Once upon a time, vacationing with my three young boys required careful planning and sometimes the addition of a grandparent or two for reinforcements.
We knew a vacation should be (and would be) fun, but we had to factor in how exhausting it would be to keep up with babies or toddlers or very young children who could easily make a mad dash toward something that intrigued them, regardless of whether or not a parent was following them or if it were safe place for them to dart off to.
Hotels with pretty pools that wound lazily around the property, making it impossible to see more than just a small fraction of the pool from any one spot, were scary and called for repeated reminders of exactly which portion of the pool my boys were allowed to be in.
A child (or parent) needing something forgotten in the hotel room meant that a group of us (if not all of us) had to leave whatever we were doing and go back.
Constant vigilance, non-stop counting of heads, holding hands, even more than was required at home: that was vacationing with young children.
Cut to several years later, and vacationing is so different.
I was sitting poolside, reading a book, drink in hand, when one of my husband’s co-workers asked me where my boys were.
Looking up, scanning the area, I gestured vaguely and replied “They’re around here somewhere.”
Maybe on the waterslide that was over on the louder, more kid-inhabited part of the pool than where we were sitting.
Maybe over playing ping pong with a new friend.
Perhaps on a kayak on the lake.
The game room with its free arcade games is a likely possibility, though someone might have run up to our room for something forgotten.
They were there, somewhere.
Nearby, I saw a mom in the pool, with a floatie-clad toddler clinging to each of her arms and remembered that being me… which would have meant that a third child of mine either would have been held in his Dad’s arms or was being followed closely by Dad or one of the grandparents. There was no way when I was in that stage that I ever would have imagined being somewhere like that and being able to sit and say that my kids were around here somewhere- I could barely manage to sit at all. I had to know exactly where my kids were- and have eyes (and sometimes a hand) on them, too.
Now, we did have a rule that the boys had to tell us where they were going. So, it’s not like they could have been any of the places I’d mentioned before- they told me where they were and had to check in if they were going somewhere different, which slightly annoyed them if they were in the game room and wanted to go to the room since it would be easier to go right from one to the other, rather than making a detour to the pool to check in with me.
And really, not too much time would pass before I’d see each child. They’d check in or I’d go where they were to talk to them, take a pic or two, or join in with whatever they were doing.
But they didn’t have to all stay together and they didn’t have to stay right by mom or dad.
Occasionally, I’d have this paranoid feeling gnaw at me that something terrible could happen to them. That even though it felt like we were at a safe place, there’s a reason those news headlines blare things like “no one thought it would happen here” when describing some awful incident involving a child. That feeling would come and I’d have this desire to gather up my boys and make them stay where I could see them at all times.
That feeling would pass, though. And we made the decision that we had to give them some freedom at some point and the situation we were in was a good place to give that sort of vacation freedom a trial run.
When we were over in the Disney parks on other days of our vacation, it was different: we all stuck together because I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to find each other somewhere so large and with such a big crowd. Some day, sooner than I think, they’ll be fine there, too. Walking into Disney or whatever theme park we happen to be at and immediately telling us “see you later” as they take off to ride whatever they want, without mom and dad trailing along. We aren’t there yet… but the day is coming.
This vacation gave us a little taste of what’s to come. I have to say that while I sometimes tear up at how fast my boys are growing up, there are some definite advantages to it, too.