Every June, shortly after the last day of school, my husband and I take our four kids on a weeklong trip to the beach. Sounds simple, but no matter how many kids you have, preparing for a trip like this is neither a small nor simple task. So, in addition to my already overloaded to-do list and work obligations, I do all of our pre-vacation purchasing, preparing, and packing. I buy snacks for the road and groceries for the week, with special consideration for our gluten-free daughter and diabetic son. I organize linens, ensure that each of our 4 kids has properly fitting swimsuits & flip flops, and load up on our preferred sunscreen. I have the car oil changed, mail stopped, prescriptions filled and garden watered. By the time we’re ready to leave, I’m exhausted.
On the day of our departure, I get up extra early to collect toothbrushes, make sandwiches, and fill water bottles. 7 hours, 3 stops and thousands of goldfish crackers later, we unload our bags into an immaculately beautiful beach house, and vacation finally begins. The kids are electrified. They hang out with my husband on the porch talking excitedly about the next day’s activities while I empty our cooler into the fridge. I fill cabinets with snacks, stow bags and coolers, and then start making beds; five of them. After the beds are made I unpack clothing, outfit each bathroom with towels, and start to think about dinner. We head to the beach, dip our toes in the water, and by the time we get back to the house, there’s already laundry to do, as “toe dipping” can be risky. I throw in a load and move on to dinner prep. After the dishes are done and the kids are in bed, I fall into bed myself, because vacations are hard work.
The following 7 days are full of salty air, sandy swimsuits, and late boardwalk nights. We celebrate the end of the school year, the beginning of summer, and the beauty of our little hamlet by the sea. This trip always reminds me of my own childhood vacations spent at the same beach and boardwalk. I have wonderful memories of running with my sisters on the beach, riding waves and building sand castles, with not a care in the world. I was completely oblivious to the fact that my own mom had done all the preparing, planning, and packing before we left, and then coordinated, cooked, and cleaned during the entire trip. It was just a vacation to me; sunny, beachy, relaxed, summer vacation, and I adored it. Perhaps the reason for my ignorance was that my mom never complained. She never pointed out the fact that she had remembered to bring the Tylenol, bought our favorite cereals, and counted my underpants. She just made it happen.
If my mom didn’t require recognition for single-handedly facilitating the success our many family vacations, then why do I? I mean, why else would I write this essay, if not to draw attention to our never-ending commitment to our kids and families? Well, perhaps reading this could create a little extra awareness and appreciation on the part of our spouses. But I write this more for us. As women, we are nurturers by nature and most often our children’s primary caretakers. We birth the babies and manage them through every single day of their lives for 18 years. We know exactly how many Pampers the baby uses per day and shoes sizes for all the kids. We know when one has a fever without using a thermometer. We are our family managers, constantly observing and evaluating, quietly nudging them forward in the right direction. Anyone can help with the laundry, but no one could ever carry the mental load that we do. It’s just about impossible.
So when it comes to vacations, go ahead and do the work, because really, who else could? Just rest assured that you are being quietly commended by every other mom you encounter who recognizes that although you’re far from home, you’re still doing the same exact job, just a little closer to the ocean.
My own family beach week is just now winding down and the kids are sad to leave. It’s been a fun trip and they always hate to say goodbye. As for me, I’m busy preparing, organizing and packing. While my husband packs the car, I’ll wrangle the kids to help clean and vacuum, and then I’ll clean and vacuum again. We had a ball, and another great beach week is in the books. I’ll definitely sleep well in the car.
Abby Helman Kelly is a Simsbury mom of 4 and the owner/operator of Gluten-Free Connecticut and Gluten-Free New England. She has a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Loyola University Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Boston University. Abby can be reached at email@example.com.