Traveling with young children is like living in a suspended state of self-assessment. It is like being stuck in a question mark. It is like pressure-testing the line between drama and comedy.
Are we having fun right now, or are we being played for fools?
Last weekend, my husband and I took our almost-5-year-old daughter and our 18-month old son to the Camden-Rockport region for one night. My husband found a great rate at the Samoset Resort, and I jumped at the idea he nervously presented. He made the reservation. I packed clothing, gear, and toiletries that would ensure my children’s comfort in the event of blizzard, heat wave, locusts, a measles outbreak, and/or famine.
My husband forgot his swimsuit, prescription medication, and a change of socks.
We timed our departure so that it would coincide with our son’s nap time. We over-stimulated our daughter with promises that she could watch, for the very first time, a DVD on the car’s built-in screen. Our son fell asleep within 15 minutes, right around the time my husband realized that the DVD we brought suffered from a large, incapacitating scratch through its center.
Our car’s navigation system took itself rather seriously by agreeing to remain functioning after we typed in our destination. The trip is essentially: take Interstate 295 north to Route 1. Then take Route 1 north. Congratulations, you will arrive at your destination.
The scenery along those two thoroughfares is reason enough to take the trip. You will never see a more confident and persistent concentration of (a) car dealerships; (b) gas stations; or (c) chiropractor offices. It appears everyone north of Brunswick has terrible posture from all the gas they manually deliver to their 13 automobiles.
Bird watchers might particularly enjoy the drive. Not because I saw a lot of birds to recommend, but because I saw some of the largest American flags I have ever encountered. I can only imagine how impressive they’d be when viewed through binoculars.
If none of that sounds tempting, allow me to inform you that somewhere near the McDonald’s without the golden arches, you can visit an establishment that allows you to rent puzzles. Is this a monthly-membership enterprise, or are walk-ins welcome? What is the penalty for the inevitable lost corner piece? These discoveries and more are all yours for the undertaking.
Upon arriving at the Samoset, my road warriors and I enjoyed not twisting our ankles on the resort’s rocky beach. We ventured into Camden, which is best described as a European village nestled into a seaside bay. We ate dinner at Cappy’s Chowder House, where my son confirmed to us that a decision to bring him into public spaces is a decision taken at our own risk.
By the time we left, my husband could only repeat “I need to lie down.”
As a family, we enjoy extreme sporting. For example, we often test who can be quiet for the longest. True to this form, the kids and I spent the next morning in the hotel pool while my husband hid behind the Sunday paper. We then proceeded to the Camden Hills State Park. My husband had heard rave reviews about a gentle hike we could enjoy with our dead-weight offspring.
Twenty minutes later, I was bent over at a 90-degree angle, pushing my daughter up the face of a cliff in a Graco stroller as my husband gave himself early-onset herniated disk thanks to the son he had dangling in a backpack. With sweat streaming down our faces and swears forming at our lips, we both agreed we were having a wonderful time and that the hike was exactly as advertised.
At the summit, we debated which chiropractor to stop at during the return trip.
Our return home left us nostalgic for the 24 hours just survived. True, it was a vacation without any relaxation or selfish decision-making. Somehow, though, it still felt special, like the beginning of a tradition we would all look back on fondly.
But maybe that was just the PTSD talking. I don’t know. I still haven’t learned what parts of the family travel experience I should trust.