I am sitting in the passenger seat of our car heading northbound on Interstate 5. We're on the long road home from a family trip to Legoland and the much anticipated San Diego Zoo, both of which featured an array of impressive exhibits and rides that almost now seem like a distant memory when compared against the invasion of mind loss that is trips with our kids. Along with the hugs and laughter, there's the yelling, disciplining, threatening of toy removal and post bedtime binge drinking that have all become staples of our family vacation checklist. Those pictures you often see on Facebook of people basking in the bliss of family unity are almost cruel and just a little bullshit.
I know, because I'm guilty of the same selective advertising. But the truth is, vacations with children, for all intents and purposes, are a fucking mess. In between the joy and wonder of a child's first experience with something are the hours upon hours of brain pillaging episodes where even the sanest of parents must fight tooth and nail to manage. But manage them we do. We've been down this road before. It's like going out with a friend you know is going to get you arrested, or petting a sleeping cat on the belly. The outcome should never be surprising. It's the most expensive type of reality check there is, but we endure it because above all else, they're comprised of moments we'll cherish and remember for the rest of our lives. And as challenging as they may often be, I look forward to them every time.
Still, writing this in my car, my dad braving the long, barren drive of I5, I question why we continue to do this to ourselves. I'm being dramatic, of course. And my wife will probably say I'm overreacting. But overreacting is a part of parenting, no matter what the situation. A scrape on the knee, a cough, a bloody nose, the mere thought of your child being bullied, or worse, your child becoming one, all drive the hairs through the silver brush. The reaction is a basic impulse. What some parents may feel is perfectly normal, others see as the end of humanity. I'm somewhere in between. But a trip with kids, where the thought of relaxation is the punchline to a sad joke, can be its own version of adult hell. And there I am at the fiery throne kneeling to it every chance I get.
history in the remaking
Last month, Josephine and I took a trip to San Diego with our two boys and my dad. It was to celebrate our son Samuel's 6th birthday, an event that didn't arrive until after we had returned. I picked up a GoPro Hero 5 Session a few days previous to chronicle the trip. As a photographer, I feel I've done a good job capturing crucial moments from my children's lives. But one thing I've failed to commit those memories to is video. Stills capture moments. Video enlivens them. Unlike most footage people share, flash cards of unicorns and rainbows isn't always what you experience. We knew where this road would lead us. With our parent checklist ready, we began.
Our first destination was Legoland, located in beautiful Carlsbad, CA. While awesome, the significance of being trapped in a world meant to appear as if built using an easily detachable brick system was not lost on me. For at times, it acted as a metaphor for the framework of our sanity, and our patience being the very Lego piece stabbing into each other's bare feet. But the boys loved the place. Despite the forum it provided for them to turn into the occasional asshole, so did we. We watched as our raving little ones ran amok with excitement, bringing a whole new level of exhaustion to the playing field. My wife and I, being the mindful 21st century parents we are, had forgotten our son Joseph's stroller at home and made every effort we could to avoid having to carry him. The park only being open from 10am-5pm (on some days) certainly helped.
The hotel room, following the long and tiring day, was where my wife and I regrouped. As some parents can tell you, this is not possible without alcohol, and we made damn sure our investment was put to use. The battles of putting tired kids to bed is a chore all its own, as you often run into a steel wall at every turn; The zombies grunting at you in a darkened alley as they half ass every single task they're given, all while offering highly intellectual commentary of why you're the worst parents in the world for simply wanting them to shut the fuck up and get some rest. More than once, my sons announced their decision that I was no longer to be loved. But following an exhausting day in the sun and Tango & Cash having just started on AMC, I couldn't give two shits. We lick our wounds, wait for the morning to come, and start again.
It's All A Zoo!
Next on the agenda was the world famous San Diego Zoo, an enormous and beautiful park where my hypocrisy on the subject of caged animals could run free. We didn't quite know what to expect of this place, as neither of us had been there. But as zoos go, it didn't disappoint. One thing a park of this size begs to remind you of is how out of shape you really are. As the day carried on, I felt the bones in my legs spit rust as I walked, with Sammy and Jojo harnessing what felt like a perpetual amount of energy. Ever the animal enthusiasts, they loved every section of this place. It's amazing when you witness your children show genuine excitement about something that actually warrants it. That's a matter of preference, I know. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never echo the enjoyment that went into watching an episode of fucking Caillou. I'd rather sit through a family viewing of Faces Of Death.
Hearing them marvel at the roar of a tiger or the mere sight of an elephant was truly special. I wanted to bottle it up. For every shouting match we refereed, there were moments of pure joy that made it all worth it. This is the very thing we take away from any family trip we embark upon and the understanding that none of this was ever supposed to be easy. It’s during the difficult times where my wife and I have scribbled our most valuable notes. It's how we learn as parents. We steered through an emotional rainfall when our son Joseph was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in 2014 and at 9 months old, underwent an intensive surgery that prefaced a year long bout with chemotherapy. By comparison, any challenge we face now trying to get them to brush their teeth or return to their beds in the middle of the night is an ink blot on a mural.
My dad accompanying us for the trip meant so much to me, as it emphasized the bond not only of father and son but of grandparents and their impact on our boys. I pondered this for days after we returned home, unpacking what felt like an entire closet of life while shaking the limbs from our bodies. We were back, stationed again in the war room that is our household. Tomorrow, when we wake up, our kids will be older, getting ready for their first dates, graduating from college and starting families of their own. Those are all moments to come. We'll hold on to these for now.