Last week we loaded up our car and ventured out on our first vacation as a family. Staying at a friend's cabin, we spent the days hiking amidst the majestic beauty of the Yosemite Valley and the sapphire luster of Pinecrest Lake, all with Gregory perched up behind my head in his baby backpack. And while the little guy loved it and we all had a fantastic time, it was clear that vacations for my wife and me are a lot different now that Gregory is in the picture.
In fact, going on vacation with a baby is kind of like reading the Cliff's Notes version of parenthood. Do they still publish those thin yellow booklets that summarized classic novels or has the internet made these obsolete?
Cliff's Notes, of course, were supposed to supplement our reading in high school, but for many students these shortened versions replaced the novels and gave us just enough details to fool our English teacher that we had actually read the 1400 pages of War and Peace, when in fact we were up playing video games all night.
But academic integrity aside, it occurred to me on the drive home that, much like Cliff's Notes, all of the main details and themes of parenthood over the past year are condensed and expressed in one short week of vacation. So if you're planning on having a baby but don't really want to read those long and boring What-to-Expect-When-You're-Expecting-type books, here it is in a nutshell.
Chapter 1: There's Lots of Stuff
As you begin to pack and anticipate every possible scenario that could happen away from home, you realize just how much stuff comes along with having a baby. Of course you need to pack his clothes, but this includes clothes for hot weather, cold weather, clothes for playing and for sleeping, plus shoes, socks, bibs, hats, and sunglasses. You need to bring plenty of baby food, plus bottles, a bottle warmer, a boppy, blankets, the portable crib, stroller, security gates, socket protectors and, of course, all of his favorite toys. Then there's not just the diapers, but also the wet-wipes along with various lotions, soaps, medicines, a changing pad, bath tub, towels, and please PLEASE don't forget Mr. Rubber Ducky.
The real challenge is trying to fit all of this stuff into the car and it becomes like a game of Tetris as you maneuver and rotate each pieces of baby gear so that it all compacts into one efficient block. After some trial and error, I finally get it to where I can actually see out the back window as I drive. I doubt it will be this neat on the ride home.
Chapter 2: You Are Not in Control
When it comes to vacation, I'm usually eager and excited to get on the road and to our destination quickly so that we can get busy relaxing. But it seems that Gregory is here to confront my impatience and I'm learning that with a baby you can't be in a rush but have to just go with the flow and work with his needs and rhythms.
He sleeps for a good part of the drive but wakes somewhere along the Central Valley so we pull off the road and find a park where we have a leisurely lunch and take time to feed him, change his diaper, and get him a little exercise. At first this extended pit stop feels like a distraction to my agenda, but it turns out to be a really nice time for my family. Gregory is helping me see that vacation is not a race and that, perhaps, much of life is really about enjoying the journey.
Chapter 3: It's Worth the Effort
Before Gregory came along, "vacation" meant time for Lori and me to relax on a shady porch in the woods with a couple of good books, long naps, jigsaw puzzles, and a running Scrabble scorecard. As you can guess, these leisurely vacation days are over for awhile. Gregory is an active little boy who needs to get outside, and so our vacation schedule has also become more active.
It's a lot more work now to plan and prepare for getaways as a family and at first I was a little resentful about this. But once all three of us were trekking through lush redwood forests or feeling the spray of waterfalls in the shadow of Half Dome, I knew this was the right place for us to be.
With a baby we do lose a certain amount of spontaneity and freedom, but in place of these we are building memories and bonds of shared experience that mature us as individuals and grow us closer as a family. Indeed, babies are a lot of work but we are better people for it.