Traveling with kids is 90 percent reminding yourself to live in the moment and 10 percent vowing to never again leave your house.
I have an uncanny ability to forget this as soon as we return home from a trip and I’ve finished washing our 74 loads of laundry (Guys, did we bring home other people’s suitcases too?) and we’ve settled back into a routine and looked through our vacation photos and started feeling nostalgic for the place we just left.
Family travel is like childbirth, I suppose. Painful, loud, messy, sort of awful, actually, but also spectacular. And you only remember the spectacular.
Until you’re back on a plane bound for someplace new and your kids are fighting over who gets the aisle seat while irate passengers bore actual holes in your clothing with their eyes, which is fine because you could use the ventilation since you’re sweating from shouldering all six carry-ons and the white-hot hatred of your planemates. Then you remember the bad stuff.
Or maybe that’s just me?
It was me last weekend anyway. My kids and I flew to Texas for my daughter’s trampoline and tumbling competition, plus a couple of side trips. We would tour the Dallas Cowboys stadium. We would visit Waco’s Magnolia Market, made famous by HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” We would play outdoor mini golf in January.
We would have nothing to complain about! We would be leaving behind school and work and arctic temperatures for a hotel pool and Texas-shaped waffles and wall-to-wall fun! We would fall asleep smiling, probably, from all the joy!
We found things to complain about. And by we, I mean two of us. And by two of us, I mean the other two.
The pool was bigger in that other hotel! That’s not how you play Uno! Why do you get to shower first? They call this coffee?!?
(That last one may have been me.)
Luckily, I’d packed my metaphorical coat of armor. I’ve learned to put it on as soon as we land somewhere, and it forces complaints to bounce off me and land in a pile at my feet. I shrug. I grin. I’m like the shruggie emoji.
Whatever, you guys. Who wants to play mini golf? Whatever, you guys. Who wants to find a Starbucks?
And so it went. For three days. Genuine fun was had, frivolous complaints were lodged and ignored, more genuine fun was had. Until it was time to return the car, hop a plane and fly home.
Except our flight was canceled. And so was the flight after that. (Fog in Chicago.) And once that airline resumed flying, there would be no room on any of its flights for another 21 hours.
We spent the next couple of hours securing seats for the next evening, tracking down our already-checked bags and finding a hotel room.
Once we settled into our room, I commenced sending a flurry of emails to cancel various Monday commitments, including a TV interview on MSNBC about the Women’s March.
But wait, the producer emailed. We tape in Dallas! We’ll send a car to retrieve you at your hotel! My children’s eyes lit up. Suddenly this dumb delay had the makings of an adventure.
We hit the hotel pool before bed. We swam well into the night, my kids making up songs and singing and jumping and gasping for air from giggling so hard at their own goofy lyrics and their crazy good fortune to be swimming at 10:30 on a school night.
And that’s when it hit me that family travel is all of those things I said before, but it’s also a lot more.
It’s taking your kids to parts of the world that will open their eyes and their minds and finding that, actually, yours need opening too.
It’s discovering that things don’t have to go right to go well.
It’s remembering that joy and memories are where you make them, not where you find them. My kids made them at the tail end of a very long day, in a tiny pool near a Texas airport. So I did too.
The next morning we ran — literally — to a Target across the highway from our hotel so I could buy a top that would look TV-presentable. I grabbed a navy blazer, my daughter grabbed a necklace (“You need a spot of color,” she told me) and we ran, again, back to our hotel.
After a final dip in the pool, we got ready in our room, and my daughter discovered she’d left her phone at Target. We called. They couldn’t find it. We gave it up for lost.
The driver arrived. I asked him, if he wouldn’t mind, could he please swing us by Target real quick to check for a lost phone. He obliged. I ran in. The phone was at customer service.
He drove us to the TV studio. We watched and waited, watched and waited, as Chris Matthews and his MSNBC pals breathlessly reported the latest on the government shutdown.
I don’t think I’m going on, I told my kids.
I don’t think I’m going on, I told the woman connecting my mic.
She’s not going on, a man from some office finally declared.
We found our waiting driver and asked him to drop us at a Jimmy John’s. He obliged.
At the end of our fruitless adventure, we returned to our hotel, rolled up our pants legs and soaked our six feet in the hotel hot tub until it was time to board the shuttle to the airport.
One long weekend. Several canceled flights. A misplaced phone. A blazer and necklace I didn’t need for an interview that never transpired. The whole thing was goofy.
And wonderful. And exactly the reminder I needed that joy is almost always an option, if you just open your eyes and look for it.