My First Family Vacation Ever (No really)

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Back in November, my husband said he wanted to go on a family vacation instead of a glitzy 40th birthday trip. I had to readjust my expectations here to understand. “Come again?”

“Like let’s go to Myrtle Beach or something.”

“Like drive? In a car?” (Thinking he must have forgotten we have two toddlers and live in NY).

“Yes.”

And that was the end of the excitement that (was) my husband’s 40th birthday trip. No blue water and umbrella drinks. No tan lines and snorkeling and afternoon naps. Because when it’s your husband’s birthday trip, you should really be thinking about what you want and how much fun it is for you. Oh, you shouldn’t? Oops. I get in trouble for this all the time.

But, I STILL thought it was insane to go to Myrtle Beach in February and just put it to the back of my mind. Like far back. Next to “clean out the junk drawer” and “wash windows.”

And then winter happened.

(Dramatic pause followed by even more dramatic bongo drums and images of cold people crying who are also getting buried by snow)

(What? Too dramatic?)

And my pipes froze and my eczema got itchy (sorry, TMI- it’s my one remnant of pregnancy), and I began to just wear boots as if they were the only shoes I had. And I was wearing fuzzy socks every day and I was starting to wonder if Eskimos eat as much as people in the Northeast do during every snowstorm.

And I was like “EFF THIS!!!! LET’S GO TO EFFING MYRTLE BEACH!”

And so we did. We planned the trip to take place February 14th on February 4th. A Gallagher record for last minute.

This is a story I wanted to tell because in the middle of the planning and reserving and packing and listing and strategizing– I realized a pretty major thing.

I had never been, even in childhood, on a true family vacation.

We’ve taken trips to see family. Overnights, short road trips, weekend getaways.

But the vacations we used to take as two people without kids never made the full transition to the family vacation.

We spend our summers at an Adirondack lake. This has always had the feeling of vacation. But really, it’s more of a place we stay rather than a place we vacation. (I realize this sounds ridiculous but bear with me) This time is different. I mapped out a road trip with strategic stops. I pored over Yelp and TripAdvisor for places to eat, sleep and play. I felt ever so American and 34 years old planning this trip. A real family vacation. Like you see in the movies.

Don’t get me wrong. My sister was great about getting us together for vacations when I was a teenager. I once went to Martha’s Vineyard as a nanny for my niece. But never have I had the true family vacay– parents, kids, the open road. And a cheesy touristy spot to fantasize about as a final destination.

My husband is one of seven children. I picture his family vacations being like a clean version of National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. Mom and Dad in the front, the car packed. Kids playing license plate games or singing songs in the back. Maybe this is why Myrtle Beach was his vacation of choice. Pure nostalgia.

Being the 13 years younger baby of the family– I missed a lot of the good vacations. Camping trips taken with my Dad’s extended family. Stories of me in a crib my Dad built into our camper. I would throw my bottle out of the crib to wake up everyone else,

And I did go on a lot of trips as a kid with my Dad. But none could be classified as a 100% vacation. They were business trips and I was his companion.

So in thinking about all of this, I realized this may be why I ask my husband every six months to plan a trip to Disney. I’ve never been and feel a sort of butterflied excitement about the idea of it. The characters, the princesses, the rides, the Mickey Mouse hats? I can’t wait! (We are waiting until our kids are out of the run-away-from-adults-phase for this big trip BTW).

And my giddiness was full throttle upon our arrival in MB. I went to check us in, very surprised by how nice the hotel was that I chose online just ten days before. I almost cried when I saw the beautiful ocean view from our balcony. I hugged my husband while unpacking and said, “Isn’t this AWESOME?” Like a kid. Like a kid on her first family vacation. There was no sign of snow. The forecast called for 60’s. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

I see the wonder of this first adventure as a family in Parker’s eyes. And we are making this vacation the norm for him. We will take vacations, maybe a couple a year and it will be sweet and cozy and will give us great times and great memories as–a family. There’s a purity of a family vacation that I never got to really experience before. It’s so precious, so special.

My parents gave me a lot. I was spared few luxuries. I always had nice clothes. But, with them splitting up at age 8 and having no siblings close in age, a vacation probably didn’t seem like something for one parent to do with one child.

But I don’t think ever felt slighted as a kid. I often was a ride along on other’s vacations. My next door neighbors brought me along anytime they went to a local campground. My best friend Kristy took me camping with their family, even though I was actually the sixth kid in an already big family.

But this vacation at 34 was different than any vacation-by-proxy I experienced before. It was myfamily. My husband was at the wheel. I saw my kids play with their cousins that we don’t always see. I saw my husband have a pizza cook off with his sister. All of this vacation-sap leaves me feeling both sickeningly domestic and effortlessly content.

And that’s it, isn’t it? Strip away the stress and busy-ness of life. The shoveling and the de-icing. The frozen pipes and the dry skin. Take away those things and the core of a vacation is a warm, gentle, sweet place. It’s you, laying in bed on a February morning with a good book. All you can hear is the rhythmic sound of the three people you love most breathing and sleeping. Sleeping and breathing.

My first family vacation isn’t even over yet. But I can tell you already, it’s the best one I’ve ever taken.

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