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Friday, January 7, 2011

Is it Worth the Schlep?

This column is running in the Jewish Advocate this week, thanks to Judy Bolton-Fasman who invited me to be a guest columnist! Thanks Judy!

The plan was this: We would take our first vacation.
My husband and I would take our boys, 21/2-year-old Ethan and 13-month-old Jonas, to Mystic, Conn., a 90-minute drive from our home outside of Boston. We would stay at the Hilton, near the Mystic Aquarium, and we would have breakfast with Ollie the Octopus. We would go swimming in the indoor pool. I would buy some floaties for the boys who were not yet able swimmers, and we would all have a good time and come back well rested and full of wonderful stories to share.
This was the plan. And although I was looking forward to it, for some reason, a part of me felt like throwing up.
OK, so I am not a world traveler. In college, when friends took off for spring break, I worked. When they spent semesters abroad or hiked overseas after graduation, I wondered, “Aren’t they afraid of getting kidnapped?” But one needn’t look far to find the roots of my apprehension. Growing up, my parents were not big on travel. The word “schlep” was thrown around a lot, as in “Oy, what a schlep that would be.” For my mother, depending on the day, even a trip to the supermarket might fall into the schlep category. Gradually, I must have absorbed this association: leaving the house = schlepping. We did, however, take two trips together as a family. On the first, a trip to Disney World, I became intimate with the little white barf bag on the airplane. Five years later, we went to Florida again, and my mother got seasick on our day cruise to the Bahamas.
So perhaps it should have come as little surprise when Jonas threw up all over me the day before we were supposed to leave for Mystic.
“It’s a family tradition,” I told my husband.
I schlepped Jonas to the pediatrician and paid my $20 to hear the standard answer: “It’s a virus.” When I asked if we should cancel our trip, the doctor was just as ambiguous, his only advice: “See how he’s feeling the night before.”
Although I had mixed emotions about going on vacation, the moment I thought we might be staying home, I became desperate to leave. “Please…I need this vacation,” I begged quietly to no one in particular. It was the way my 21/2- year-old phrased everything these days, replacing want with something much more dramatic: “I need that truck mommy.” Or “I need(insert here whatever is in his brother’s hands at this very moment).”
Fortunately, my prayer was answered.
The illness passed, and we packed up the family Subaru and headed south.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a vacation is defined as “a period of rest from work.” What my husband and I experienced in Mystic was definitely not a vacation. What we experienced was basically the work we do every day, but in another location and with other interesting characters inserted, such as Ollie the Octopus, who we met the first morning at breakfast.
“I want to knock him over mommy,” Ethan announced, and then hit him.
This was not the endearing moment I had imagined.
Nor was our outing to the hotel pool, when I tried to insert Ethan into one of the floatie toys I had purchased. He screamed as though I was inserting his legs into a tub of hot wax. “But it’s fun!” I demanded. He screamed again.
In the hotel room, my boys behaved like two rock stars, trashing the place with Cheerios and Cheez-Its. They did laps in the hallway, stopping outside the elevator and waiting for it to open so Ethan could shout “Hello people!”
I figured fish would be a soothing distraction, so on our second day, I bought tickets for the aquarium. I carefully planned our agenda for the afternoon, culminating with the sea lion show at 3 p.m. After barely 20 minutes at the park, Ethan insisted on swimming in the tank with the Beluga whales.
“You can’t swim with the whales, honey,” I said.
He sat on the concrete and bawled.
“How about some ice cream?”
“Noooooo … SWIM … WITH …WHALES!”
My husband scooped Ethan up, and without a word, we headed back toward the hotel. Both Ethan and Jonas cried while I stewed about the sea lion show I would miss, and the money wasted. Not that this was the first time. When I took the boys to the farm close to our house, all they cared about were the rocks. At the zoo, they preferred the sewer covers. Why did I bother?
We kept walking, and no one said a word until, just outside the hotel entrance, my husband knelt down to look at a butterfly.
“Poor little guy,” he said, “He can’t fly.”
Ethan lifted his head for a moment, his face red and puffy from crying. He looked at the struggling insect and – as though channeling some other, saner child – said gently, “We’re sorry butterfly.”
Three little words that made it worth the schlep.

Amy Yelin is a communications professional and freelance writer whose work has appeared inThe Boston Globe, and the anthology “Mamas and Papas.” Her Web site is