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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

The perfect family vacation...or so social media will make it seem

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Recently, my husband and I, along with our three children embarked on the stereotypical summer family “vacation.” I knew this would be more of a trip than a true vacation, but I remained optimistic about our first real vacation as a family of five. I took this opportunity to “unplug” from texting, emails and, especially, social media. I did, however, have plans to post a handful of perfect photos of our picturesque vacation promptly upon our return.

The caption for the post would undoubtedly be: A perfect week in paradise!

With our youngest well into her terrible twos emotionally but just shy of two according to her birth certificate, my husband and I decided to get a free flight in while she was still deemed a “lap baby.” My daughter may be proportionally the size of a lap child, but her personality is anything but. Don’t get me wrong; my daughter is a gem - a stubborn, strong-willed, impatient gem. She gets it from her father.

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So, we boarded our 2.5-hour direct flight to Florida with Teddy (the oldest), Charlie (the middle child), and Susie (our lap baby). A friend recommended we entertain Susie with reusable stickers, something she could stick on the back of the seat in front of her. Genius! Why doesn’t everyone use these to entertain small children on planes, I wondered. The flight was going perfectly. I even treated myself to a glass of wine. Southwest drink tickets, for the win. I’ve got this, I thought to myself.

I had been “off the grid” for an hour or so and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. My mind drifted idly to what I would have posted to social media if I hadn’t taken a hiatus.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said, “Off to Florida for the week! Loving our first plane ride. #southwest #windowseat #familyvaca #goroyals”

We did not, however, love our first plane ride. After Susie played with stickers, ate all the food, pooped...twice, spilled a drink, and walked up and down the aisle, it was time to sit down for our descent. And so, for 30 minutes my husband, Josh, held Susie. And for 30 minutes, Susie screamed. We landed in Tampa tired, cranky and slightly sick of each other already.

When we arrived to the condo, it was near midnight so we went straight to sleep. Thankfully, we woke up to this incredible view.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said: “Arrived in paradise! The perfect start to the perfect day! #thatviewtho #oceanview #nofilter #paradise #familyvaca”

However, it was not the perfect day. Far from it, in fact. Since our children wake with the sun, we decide to walk to breakfast then hit the beach. As it turns out, hungry, sleep deprived children don’t like to walk 20 minutes in the 80-degree heat to get food. There were tears, so many tears. When we returned to the condo, in a sweaty fit of rage, Teddy yelled, “You’re dumb, Mom!” My perfect, well-behaved, rule following, first-born just called me dumb. So what did I do? I politely asked him to stop acting like a little shit.

As Day 1 came to a close, I reflected back on our first day of our first family vacation. We explored the beach as a family and even went swimming in the ocean.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said: “Brotherly love! Teddy and Charlie exploring the beach together. #bestfriendsforever ”

While I was thankful for our time together as a family, that photo did not show the fighting, touching, poking, screaming and bickering these boys did most of the day. I’m sure they are just tired, I thought to myself. I assured myself that Day 2 would be better. Before we went to bed, I asked my husband to turn up the AC. I was a tad warm.

Day 2 started with the AC Company notifying us that the unit in the condo needed to be replaced.

“Great, what time will you be done?” I asked.

“In three days,” they responded.

I threw my husband the car keys and told him to not come back until he had fans. All the fans.

That afternoon, we attempted to escape the hot condo with a trip to the hot beach. This time, we found a remote beach that truly reminded me of paradise. The empty white sand beach was that of an exotic South Pacific island.

We picnicked, built sand castles and searched for seashells. My six year old even snapped this picture of my husband and me.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said: “ ❤️❤️❤️"

Words were not needed to describe this photo. It simply exuded our true love.

Sure, maybe on a good day. But not this trip. The heat had started to get to us. As the kids turned on us, we turned on each other. Words were no longer being exchanged. Just evil, sweaty glares.

We persevered into Day 3. We had no choice. We had pre-paid the photographer for our beach family photos that day. So, we dressed in our perfectly coordinated outfits and wiped the sweat from above our lips. Before the photographer arrived, I snapped a quick picture of the kids.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said: “Love these three more than life itself. Thanks to my amazing husband for surprising me with family photos on the beach. #familylove #siblinglove #nofilter #paradise #nevercominghome”

This photo doesn’t lie. It’s f*cking adorable. I’ve already signed my kids up to be models because of it. The caption doesn’t lie either. I do love these kids more than life itself. And, as for my husband, he is amazing but I’m still projecting my heat-induced anger on him so I’ll thank him in roughly 3-5 years.

