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A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…unless it’s not. (vacation fails)

Ah…spring is upon us and so, too, the season of Spring Break vacations and picture sharing! Such beautiful images of bliss and perfection surround us at every flip of the screen! The smiling faces, the pristine beaches or powdery slopes all there to regale… and, perhaps at times, remind us of the imperfections in our own lives.

For my offspring it is also a time to roll their eyes back in a demonstration of teenage endless wisdom and impatience (duh! I KNOW EVERYTHING ALREADY. Ummm…why are you still talking?), as I explain, once again, that the images that appear on screens in general never tell the whole story. They are simply happy snippets of lives that, like our own, have their ups and downs. They are posted to share good times and happy memories with others (and sometimes for darker, less altruistic reasons…but I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt). Why do I try to burn this into my kids’ not-always-open-to-parental-information brains? Because, I figure you have a better chance at getting a card in the hat, if you throw the whole deck… multiple decks… multiple times. I REALLY want them to understand that a picture may be worth 1,000 words, but that you generally only see the pictures that people want you to see and that there are a billion other words that are not captured in those pictures. I want them to understand that happiness and bliss are not the only things going on around them and that the feelings of sadness, or anger, or hopelessness they feel at times, are totally normal. The teenage years are hard… and hard can be harder when you think everyone else has it together and that everyone else is living sunshine and lollipops, while you are struggling with who you are in the world.

Lest you think I am somehow against the joys of Spring Break or sharing the joys of one’s Spring Break… I have absolutely nothing against vacation pics! I post them myself and I love to see them! But, I view and enjoy them with the knowledge of what they are and I simply want to make sure that my kids do the same. After all, it is the easiest way to share with friends and family who are far away. Besides, I have always been an advocate of the old if-you-don’t-like-the-pics-or-the-post-you-are-welcome-to-scroll-on-by-without-commenting strategy. Admittedly, not every post is for every person. And, when I want to give the kids an example of my point about pictures versus reality, I love to bring up pics of our first weekend ski vacation as a family…

We have a lovely series of photos filled with happy smiling faces on powdery white slopes as a result of that vacation! One would never guess, by looking at them, that this was THE most disastrous vacation that this family has yet experienced. (And here I will take a moment to knock on every piece of wood in the room and touch anything iron… the Italian equivalent of knocking on wood… while I make the horns symbol with my fingers to ward off bad juju.) Yet, these are the only physical pictures that remain, while the nightmarish details live on only in our minds (indelibly burned there, thankfully getting a little “funnier” with the distance of each passing year).

In the interest of full disclosure, I will share the unfortunate details of this most memorable of vacations. Please, feel free to share calamitous vacation stories of your own in the comments. We all have them and sometimes sharing them shines a comedic light upon them that all survivors of vacations gone wrong can appreciate…

From the moment we decided to embark upon this family weekend ski vacation, we knew that the key to success would be planning (which is generally the key to all successful vacations with young children). So, my husband and I decided to do a couple’s weekend at the ski resort first to give it a test run and to check out the lessons and activities available to children (as well as… to have a nice couple’s weekend away from the kids: win win). It was fairly early in the season and the skiing was not at its best, but that also meant that the crowds had not yet begun to arrive in full force, which was definitely a plus. We had a wonderful time and were impressed by how family friendly the resort was. So, before we left to return home, we set things up for our upcoming family vacation: we booked a little apartment close to the lifts, set up some lessons for the girls, and enrolled five-year-old Little Man in the kids’ club (a combination of ski school and daycare). The idea being to get everyone comfortable skiing and to have some extra time on the slopes with the girls, while Little Man learned to ski and made snow forts…and friends. Then we would all ski together as a family at the end of each day. It was going to be a wonderful weekend! …at least that was the plan.

With some luck and a large amount of hand sanitizer we made it through the week without any of the kids catching the latest respiratory or stomach bugs ominously creeping the schools at the time, and we began our 5 plus hour drive to our vacation destination. There was the usual quibbling and scuffling between the kids in the minivan on the way there. It’s amazing how the more personal space we give them sometimes, the more stupid little things the kids find to fight about/over. A mere few years later, we downsized from a minivan to a five seater, forcing them to sit shoulder to shoulder on road trips, and things actually improved, dispute-wise. It seems they are much less likely to start a fight when seated in easy retaliation distance. In the minivan they could toss things at one another…or kick one another’s seats… or spit… or make a comment, then duck back out of reach to avoid the consequences. When you are shoulder to shoulder and start something, chances are the person next to you is going to finish it. Although, by the end of this trip we were happy to have the minivan… but we’ll get to that. Anyhow, we arrived late Friday night, transferred everyone and everything into our apartment with ease, and hit the sack.

