A funny thing happened last week in Dominican Republic on our first vacation since having a baby: I realized for the, oh, 78th time or so that life is completely different now that we’re parents. Leading up to our week away, I fantasized about the lazy hours we’d spend on the beach or by the pool, Drew and I sipping tropical cocktails while Jackson slept peacefully in the new baby tent we bought specifically for this trip. In the evenings, we’d hire one of the $5-an-hour babysitters the resort mentioned on its website, and Drew and I would head into town for a delightful dinner of fresh fish caught in the ocean by one of the local fisherman earlier that afternoon. Maybe we’d even stop somewhere on the way back for dancing or a nightcap. It would be glorious! We’d have lots of family time, lots of couple time, and I’d have an extra pair of hands to help with Jackson all week long. Maybe I’d even finish some library books or write a few essays or build a school for the local children. Anything was possible!
But in reality, Jackson reverted back to his newborn sleep schedule, waking two or three times every night and deciding to start his day for good at 4:30 in the morning (5:30, on the two days he felt like taking it easy), we never did use that baby tent, and I realized that, duh, our cell phones wouldn’t work in DR and I wasn’t about to leave my kid with a stranger in a foreign country when I was completely inaccessible should anything happen. (We did end up hiring a babysitter twice to literally sit next to Jackson while we swam in the ocean for a couple of hours. He stayed in our line of vision the whole time). It was super hot there — another duh — and while the view from our condo was gorgeous and the grounds were pretty and comfortable, the town itself was … well, not up our alley, let’s say. The beach was nice, but we didn’t have a direct path to get to the main part where all the good restaurants were, which meant we had to either carry Jackson over a bunch of steep, slippery rocks, or take the main road where there were no sidewalks and people drove like maniacs, or cut through some back alleys that smelled like urine. We opted for the latter. We did find some lovely seashells along the way, though.
Also, out of his normal routine and surroundings, Jackson, who is normally a pretty great baby, was super restless and cranky, especially by day four (note to self: all future “vacations” should be four days or less). He fussed and cried and refused to nap. That, as you can imagine, made Drew and me agitated and we, in turn, fought, which we rarely do. At one point, I left Drew and Jack by the pool to go use the bathroom up in our room. Tempted by the peace and quiet of my own company, I sat down for a bit, read a few pages of the book I sadly hadn’t had much chance to read all week, and drank a whole glass of wine. I was probably up there for 20 minutes or so. When I came back down to the pool, Jackson looked like a wild animal you might find in your garage that makes you want to back away slowly before running with all your might for animal control, and Drew, who had suddenly grown a unabomber beard in the 20 minutes I was gone, looked ready to kill (me).
“Where were you?” he said, accusingly, handing the baby to me.
“I had to use the bathroom,” I replied, “and drink a glass of wine.”
I can’t remember what was said after that or how long we stayed mad at each other, but I probably made some point like, “Welcome to my daily life!” and he probably made some comment about how rude it was to just leave without saying where I was going or when I was coming back.
Ahh… isn’t it nice to get away from it all?
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the plane ride home. The trip there was no picnic, but the ride home was basically every new parent’s nightmare: the baby screamed and cried the whole way, we couldn’t do anything to soothe him, and I worried that every other passenger wanted to drown us all in the lavatory toilet bowl. Oh! And that library book I still hadn’t finished after a week “relaxing” on the beach? I left it on the plane. What will all the bottles and blankets and toys and baby books and teething rings, it got lost in the shuffle.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that maybe a vacation with a baby wouldn’t be as relaxing and recharging as the kinds of vacations we used to take pre-kid. I guess I was in denial. I guess I wanted to believe there was still some small part of my world that could remain untouched — protected, even — by the torpedo-like winds of change that have swept through every other part of my life. But there’s not. And that was a bittersweet realization to make against the backdrop of swaying palm trees.
It’s a constant adjustment and readjustment, this parenting business. And just when you think you have a handle on the current state of things, it changes again and you have to readjust once more.
And yet, it is getting easier… and more enjoyable, even. Every week — every day — I love being Jackson’s mom a little bit more. He is bursting with personality and has an easy laugh that is loud and infectious and fills me with more joy than I could have imagined. In the mornings when I check on him, he greets me with a smile so big and bright it’s like he can’t believe his good luck to get to see me again — Me! — even though he sees me every morning, all the time. And without checking, I’m sure I must have the same look on my face — all giddy and lovesick, because I, too, can’t believe my good luck to get another whole day with him.
Now. Who wants to babysit? Mama needs a real vacation.