When we returned to our condo, it was as if we had involuntarily landed ourselves on an episode of Survivor. I was forced to hold my curly hair back in bandeau. Sure, it was cute in a boho sort of way but the hair underneath was greasy and sweaty. At one point, I got sand in my eye and was forced to wear my glasses. My face had begun to breakout because, like my hair, it too was greasy and sweaty. It got ugly, quick. It became every man for themselves as we devoured bottles of water and wrestled for spots in front of the fans.

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That afternoon, I sat on the balcony, basking in the cool 82-degree breeze, reading a book. My goal of the trip, other than survival, was to read the book “How Children Succeed.” Little did I know the real book I needed was “How Children Survive.”

In my weakest moment, my son asked to have his birthday party (a mere 8 months away) at Chuck E. Cheese...and I said yes.

These were dark times and I regret nothing.

Day 4 offered a glimmer of hope. We had plans to visit the local aquarium. A trip to the air-conditioned aquarium followed by dinner in an air-conditioned restaurant was exactly what our family needed.

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Had I posted this photo, it would have said: “Learning all about sea life! The kids loved touching the stingrays.”

Turns out, every other Florida tourist was visiting the aquarium that day and they were stealing all of our AC! Didn’t they understand!? We needed that AC to survive! I even heard a woman joke that the aquarium AC must have been broken. I was torn between crying and punching her but I was too weak to do either.

Thankfully, the aquarium was lackluster and we were out in less time than it took to get there. We hopped in the car and hoped to cool down on our way to dinner. The coolness we so desperately needed never came. As luck would have it, the AC in the car broke, too. I finally found the energy to cry.

We made it to the restaurant, a fun local spot on the beach. An extra sweaty glare to my husband indicated that he best drop us off at the entrance while he parked. While we waited for him, the kids sat at the bar and sipped on strawberry daiquiris.

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Had I posted this photo, I would have said: “A break from fun in the sun with some yummy beach drinks 🍹🍹🍹”

When my husband arrived, 20 minutes later, we attempted communication. It clearly failed because when I returned from the bathroom, we were sitting on the patio in the sun. When in Rome, er, when on the sun, right?

After dinner, the kids played on the beach. The brief three minutes of sibling love was truly perfect. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly when Charlie threw sand in his siblings’ faces. Sibling love at its finest, right? We carried all three sweaty, sandy, screaming children to the sauna car and didn’t look back. When we returned to the sauna condo, my husband took Susie and Teddy to the pool for a bath. I was treated to Charlie screaming hysterically for an hour.

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The kid was dripping in sweat, snot and tears but he persevered. His grit will bode well for him some day but today was not that day. I had not been kicked off the Survivor island yet and I wasn’t about to let this amateur win. He finally retreated to his bedroom and came out 10 minutes later waving his white flag. Success. I briefly considered writing a book titled, “How Parents Succeed.”

Day 5 promised air conditioning so we decided to endure a hot boat excursion, knowing we would return to a cold condo. The boat ride was blazing hot but no one threw up or cried so we called it a win.

After the boat ride, we treated ourselves to McDonald’s at the pool. I attempted to carry all of the food and get all three kids to the pool while my husband parked the hot rod. In yet another sweaty fit of rage, my daughter swung her arms in distress, knocking the food out of my arms and on to the pool deck. “Fuuuuuuuuck!” was all I could say as the French fries flew into the air.

By the time the AC was back on the grid, so was I. I was weak and couldn’t resist the urge to get back on my phone. The remainder of the trip was spent exclusively on our digital devices in a cool 65-degree condo. It was glorious and, still, I regret nothing.

In all sincerity, our family trippity trip was perfect. Yes, air conditioning would have been ideal. Sure, my kids would have learned less curse words that way. But, our week in Florida was perfect because it was spent together. Without social media and, even, without AC. We are incredibly blessed to have a gorgeous beach condo to visit on a whim, thanks to my very generous in-laws. We are even more blessed to have each other to share all the ups and downs of life with.

I’m thankful I didn’t post pictures throughout my trip because, while I would have been sharing a real story, I wouldn’t have been sharing the whole story. I would have been curating a social media story of a vacation that didn’t truly exist. I genuinely love when my friends and family share their photos on social media. And I don’t necessarily think it is realistic to share all the ups and downs of our lives. We typically don’t photograph the uglier sides of life, after all.

But what we can do is remember that what people post, albeit real, it isn’t whole. No one is perfect, no life is flawless. We must embrace our imperfections for it is those imperfections, not our perfections, that bond us.

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