Look, Molly! Come before he’s gone! Ellie, Henry, come see!
Suddenly I notice the back door has been left open. This despite my consistent and necessary mantra: “Close the door behind you if you don’t want bugs!”
WHO LEFT THIS DOOR OPEN?
And so it has been.
I swear we were about to have a relaxing moment appreciating the quiet of the nature surrounding our vacation rental, but I am finding relaxation difficult to fantastical. It seems that the real life arguments about whose turn it is, the disapproval of all foods available for dinner, and all other everyday stresses have followed us even here.
Sitting at the counter many nights this past winter, bent over my laptop after the kids’ bedtimes, I meticulously planned our summer vacation. The wind barking at the kitchen window fueled my enthusiasm. This summer, we would plan something different. Camp last summer had turned out to be difficult for my then-5-year-old son, who had needed to be picked up early almost every day or risked falling apart at general dismissal. There would be no camp this summer, we decided.
I searched every vacation website known to the modern world to find a home to rent for July, a home surrounded by woods, near the beach, with a (heated) pool. A home in which we would all relax.
By the last days of school in June, New York City’s punishing winter was a distant memory, and the kids said all their good-byes to friends they would and would not see next year; I had packed up clothing, bathing suits, books, toys, and enough sunscreen for an army crossing the desert. I counted the minutes until we would arrive at our vacation destination, our oasis from the city, from everyday pressures, from stress.
And then, we drove up to our home away from home, the welcoming house where we would be living for five weeks, where we would lay back and bond as a family, and where I would be confined to spending every day of those five long weeks with my children.
As we unloaded bags, released toys, decided who would sleep in which room (the kids reluctantly decided to rotate sleeping in the “castle” bedroom), a familiar anxiety unpacked itself as well, among the shampoos and toothbrushes and surface wipes.
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The fighting among the kids in the car gave me a taste, I feared, of what I would be facing full-time, in an unfamiliar setting, without the comfort of familiar things. Where would I hide? The beadboard walls began to close in.
I had pictured myself laughing, lounging around, drinking coffee while the kids played in the well-equipped playroom. I would set myself up to write in the magnificent dining room overlooking the pool. We would be swimming in the perfect salt water pool by day and roasting marshmallows at the fire pit by dusk.
And while most of those things happened—I have the pictures to prove it—by the third day, I was regularly running up and down stairs with piles of laundry, beach towels and bathing suits, while yelling at everyone to: “Get the markers off the floor,” and “How did the pillows end up on the kitchen table?”
There was the constant refrain of: “She’s looking at me and I told her to stop and she won’t stop! Now she’s doing it again!” It was strangely like home. My laptop remained perched at the end of an inviting wood dining table, unopened. The kids couldn’t find or reach anything on their own. They couldn’t work the remote control and would wake us at 5am to “put on Sponge Bob!”
A friend reminded me to imagine how I’ll feel after this experience is over: I will almost certainly wish I were back here. Back here, sitting at the pool, typing a few words in between fixing lunch and getting glasses of water and refereeing arguments over pool toys. Back here, soothing overtired children at night with bedtime stories and anti-itch gel for bug bites. Back here, in the weeks before first and third grade, witnessing three children play and argue and mature before my eyes.
For more of Wendy Bradford, a freelance writer and NYC mom of three, visit her blog, Mama One To Three, at mamaonetothree.com.