. They had space. They had movies. They had sliding doors they could get in and out of on their own (of significant importance to the 2 year old who thinks he can do pretty much anything on his own). The 5 year old didn’t have tummy aches anymore. The car seats didn’t shift when the doors shut. I had some moments of quiet (remember, they had movies). I finally got it.

I didn’t even need to defend myself when people I knew, other moms, family friends teased me about the decision. But that’s just the way travel goes. People question your decisions to fly 14 hours around the world with two kids while five months pregnant. They question your sanity. Stare at you with pity and anger, occasionally at the same time. Are shocked thFullSizeRenderat you take trips for fun. Rarely do people root for you or get excited on your behalf. They only see and react to the chaos, real or perceived. But these people also rarely understand the depths of memories and moments you’ve made in the chaos and because of the chaos. They don’t see the creation of little people filled with wanderlust, destined to look beyond themselves. Those people don’t know what it’s like to see the world not just through your eyes, but through your children’s eyes too.

Forget about those other people. Go get your minivan. Pile your children in. And let your children show you their world.