And that was the extent of the smooth part of our little trip. First thing in the morning, while I was dropping Little Man off at kids’ club, someone knocked my husband over on his way to the lift with the girls. Thinking it was not a big deal (no real speed was involved) we skied all morning, until it was time for lunch. We then headed into the restaurant for some warmth and good food. As we were eating, my husband told me that his leg was bothering him a bit where it had banged against his ski when he fell. He decided he was going to go back to the apartment to take a look and would meet us later. I did another run down the slopes with the girls and then they took off to ski together while I went to the store to look into some poles for Little Man. As I waited in line with a couple items at the checkout counter, a call came in from my husband, asking me to please drop everything and return to the apartment. What greeted me as I entered was akin to a scene from CSI. Apparently, when my husband had fallen, his freshly sharpened ski edge had sliced his leg. The extreme cold and pressure from his under layers had masked the pain, but as soon as he had begun to warm up, it had begun to hurt…and when he had removed his boot and ski gear once inside the apartment…well… again… think CSI. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this,” he said, handing me his blood filled boot to rinse. I called First Aid to come over with supplies. They rushed someone right over, bandaged his wound (he had already cleaned it), and advised him to get to the hospital for stitches. On the way out the door, the very kind first aid guy leaned toward me and whispered, “I’ll send someone over to clean this up. Don’t worry.” Which, in my book, earned the resort an immediate and eternal rating of 5 stars.

Hours later, when my husband was back, complete with ten stitches and meds, and I had rounded up all the kids, we sat down to figure out our next steps. In the end we decided that I would drop everyone off at lessons and kids’ club in the morning and then head back to check us out. That way, he could rest in the apartment until checkout and then rest a bit more over at the restaurant where we could grab a quick lunch with the girls. We would then check Little Man out of kids’ club after his lunch and head home early. Though the kids were sad to have to leave early, they obviously understood the reason we were doing it (the bloody ski boot drying by the fireplace served as a good reminder).

The beginning of our second and final day began with a desperate search for Little Man’s ski mittens and snow pants… a search that would end with a trip back to the resort store, once Little Man had explained that they were soaking in the bathroom sink where he had “washed” dirt off of them the night before in an effort to be “helpful” and not bother us… After a series of deep breaths and trips back and forth dropping kids off, loading the car, and checking out, my husband and I relaxed a little to prepare for the drive home. We got lunch with the girls, then drove over to the little chalet that housed the kids’ club to pick up Little Man. When I picked him up, I noticed that he felt a little warm, but figured (or desperately hoped) that he was just sweaty from skiing. The two of us walked nearby to drop off his rental skis and to make one more bathroom stop before the long trip, especially since he had begun to mention that his stomach was hurting a little. …and…that is when I discovered that ski pants are just as great at keeping moisture in as they are at keeping it out… Turns out poor Little Man had the stomach bug… and had it bad. In the end, I threw away his bottom two layers, cleaned the inside of his brand new snow pants off, wrapped him in paper towel, slid the snow pants back on him like some over-sized fluorescent orange diaper, and brought him to the minivan.

The “what took you so long?” that greeted me when we reached the car, was answered by pursed lips and a cold blank stare… followed by a detailed description of “what took me so long”. No further questions were asked, the windows were cracked, and I got behind the wheel to begin the trek home (which would obviously not be including any driver switches). Off we went, my husband stretched out in the way back where he could keep his leg up (thank you minivan), Little Man (groaning and stomach rumbling) and My Sun in the middle bucket seats, and My Moon (thankfully just old enough to legally sit up front) riding shotgun. After a long and speedy drive… one mere hour from arriving home… and as if to finish off the trip in style, My Moon turned to me to ask if we were there, yet… just as her nose exploded in a spontaneous, projectile nose bleed. Worst vacation laundry EVER.

So, remember as you enjoy all those beautiful vacation pictures of beaches, canyons, or slopes filled with smiling faces and perfection… whether they are yours, someone else’s, or mine (especially mine), that perfection is rarely an actual part of the equation and that they are there to show the happy times… most definitely not to deny that there are difficult ones!

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