Cure for the common vacation lists three definitions for the word “vacation.” The third is the simplest: “freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.

We have to amend the definition, however, when talking about parents of young (and even sometimes older!) children. Unless you leave the kids with Grandma or a neighbor, vacationing will be very different from vacationing as a single–or even married–adult. Your duty, business, and activity as a parent accompany you no matter where you go.

Depending on the age of your child, going on vacation means considering

  • Where will I change diapers?
  • Will there be a quiet place to breastfeed?
  • How far is the nearest potty?
  • Can all the toys/snacks/games/books I’ll need to keep my toddler amused during the 7-hour plane ride fit in the single personal carry-on I am allowed?
  • Will my school-age-child’s mind rot if she is allowed to watch cartoons for 6 hours straight during the flight?
  • Should I leave my cranky teenager alone in the hotel room while the rest of the family goes out sightseeing?

As you can see, the challenges don’t go away as your child grows; they morph and grow just as the tiny baby you once held in your arms morphs into someone who can look you in the eye and declare that he won’t go on the ferry ride.

One thing that also can morph is attitude. We invest so much in our vacations, imagining idyllic getaways during which everyone in the family will have fun, bond, and be culturally enriched. When the reality of tired, whiny children (and parents) sets in, we feel cheated. Add to this the inevitable unpredictability of traveling–the missed flight, the cancelled fireworks, the overpriced meal–and you have a recipe for disaster.  (Mark Brady offers some interesting thoughts on why vacations can be so stressful in a recent post on his blog “The Committed Parent.”)

There is different way. Vacations offer a perfect opportunity to practice presence. What if we left our expectations behind when we got in the car or boarded the plane? What if we regarded every moment as a chance to observe, or perceive, or behave in a way we have never done before? What if we let go of the things that irritate us most with a shrug and an “oh well!” and concentrated instead on the fact that we are moving, breathing, and with people we care about?

One amazing outcome might be that the urgent need to “get away on vacation” would evaporate, and with it, the intense expectations we place on the experience. After all, every day, whether at home or on the streets of Paris or climbing in the Sierras, yields just such opportunities for presence and thankfulness.

My summer holiday ended last week, but I’m planning on vacationing for the rest of the year.

— Audrey

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