Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vacationing, or trying to, with two little ones

It’s hard to believe we are just over a week into our vacation. We have crammed so many experiences and events into so few days, and I’m so exhausted I sometimes wonder if this is really a vacation. It is for River, I remind myself. And I have the pleasure of watching him enjoy things.

I’ve definitely had some fun. I was able to go down some waterslides in the Dells, to enjoy the Wisconsin Ducks, to have a good meal, to visit with relatives, to luxuriate in the rare hour or two to myself. But since Mark has had to continue to work while on vacation (hopefully today is the last day), I’m spending most of my time planning, executing or cleaning up.

It’s interesting to be reminded of the variety of people and life experiences in the U.S. I’m surprised to find myself in the agricultural heartland, and to learn that here, grass-fed milk and free-range chickens are really hard to come by. I’m reminded of the poverty – of people who travel to get a job that pays $10 an hour, people who drive from one supermarket to another to buy the things on sale, people who live in the waterpark capital of the world, yet have never been to the major parks, because it costs too much to take a family of 10.

In some places, I long for the beauty of the land and the friendliness of the people. In others, I find the limited perspectives so claustrophobic I can’t wait to get away. My mom grew up in the latter type of place and as I grow older, I respect her ability to escape.

One relative in this place told me how she dissuaded her daughter from becoming a physical therapist.

“It takes eight years of school,” she said. “So I sat down with my daughter and I asked her what kind of mother she wants to be. Does she want to be a working mom or a stay at home mom? She said she’d like to stay home if she can. So I did the calculations with her. We looked at the cost of eight years of school, how old she’d be at that point, and how many years she might be able to work before having kids. The math did not work out. She wouldn’t make enough to cover the cost of the education. So I suggested she become a physical therapist assistant instead. That only requires two years of education.”

The argument seems logical on the surface. However, it ignores the fact that spouses tend to have similar levels of education. If she were to get more education, she’d be more likely to meet more educated men. Her chance of having a husband who could earn enough to allow her to stay home would increase.

Then there is the fact that a mother’s level of education has significant impacts on her children’s education levels (this mom who talked her daughter out of her dream has a high school education).

And then there is life after kids. Even if this girl wants to spend 15 or 20 years at home raising children, she still has a lot of time left in her expected life. Being well educated would give her more options, either in her chosen field, or in another area.

I knew that many young people in these areas have less access to information about educational options or career possibilities beyond those they see in their communities. However, I was reminded that some young girls are still discouraged from pursuing their dreams, even by those they love.

Tomorrow we face the longest drive of the trip – up to ten hours without stops. So far the kids have behaved quite well in the car. We brought limited toys – a couple of books and a couple of Matchbox cars. Sometimes River talks incessantly, other times he sleeps. But there have been no major problems so far.

Willow’s beautiful sleep schedule, with the 10:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. feedings, went out the window with this trip. I’m now feeding her repeatedly throughout the night again. I’ll just have to wait until we get home, and perhaps until I’ve been back at work a while, to reinstate the schedule.

One nice discovery we’ve made through the forced close quarters is that River and Willow are able to sleep in the same room without disturbing each other. Willow goes to sleep first and River is able to go to bed and fall asleep without bothering her. She wakes up crying for food in the night and River does not emerge from his deep sleep. This is reassuring, since we were planning to put them in the same room after we returned home.

Another big change is that River has been forced to sleep in a big boy bed for the first time. At the first hotel, the beds were very high and unfortunately, he fell out. Since then, we’ve pushed his bed against the wall when possible, and put carry-on size suitcases on either side of him. He hasn’t fallen again since and he stays in bed for his naps and his sleep without a problem.

We also ran the experiment of letting him skip his nap, for several days in a row. There was just too much fun stuff to do, and too many relatives to see, to force him to sleep the afternoon away. I found out that he can manage without the nap, but he does get cranky, and he also picked up a bad cold (that he subsequently passed on to Willow and to me), perhaps due to reduced immunity. I worried that after going so long without it, he might not resume napping. However, now that the flurry of activity is over, I’ve been giving him his nap again and he is sleeping. Whew! That quiet afternoon time is a lifesaver for us.

All in all, I’m learning that traveling as a family of four is possible, it can be fun, but that extra hands (family or a babysitter) make for a much more enjoyable time. We’ve learned that we carry a lot of crap for a 3-4 week trip and that a full-size car is a nice luxury. We are sharing lots of special moments and I’m grateful for this time. But I also look forward to future vacations, when they are older and more independent and I can sit back and read for a bit while they do something of interest to them.

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