What happens when you take your 3 kids out of their normal routine (and time zone) and try to fit in as much sightseeing and activities as humanly possible?
What do you get when you add 5 other kids and 5 other adults to the mix?
I can tell you what you don't get—a vacation.
What it is is total chaos. Exhausting, heartwarming chaos.
Did I mention exhausting?
One of my greatest passions before children was traveling- with friends or solo, it didn’t matter. I just love seeing new places and experiencing other cultures.
My first solo trip was during my pregnancy with my firstborn. Much to my family’s dismay (who worried for my safety) I escaped to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
I was grieving the loss of my relationship, which fell apart in my first trimester, and needed the respite of nature. It was there that I dreamt her name and could finally see her moving in my belly from the outside. It made me think of a sea mammal, emerging briefly from the depths for a breath of air.
I fell in love with San Pedro, a small Mayan village on the lake and vowed to return after Nehama was born.
I kept that promise to myself.
Two and a half months postpartum I was on a shuttle bus to the lake with bright-eyed baby Nehama strapped onto my body for the long, bumpy ride. A young Israeli couple from New York befriended me and expressed amazement that I was traveling alone with a newborn. After seeing the lives of their friends completely flip after having children, they had decided no kids.
Until they met me.
The next day I ran into them again and they informed me that they would have children! Amazing that a simple conversation and the opportunity to witness a different kind of parenting could shape their lives so profoundly.
I spent the first 5 years of Nehama’s life traveling back and forth between Miami and San Pedro. We would spend 2 months at a time, enjoying the natural beauty and warm-hearted people. For me it was the only time I felt completely “off-call” and it kept me from burning out as a midwife.
Nine years and 2 kids later, I found traveling challenging, if not impossible. One big obstacle was having a new partner who did not have a passport. Another was the obvious expense and logistics of traveling with 3 kids. Added to that was my limiting on-call schedule.
But the adventurer in me never died and this year I had a grand plan for a 6 week excursion across the country, hitting several national parks, meeting up with my siblings and all the cousins, flying to Hawaii, then attending a wedding in Southern California and finally making our way back to Tennessee.
In the early stages of preparing, I was all passion and planning. But as the time grew nearer I began to panic. My best friend Ramona was going to join me and the girls with her two boys, which meant a total of 7 people in my Toyota Highlander, plus all our shit for camping and travel. We fluctuated between excitement and dread and since we seemed to take turns being in one or the other we were good cheerleaders for each other.
I tried to focus on the adventure aspect of it—all the beautiful places we would see, what a great learning experience it would be for all of us, including how the hell to get along in a cramped space with 7 humans. Oh yes, there would be lots of opportunities to learn conflict resolution and cultivate patience!
But as the day of our departure grew closer Google sent me a daily diet of articles about overcrowded national parks. long lines, extreme heat, and flash floods. Any sense of adventure was replaced by terror. The idea of camping for 2 weeks straight, planning and making meals, cleaning up, not sleeping well, dealing with whiny bickering kids, somehow did not seem so appealing. I decided to shave down the trip to 3 weeks and take out the cross-country drive.
The abridged version still involved 6 flights, 4 states and 4 rental cars. Our longest car ride was 8 hours and that was enough to convince me that we had made the right decision. Our camping excursion shifted to Airbnb’s and the homes of friends and family.
This was the first leg of our trip: Fly to Vegas, drive to Bryce and Zion in southern Utah to meet up with the rest of our gang, becoming a crew of 8 kids and 6 adults.
Yes we got to see the majesty of Zion but in 106 degree heat, it does loose some of its magic. The views took my breath away not because I was having a mystical moment of connection with nature, but because I was constantly protecting small children from falling off cliffs!
Preparing meals for 14 people was no small feat, nor was deciding on our daily plans or just getting out of the house! By the time we left for our day, we had navigated countless toddler breakdowns and moody teentrums, cleaned up messes, packed lunches, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and enough water to survive.
Then came Hawaii. (Cue happy island music)
This was my saving grace, my turning point.
After watching our plane leave without us because we were still awaiting the required Covid test results, I scrambled to reschedule connecting flights and rental car reservations, while my screaming children attracted disapproving glares from waiting passengers at the gate.
But the following day when we finally arrived in Kauai, all the stress and angst of getting there melted away. It was now just me and my daughters and that felt like a huge relief.
The lush tropics, cool island breeze and deep blue sea brought a sense of calm, ease and joy that I had so longed for in planning this trip. From this place my spirit of adventure reignited.
We rode waves,
hiked to waterfalls,
jumped off cliffs,
floated in lagoons,
ate raw organic cacao straight from the pod,
sat inside bamboo forests, & swam with porpoises.
In the end, it felt a little vacationy after all ;)
Now all I need is a long nap.