Plan? What Plan?!

As summer officially gets underway so do plans for a family vacation. Please keep in mind that our vacation falls into the category of “bring your child on tour so everyone can see him”. This entails, flying to Italy (yes, I know, boo-freakin’-hoo) and cramming ourselves into a car the size of a stamp and chauffeuring our son around for two weeks to meet every single relative of mine and my wife. This includes of course the grandparents (my folks and the in-laws), aunts and uncles and cousins 5 times removed. Maybe I’m exaggerating, it’s not that bad since for two weeks we practically hand over our son to doting relatives and get to sleep late and nap – as in, afternoon naps. I still think it’s easier (albeit possibly more annoying) to have all your family members in the same city (i.e. free babysitting anytime), but when you are forced to cram a year of “missed” family time into a couple of weeks it really is not much of a vacation.

The first order of business is getting through the flight from New York to Rome in one piece – physically and mentally. The former is easier; the latter takes some practice and well executed breathing exercises. For those of you who have yet to take a flight lasting more than a few hours are in for a treat when your kid (I try not to think of when the family may expand) is old enough to wriggle out of your arms and run up and down the aisles or, more endearingly, repeatedly kick the seat in front of you. Yes, indeed, you have become that family. The one no one wants to sit near. You can see the terror in people’s eyes, the same expression you once had when childless, as you walk down the plane’s aisle looking for your seat (please not next to me, please not next to me…). Entertainment is the key to survival so either you are a performance artist that can do a 7-hour show without taking a break or you need to sedate your kid with mind controlling technology (Oh please, as if you never do it!) because after the first hours of crayons and books our son is utterly bored and wants to hit the aisle. In our case, it’s Curious George that does the trick until he mercifully falls asleep on the flight over. On the way back it’s another story, or rather nightmare, altogether. And to think that when he was a newborn he would sleep the entire flight.

Let’s skip to when we land at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, the most disorganized place on planet Earth (with the exception of the Frankfurt and Milan airports). Luckily we are natives so we can curse everybody out using local dialect and cadence (yes, it also involves hands) while a very grumpy child screams into our ear almost as if to egg us on in our lively debate with the baggage handlers. Once we recover our luggage, which we were told took two hours to get from the plane to the terminal because it was snowing in Moscow, we hurry through customs and get to the curb looking for whichever relative came to pick us up. They are, inevitably, arguing with a traffic cop over the nuances of “pick up only” and “short term” parking. I get behind the wheel and start the car as my wife tries to coax said relative into the car while they continue to argue with the cop.

Every hour of the day is scheduled for a visit with a relative and missing any appointment is viewed as a major slight. Once we arrive and are greeted our son is taken from us and if we are lucky we get a glass of water to keep us hydrated. As all parents know, you presence is necessary only because you give sustenance and clothing to the apple of everyone’s eye – nobody really cares how you are doing. We get him back for diaper changes and feedings and by nightfall we are dead tired, but our son, who is still on New York time, somehow gets his second wind and refuses to sleep. Luckily for us, he remembers to wake up at 5:30am local Rome time suddenly forgetting that he is jet lagged only to get it back again in the evening.

Summer, though, does give us one very good excuse for trying to shirk our duty to most of the relatives (something that in the winter time is impossible). If we are smart we try to get to the beach as quickly as possible. We cram the stroller and suitcases into the final fourth of the stamp sized car and don’t stop driving until we smell saline and hear cicadas. With only the grandparents to deal with it starts to feel much more like a vacation. Meals are cooked without our having to lift a finger and our son is whisked away at the first sign of waking up for a long walk with grandma and grandpa on the beach (see photo) while we get to hit, figuratively speaking, the snooze button while our son frolics in a gorgeous sandbox with plenty of clear blue “acqua” – as he puts it – to splash in.

I’ll tell you about the return trip some other time, but just imagine that the flight takes longer on the way back and that it is during the day – so you can imagine the fun.

The reason I bored you with some of the details of my upcoming summer travels is to warn you that no matter how much you plan for it, no one I know has ever had a trip with the kids go according to plan (especially the getting from point A to B). I don’t care what the self-proclaimed gurus say in their books, if their kids are sticking to the “plan” it must have something to with duct tape and restraints. So good luck with all your summer plans and make sure to take deep breaths and count to ten before reacting to any situation. Also, make sure you let me know if it helps because it has never worked for me, so I’m curious.

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