It is 8:30 in the morning on the second day of our vacation, and I am ready to go home. My children have just shamed me at the hotel’s continental breakfast buffet. My oldest loudly refused to eat the waffles with syrup and “whoop cream” he had requested because there was a strawberry on top – even though he loves strawberries. My middle child sat picking through a selection of cereals and yogurt, spilling everything but the spoon. My youngest just cried, cried through the whole damn meal.
My husband and I ate nothing. We sipped our burnt coffee and tended to our children while onlookers stared, wondering who allowed us to become parents. I was over the whole thing and let everyone at the breakfast buffet know. The lady with the mom bob and bored-looking husband quickly glanced away. They had been side-eyeing us since we walked in, and if they didn’t have a glazed donut or an extra hand to offer, they could suck it.
We haul our monsters back to the room, eyes to the ground, speaking in hushed scolding tones meant to let our children know that if we were not held to the social code which prevents us from screaming at kids in public, we would be screaming at kids in public. They were 5, 3 and a month shy of 2. What did we expect?
And they do get an earful back in the room and a threat that we might just head home. We’ve purchased season passes to Dollywood and have only arrived in Pigeon Forge the previous afternoon. Am I really going to pack us back into the F-150 and drive the 10 hours home? Of course not, but there is something about needing to tell everyone that you will, even though you all know you won’t. I want to go to Dollywood – probably as much as my kids do. Dammit.
“Alright,” I say. “We’ll give you one more chance.”
“Dad and I want to see the mountains, so we will head to the mountains this morning, and if you can show me that you know how to behave like kids who get to spend the afternoon at Dollywood, then we will come back and go to Dollywood. If not, we will come back to the hotel and go to bed.” And off to the mountains we go, each of us knowing, I’m sure, that Dollywood is in our future.
But at this very early point in the trip, I am grumpy and disappointed. I can’t shake the embarrassment from the morning meal, and I keep wondering if I have made the wrong decision to spend our Christmas break away from home, rewarding them. For what? For being the children of a mother who can’t seem to sit still?
We pack the kids and a picnic lunch, and I run to the lobby to snag coffees for the road. I may not get breakfast, but I will have my coffee. As I approach the display, the morning hostess comes to take the regular roast to fill it up.
“Every time!” I hear the man behind me say. “Every time I come down to fill up my coffee, she is taking it to the back, and I have to wait!”
I turn and realize this is the same man I overheard at breakfast complaining about his runny eggs from the buffet, the free buffet. He’s lucky if they were even eggs at all. Seriously, guy? You didn’t have to make them. Just be grateful…
And it starts to sink in a little as I begin judging this grumpy man, disappointed in his runny hotel eggs and soon-to-be fresh pot of coffee. He’s an ass. And so am I.
Here I am, Debbie-Downering my vacation which has barely started because my toddler-aged children behave like toddler-aged children. They pout and cry and spill things on the floor, not to ruin our family vacation, but because they are children. They would be doing these same things if we were home staring at each other across the kitchen table, listening to Sesame Street. I would still be lucky to grab a hot bite of breakfast and would subsist on my morning coffee until lunchtime. The only difference in this particular morning is that I had some nosy strangers witness the debacle that is my life at the moment, and it made me feel a little self-conscious. So what?
And my mood lightens a little, not completely, but it brightens. We drive up the steep inclines and take a few photo breaks at thin, icy waterfalls crusted into the cliffside. We throw rocks into slow-moving streams and stop for a picnic lunch in the sun. We eat quickly when we sniff the faint smell of skunk; my husband and I know our luck well enough not to dawdle. We take the obligatory photos by the entrance sign to the National Park and head back toward Pigeon Forge.
As we get into town, I turn around to see that all three of our morning monsters have fallen asleep in the backseat. My husband and I find a Subway and quietly split a sandwich in the car, making up for our missed breakfast.
The rest of the afternoon goes pretty smoothly, and it might be because my kids finally got a quick nap or it might be because my mood has shifted and I am simply more tolerant of their current stage of childhood. Whatever it is, I’m grateful I didn’t throw all of our bags into the truck and cart everyone home. We would have missed our oldest’s first real roller coaster, our middle kid’s excitement over being tall enough to go on the Lumberjack Lift with his dad, and our youngest quacking like a maniac while riding in circles on a giant yellow duckling.
Truth be told, had we packed up that morning to leave, we would have also missed finding the poop particle on our hotel bed (which we still hope belonged to one of us), the hour and a half wait for dinner at a Texas Roadhouse, and a dozen other ridiculous and mildly irritating stories. But we head home on the originally intended day, and I’m glad we stuck it out – not that you should have to stick vacations out, but with kids, it can feel that way sometimes. It is not easy going, mess-free or timely, but if you can see the empty pot for the soon-to-be piping hot, fresh cup of coffee that you didn’t have to actually make, it’s worth it.