One of the hardest things for me to master as a single mom has been vacationing. Not just the epic packing battles with two little girls who only want to bring 3 swim suits and 5 sundresses even when it's a snow trip, but the logistics of traveling alone with two small kids, and frequently a dog as well: all of those contingency plans and nerve-wracking crowded airports or hopes that the car doesn't break down en route to some hours-away destination.
Last summer was my first time driving to our family's cabin, 4.5 hours away, through hot valley towns and up into the Sierras, finishing with a 45 minute trek along a rutted dirt logging road, with two girls and a dog. There were bathroom breaks, dog water breaks, snack breaks, general runaround breaks for two girls who could only be happily confined to their hot pink car seats for so long. I stressed about the the possibility of having car issues, about the dog overheating in the car as I ran the girls into the next rest stop, about getting too tired and fed up with the back seat fighting and having no one to help me out.
I caravanned with some family friends that first time up, just in case anything went awry, and during the long drive I realized something invaluable: I had it down. This single-motherhood thing had already become second-nature to me. The girls had a bin of books and games wedged between their car seats that kept them busy for much of the time. We blasted music and sang together when we needed to perk up. I had a mini-cooler of food and drinks on the passenger seat, full of pre-cut, single-serve portions I'd readied the night before. I had a clear view of the dog sleeping on top of our pile of suitcases in the back, and could see when he was getting restless. When we had to stop in hot towns I blasted the A/C to cool off the car, then found a shady parking spot and made a game out of rushing the girls off to the bathroom and back to the car as quickly as possible. I lounged on random lawns outside fast food restaurants while the dog trotted around and the girls picked dandelions. I let go of my usual travel timetable, any expectations, and relaxed. And it was fine.
That's not to say I haven't had any travel or vacation hiccups in my year of doing it solo. We've been stranded with a dead car battery. We've had throwing up children traveling with borrowed bowls on their laps in the car. We've had the dog get into some sort of insect nest and end up with a face swollen with three baseball-size lumps and had to rush him to the nearest emergency vet. We've had a cross-country flight just days after Peanut fell and knocked out her front tooth and loosened up a handful of others, juggling her all-liquid diet on an airline in this no-liquids-through-security era. And we've made it through it all. And got some good stories to boot.
So today I'm packing up for our first big trip of the season. I have lists of all of the clothes, food, meds, toys, and dog supplies I will need. And I have the confidence, that even if some disaster befalls us mid-route, we'll get through it, we'll make the best of it, and we'll still have a good time.
And if it's really bad, I'll end up with a great story out of it.