First class or with children

When I was pregnant, and still fantasizing about long weekends in Paris and Croatia, my dear friend Richard would roll his eyes at me over an espresso and quip in his refined Cambridge accent, “Darling, there are two types of travel: first class and with children.”

Staunchly prepared to prove that I was still a jet-setter (albeit with a diaper bag), I went ahead planning vacations for three.

Of course, fantasy is far from reality. There are those slap-worthy smug parents who brag that their children “fall asleep the minute the plane takes off,” whereas my energetic and curious son did not want to miss a minute of the drab in-flight hours, seemingly convinced a magic show with free cake would break out at any minute. While my husband indeed does “fall asleep the minute the plane takes off,” I was left alone to fend off the icy glares of grumpy travelers with tiny vodkas of apology.

On a particularly ambitious and turbulent five-hour flight with a wiggly 20-month-old, I was attempting to stealthily change an overflowing diaper in the seat when the wafting remnants of Dominican food stagnated the cabin. The well-dressed man behind me yelled, “What the #*$% is that smell?!”

At that moment, I knew Richard was right. First class. And with children.

My expectations had to change. Parenting is about sacrifice, and my penchant for boutique hotels was replaced with all-inclusives dotted with loud families wearing even louder matching T-shirts (The Smith Family says Life’s a Beach in 2005!). Swallowing my lifelong fear of buffets, I put on my best It-is-all-about-the-kids smile and took my tray through yet another line of congealed food. Silver lining: I am the only person to ever lose weight on a vacation.

These several years of “with children” travel were not un-fun. I saw true glee when my son splashed for hours in the foot-wash basin between the beach and pool, making German tourists laugh. When he would beg all day long to ride in the golf cart “bus” that snaked through the resort buildings as if nothing in the world was better. When bribing him with a visit to the gift shop would guarantee an immediate nap. It took an adjustment (mostly of my attitude), but our family trips became the best of times.

Last year, I turned 40 and it dawned on me that in eight years as parents my husband and I had not taken a “just us” trip. Nothing says “just us” like Napa, so off we went dreaming of sleeping past 6 a.m., wine all day and dinner at the French Laundry. And it was a lovely vacation, but we spent the whole time missing our son.

“Wouldn’t Cappy love this outdoor shower?”

“If he was here he would ask to take those goats home!”

“What should we buy him in the gift shop?”

So even our “first class” trip became a “with children” trip.

I figure we only have a few more years before teen angst sets in and our son won’t want to be seen with us anyway. Until that time, I look forward to our vacations for three with Kid’s Clubs, buffets and foot-wash stations.

But I will never do the matching T-shirts.

Unless he wants to.

Maggie Knowles used to cover the dining and theater scene in Boston. Then she had her son, so now she writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.

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