by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist
Because I have been divorced for more than 13 years I have been admittedly stingy in sharing the vacation time I have with my kids with anyone else. I don’t have them all the time. I alternate Thanksgiving and Spring Break. I have the odd years and their Dad has the evens. I only get from the start of winter break through Christmas afternoon. They pass between their Dad’s house and mine throughout the summer. My friends with teenage kids are just now starting to feel the sands of time slipping through the hourglass, but I have felt it for as long as I can remember.
When my kids were little, I would hoard our vacation time like they hoarded candy—keeping them all to myself, counting my stash, and savoring the sweetness. Sometimes, I would share them with my parents, but mostly I kept them for myself. We would road trip to cabins on a lake, drive to the coast, rent a house in the Hill Country, or visit our home in Santa Barbara. I would scoop their sleepy bodies into car seats and start driving before sunrise, just to get some miles covered before my darlings were awake and noticed the passage of time (and asked about it, every five minutes). I can still remember my tired eyes looking in the rear view mirror at their beautiful faces stuck with thumbs or pacifiers bent at odd angles, asleep in a row. My whole life was riding in that backseat.
This year was my last spring break with Luke. His Dad has the next, and then he is off to college. It makes no sense to me how quickly we got from car seats to college visits. People warned me about this warp speed passage of time, but I thought they were overly attached or nostalgic. I am now both.
As much as I want to, I can no longer hoard my children on vacation. For some reason, their idea of fun is no longer the four of us crammed into two beds in a hotel room, ordering room service and watching animated movies. Times have changed. They want to be with their friends. And if I want to be with them, I have to get with the program. Luckily I love their friends, or this transition would be even more difficult.
I shoplift memories, stealing brief moments of connection when no one is looking and slipping them into the pocket of my heart.
So I share them. I make travel plans with other families and I see my children here and there for meals or whenever they run out of money. I alternate between a blind eye and an eagle eye, trying to discern which of their shenanigans require reins and when they can roam. I used to spend my vacation slathering their little bodies in sunscreen and ordering chicken tenders, fries and Sprite. I worried most about sunburns and counting their small heads above water in the pool or bobbing in the waves. My favorite time of the day was early evening, coming off the beach, bathing my sandy people, dressing them in clean pajamas, then pouring my wine and having dinner. Now they get ready to go out just when I want to stay in. I worry about curfew, trying to stay awake until everyone is accounted for. I have to corral and cajole them just to get a single family photo to mark our trip. I shoplift memories, stealing brief moments of connection when no one is looking and slipping them into the pocket of my heart.
We enjoyed our last spring break with Luke. It was safe and happy, with a modicum of mischief, a few moody moments, the usual infighting, limited eye-rolling and complaining, and issues with cellphone data usage. My best friend always reminds me that we endure all those moments for a chance at the rare ones—the peaceful moments of connection, the shared laughs, the priceless gems of gratitude: Thanks, mom. I had a great time.
I know our travels together will become our foundation, something solid to build a larger structure of memories with additional floors for more people and windows to view the passage of time.