Amy and I can barely walk. I’ve been limping around the house from a terrible pain in my back. Amy complains about how tired she is on an hourly basis. It’s been two days since we returned from a “vacation” to San Diego with the two boys and we’re still feeling the effects. But, we’re not complaining…. well, at least not that much.
We took Alex and Ryan to San Diego to celebrate Alex’s 5th birthday. The Zoo, Legoland and yes, SeaWorld (feel free to post your comments about Blackfish below, but you should know SeaWorld was noticeably less crowded than the other two places, and while we’re at it I also love Chick Fil-A) and lots of swimming at the hotel pool were on the agenda. We were going to make it a birthday to remember, and it was. And as most parents with kids under 5 will tell you, it was absolutely exhausting. Breathtakingly exhausting. My job is to take care of the kids, but for Amy, I felt especially bad because this was the only “break” she was going to get – not exactly sitting by the pool at a spa in Napa.
All throughout the trip, I was wondering what to label it. It’s not really vacation. We’re having “fun” but it’s hard. We tell ourselves we’re building memories for our kids but is that really it? Are we really just making memories for ourselves, the parents? I think back to my childhood and I can remember places we visited on vacation when I was very young. I’m not sure I would even call what I remember memories vs. faint glimpses or screen shots of a moment I experienced. A flash of standing in some hotel near Dutch Wonderland, watching chocolate pour at Hershey Park, riding a sky ride somewhere in New Hampshire, or was it Massachusetts. A glimpse of the orange and blue of a Howard Johnson’s. But, it would be quite a leap to say I really remember any of it. Will Alex remember feeding dolphins or getting a backstage pass to meet a cheetah? I doubt it.
Vacation wasn’t just about seeing cool things, though. There’s all that time in between. Alex and Ryan playing on the bed, making up games – and by made up, I mean Alex seeing how many times he can bounce on top of Ryan on his pull-out bed before Ryan cries (it’s a lot by the way).
We were at the pool one afternoon and Alex and Ryan were playing with two boys who were four and eight. The boys were “playing” ping pong while all of us parents chatted; it was really nice the way parents of young kids can bond for a few minutes over nothing and everything. At one point, Ryan tried to take a ping-pong paddle and ball into the kids’ pool and we were telling him no. He tried again a few minutes later and the other four-year old scolded Ryan and told him he wasn’t allowed to do that, pulling the paddle and ball out of Ryan’s hand as Ryan began to cry. Alex immediately jumped in between Ryan and the young boy (who really wasn’t doing anything that terrible) and said very clearly, “He can play with them if he wants to.” No hands or anything — just clear, direct language. Amy gave me a “did you see that?” look. It was the first time Alex ever stood up for his little brother. The boys forgot about it quickly – well, Alex actually didn’t forget and referred to the boy as the “mean boy” for the next hour. We told Alex how proud we were for him protecting his little brother the right way when he couldn’t do it for himself.
The next morning, we ate breakfast in a restaurant off the hotel lobby. After we were done, and walking out toward the lobby, I stopped to quickly ask a question of the concierge. Amy was a few feet behind the kids, as Ryan took off for a fountain across the hotel driveway where people pull up to valet. Ryan loves to stick his hands in fountains and then put said hands in his mouth, much to his parents’ chagrin. Anyway, as Amy yelled for Ryan to stop and started running after him to avoid any cars pulling up to the hotel, Alex raced ahead (he’s pretty fast, actually) and grabbed his brother from behind yelling “Don’t worry, I got him!” A few hi-fives later and another crises averted.
Our final night, Amy had been waiting our entire trip for S’mores night. Real, dipped –in-the-flames S’mores are one of the few things that Amy just might like more than a latte. Alex and Amy headed to the S’mores buffet (it was literally a buffet next to a fire pit) while Ryan and I swam in the pool a few feet away. Alex was doing fine until the boy next to him created a huge flaming marshmallow and it scared Alex. All he ever sees or hears about is firefighters putting out fires and rescuing people, so it didn’t make sense to start your own fire.
And it starts to get really crowded with people with flaming marshmallows all around. Enough to scare a little kid. Enough where it’s time to go. Plus at this point, Ryan has joined the festivities and is trying to use the skewer with his marshmallow like Al Capone in The Untouchables. We quickly exit as Ryan screams bloody murder. On the way back to our hotel room the discussion becomes about how it’s ok to be scared sometimes, especially of fire. We’re halfway to our hotel room when Alex stops and says he left some of his toy trains at the pool and starts walking back. Amy and I glance at each other since Alex didn’t bring anything but his goggles to the pool. But, we oblige.
Alex goes back to the S’mores buffet, grabs a marshmallow, sticks it in the fire and declares, “I’m not scared anymore.” He eats his marshmallow and promptly walks out the exit and back to the hotel room with us. Fear conquered. So proud.
It occurs to me, we’re not making memories, we’re building character.
We’re watching them grow up over a few days, in slow motion.