Married…with Children

News flash! According to a new, long-term US study, people who are married with children are not all that happy.

Now that’s not exactly what the study reports. “After analysis of all the data, the researchers found that 90% of the couples had less satisfaction in their marriages after their first child was born.” I’d hate to think where it went from there after the second, third, and – dare I suggest it – fourth offspring joined the family.

The study also states that “children increase stress on marriages.” Really? Huh. I hadn’t noticed. I’ve been so busy enjoying potty training, projectile vomiting, tantrums, time-outs and homework that I haven’t even seen my husband Brett in weeks. How would I know if there was stress on our marriage, when all we do is talk about the kids or email each other about bills? Pure bliss!

Obviously, those of us who are married with children didn’t need this study to shed light on the matter. But now we have scientific information! Hard, cold facts! There it is in black and white: life was more fun B.B.

Before Baby.

In B.B. 2001, Brett and I spent three magical weeks traveling through Italy. We sipped cappuccinos and watched the sun sparkle on the ocean in Capri. We toured Tuscany, going from one wine tasting to the next. We visited Rome and Florence in all their summer glory. We bought Prada and Gucci. We ate delicious pasta and saw incredible artifacts everywhere we went.

And then we took a pregnancy test. In Italy. It was a beautiful moment, a spectacular place to discover this happy news. I remember climbing the hills in Positano that day, Brett and I holding hands, carrying between us our own special little secret.

Suffice it to say, I haven’t been overseas since.

But now that my children are a little bit older, I’d like to really start traveling again. Yes, sometimes I like to travel with them, but to call that sort of trip a true “vacation” would be misleading. Traveling with your kids is like moving to a different whine-zone. We usually meltdown at 6:00 Eastern Time, but this week, we are facing bad attitudes in Central Mountain Time. Although we have room service here, which is nice!

Last year, Brett and I were both working full-time. When trying to plan for a vacation, we faced a feeling familiar to working parents: guilt. “Can we go away without the kids during their school vacation?” I whispered to Brett one night over dinner.

Sensing that his own parents may be trying to ditch him, my son Andrew’s head snapped up from his mac and cheese. His big doe-eyes searched my face and then Brett’s. “What are you guys talking about?”

“N-nothing,” I stammered. “Just on the verge of planning a great family vacation!” And so, we decided that a tropical resort with a terrific kids’ club would be the perfect compromise. Brett would get to play tennis, I’d get a massage at the spa and read six novels, and the kids would make lifelong friends while learning how to swing from a trapeze. Then we’d meet every day for lunch at the all-you-can-eat buffet. What a happy, well-adjusted family we’d be, just like those people in the TV commercials! What could be better?

The first thing we didn’t anticipate was the toddler room at the Kids’ Camp. Two-year-olds cry in the toddler room. All day. They have snack, they cry. They paint, they cry. They get taken to the beach in fun little golf carts? Cry, cry cry in harmony. It’s like a twisted game of monkey see, monkey do. One starts, and the others follow along. Zoe took one look at the group and, naturally, burst into tears. When I picked her up two hours later, she was still crying. She had gone swimming and played in the outdoor gym area, the counselor told me. But had she ever, for one minute, stopped crying, I asked? No.

Andrew’s experience was not much better. When we picked him up at the end of his first day in Kids’ Camp, he looked like a war-torn refugee. His hair was a mess, he was wearing someone else’s shorts, and his bathing suit could not be located. “What happened?” I asked.

“You left me! You said you were coming back to get me after swimming!”

“But it is after swimming!” Brett explained, motioning to the schedule.

Apparently, the schedule that Andrew’s group followed was not the one Brett and I had followed. We planned to get him at 2:00, but Andrew understood things differently. A counselor explained. “He has been waiting for you for three hours. He thought you may have forgotten him.”

At which point, Andrew collapsed into a heap at my feet, dehydration and shock finally settling in. Once we roused him, he declared in no uncertain terms that he was NEVER GOING BACK THERE and furthermore that he HATED THIS STUPID ISLAND and when could we go back HOME?

Andrew still hasn’t recovered fully from that “vacation.” I suggest that, if you ever meet him, you do not utter the words “Dominican Republic” in his presence.

Ask anyone else who has taken their toddlers on an airplane or into a different time zone, and you’ll get mixed responses at best. Recent example. My friend Kate had decided, much to everyone’s surprise, to take her three children, ages 6 and under, to California by herself. Dave was recovering from surgery and couldn’t make the trip. It would be fine, Kate reasoned, once she got to Disneyland and her awaiting, helpful sister-in-law. The only hard part would be the flight.

Ah, delusional Kate. Raise your hand if you are already laughing at her. Let’s look back, shall we? Kate’s flight out there with the kids went well. But by day two, things had taken a turn for the worst. It began with downpours and frigid weather. This was followed by 4:00 am wake-ups every morning by her two-year old, whose circadian clock was all messed up from travel. Next came pneumonia that resulted in three out of the four of them needing antibiotics.

The list of disasters was biblical.

Kate came home and started taking five-minute mini-vacations alone in her car. “Is it lame to go away alone? I’d like to be all by myself for just one 24-hour stretch. Is that too much to ask?” Kate pleaded as we ate pizza with all five of our kids one night.

“Here,” I sighed. “Have some more wine.”

That’s why, these days, more often than not, my friends and I dream of real escapes. I picture myself lying on a lounge chair on powdery sand, with nothing but the turquoise sea in front of me. No “Mommy, will you help me build a sand castle?” No, “Mommy, you said you would swim with me again!” Spending time with my children is wonderful and lovely and fleeting, and I know it. Rationally, I understand how precious these years with them are, and just how fast they will go.

But sometimes mommy just needs a break!

I explained this to Brett last August, after two months of Julie-the-cruise-director, on-duty lifeguard patrol, and he agreed. Our tenth anniversary trip to a tropical destination was greenlit. I booked us at a four-star resort for the first week in December. A real vacation in 2008 A.B.

After Baby.

And then the place was hit by a hurricane.

Our money was refunded in November, but by then, Brett had lost any enthusiasm for travel. “Let’s just stay home and be miserable like everyone else,” I believe were his final words on the matter.

But anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really listen to Brett. I gave him two options: he could baby-sit the kids while I went away, or he could come with me. And so began our weekend at a posh boutique hotel in New York City.

When I tell you that the cool, roof-top lounge was closed twice when we tried to go there, and that the only reservation time we could get for the swanky bar was at 2:00 a.m. will you be the least bit surprised? No, of course not. You are a wise reader, catching the sarcastic tone of my narrative and knowing that this couldn’t possibly have turned out to be the Happily Ever After vacation that I had hoped for.

As Brett and I tried to sleep one night, there was some sort of traffic jam on the streets below. For a good hour and a half, we lay in the dark listening to honking cars mixed in with angry shouting from frustrated New Yorkers. Expletives in a myriad of languages flew up to our windows. I tried to pretend it was the sound of palm trees rustling in the balmy wind.

“Happy anniversary, honey.” Brett murmered. “I got you something very unique.”

“What’s that? I can’t hear you over the sound of the ocean waves!” I shouted.

“A parade in your honor. One honking taxi for every day that we’ve been married. That’s roughly 3,650 honks.”

“That’s so sweet of you. I’ll tell all my friends about it when we return from this tropical paradise. G’night.”

“G’night.”

That night, I missed my bed. In my quiet house. With my beautiful, sleeping children in the rooms next to mine.

Vacations are great that way. As much as I love to get away, by the end of the trip, I always find that I am excited to come back home. Especially now that I have children.

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