Have you ever taken a long road trip? Gone a great distance on an airplane? Travelled to the grocery store with small children?

My husband and I once combined two of these activities (not the grocery store part, but the small children part and a long road trip) as a summer vacation. Why we deemed it a vacation rather than a crash course in anger management and patience building, I don’t know. We drove in a minivan from Minnesota to Wyoming with a three-month-old and a two- and four-year old. The baby was nursing. The carseat laws were enforced. It was madness.

Good thing we brought hats. Summer in the mountains is tricky!

When you combine all of this (roadtrip, children, mountain driving, long distances, road construction, unfamiliar sleeping conditions) it could have been a stress filled week. But looking back on it now, I don’t remember the whole thing being stressful. Am I using memory suppression in order to block out this traumatic experience? I don’t think so. I think it was just the way it was. One must accept a certain amount of craziness with three kids ages four and under.

When grandparents or people no longer “in the trenches” of parenting young children talk to those who are still in the thick of it, I think they go to two default positions: one is to romanticize those years as being leisurely time spent lolling in the grass, counting the leaves on four leaf clovers. The other is to demonize that time as being constantly harried, maxed out, never leaving the house, and handling disciplinary nightmares. Certainly there are moments of both, and sometimes immediately back to back, but I think the reality is somewhere in the middle.

If you’ve been a parent for any length of time, and have ventured out in public, you’ve probably been greeted by someone who holds one of the two extreme memory positions. There are those who shake their heads sympathetically and say, “Are you ready for school to start yet?” And there are those who get all quivery-lipped about the kids and dab their eyes while saying, “Cherish this time. It goes so fast.” Without fail, I run into the person who acts the exact opposite of what I feel at that moment. I’m friendly and make a brief comment about leaving a trail of baby socks or toys behind us so we can find our way out of the store, but rarely can I agree with them.

The reality is, life continues. You can’t stop doing all interactions with others once you have a child. You can’t pile an entire cupboard of dirty dishes into the sink while you stare in amazement at the little person who can now sit up for three minutes without falling onto the pillow you have placed behind her as a spotter. (I mean, you can, but eventually somebody has to make dinner around here, right?) The reality is, sometimes you just do what needs to be done and you can’t get caught up in how much work it is or how much patience it involves or how little you’ll actually get done in a one hour period if you bring the kids versus what you could get done in that same period WITHOUT the kids.

(You don’t get an hour without the kids? Well just wait. Once you do, you’ll be flabbergasted at all the things you can cram into 60 minutes.)

Keep pressing on, all you parents! Bust out the sunscreen and the bug spray. Don’t forget your water bottles. Live it up! Enjoy the children you have in your family, even in those moments when the only positive thing you can think about the baby is that she is a human gas decoy (go ahead, use the baby to disguise your own gas. Silently toot then make a comment about how gassy she is, she’ll never know). Even you who are at the point of looking back with astonishment that you made it through, you probably aren’t done being a parent, even now. You just get to be at a different stage of parenting, when it looks a lot more like mentoring or friendship (or heckling — it all depends on your strategy). If you abandon all outside relationships and activities, you might regret it later, either for your children or for yourself.

So take that vacation, even if when you get home you need another vacation just to recover. Luck favors the prepared, dahling, and vacation is for making memories, if only the memories you’ll have to laugh about later if it was a disaster. At least you will have the memories together. Hooray for summer!

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