It sounded like a trick question, but it wasn't. I was having an afternoon conversation with a thrill-seeking girlfriend last month when she told me she'd scored a great deal on a plane ticket to Atlanta and would be taking her son the following month. "We could do a mommy trip," she offered excitedly.
A mommy trip? As in with our kids?!
"And you call that vacation?" I asked cynically, only half-joking.
But she was convincing, and I was feeling adventurous. Work had been so all-consuming that I hadn't been on a true vacation in ... let's just say, a really long time. So I agreed, and because she knows me well, she hounded me until I finally gave her proof I'd purchased my plane ticket :-)
Our flight was exactly two weeks before Lincoln's 2nd birthday, so he still qualified as a lap-child, even though he has the height and head size of a healthy three-year old. Needless to say, I felt like I'd won the lottery. But despite the two-for-one airfare and the beauty of traveling with another mom who "gets it," I was really nervous in the days leading up to our departure. I worried that I wouldn't have a good time because I'd be too busy chasing Lincoln to enjoy myself. I worried I'd come home exhausted and drained instead of energized and refreshed. And most of all, I worried that Musa - home alone with no baby or wife for the weekend - would be the one really on vacation.
So I prayed quite a bit in the days leading up to the trip. For good weather. For good behavior. For a pleasant, tear-free plane ride. And you know what? God answered. Two out of three (the tear-free plane ride proved to be too much!)
It still surprises me to say it, but I actually enjoyed myself. Fancy that. Three nights and four days on mommy duty with no reinforcement and we had a wonderful, restful (crazy, right?) time.
There was plenty for the boys to see and do in Atlanta. Naturally, one of our first stops was the zoo. Besides being one of only four zoos in the U.S. home to the ever-lovable panda, Zoo Atlanta has a really neat petting zoo that seemed like a good idea. Little did I know, Lincoln would be too terrified to actually touch any of the animals. He preferred instead to stay a safe distance and otherwise amuse himself (as you can see below). Beautiful memories we'll have forever.
After being at the zoo for just a short while, we'd all worked up an appetite. The walking maybe? So we found the nearest food vendor, ordered a whole pizza and fries, and chowed down ... like animals of course ;-)
Later in the day, we sought out a cute consignment shop called Alexis' Suitcase for window shopping. From the moment we walked in the door, I was in love. Everything was so cute and well-organized, and the shop had some adorable designer finds that weren't outrageously priced. But before I could really settle into browsing, Lincoln took off running around the racks like a madman, chasing his traveling companion. Needless to say, I was mortified which led to scolding, which led to spanking, which led to tears (his, not mine thankfully), which led to a quick exit.
We strolled aimlessly for a bit so Lincoln could calm down & get some fresh air while I looked for another activity that was more his speed. That's when we happened upon CamiCakes. Now, I'm no foodie, but I do love a good cupcake. And I couldn't have possibly known it then, but CamiCakes is right up there with the best in Atlanta. (Serendipity!) Once inside, we quickly decided on Strawberry Passion for me and a mini Cookies & Creme for Lincoln (which he proudly picked himself). Both were really moist and flavorful. Cami, whoever and wherever you are, know that you saved us both that day.
Next, we perused the stands in the trendy Krog Street Market and at my friend's recommendation, stopped at Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, a crowd favorite as evidenced by the long line. Thankfully, it was well worth the wait. Jeni's is made of all the good stuff - high-fat buttermilk from grass-fed cows, free of synthetic flavors & dyes - and is known for its silky smooth texture and unique flavor combinations. I had two scoops of Black Currant frozen yogurt + Lemon Buttermilk frozen yogurt, and was licking the spoon like a crazy person by the end. That good. Promise.
Outside, a few scenic side streets proved to be the perfect backdrop for a mini photo shoot, because I could look at this face all day, every day. Oh wait, I do :-)
To our delight, day 2 was just as jam-packed as day 1. We started with a VIP tour of CNN's World Headquarters facilitated by one of the local Assignment Editors who happens to be a friend of a friend :-) The best part was that my girlfriend volunteered to watch the boys so I could enjoy the tour untethered. A journalism major and writer, I've always loved the energy of the newsroom, so it was a special treat for me.
Next was a stop on the ferris wheel nearby. From the top, we could see much of downtown, including Olympic Park from the '96 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.
There were plenty of other cool stops too. Like our trek over to Martin Luther King Jr.'s childhood home. For some reason, I never realized MLK was from a middle class family, although it makes a lot of sense in light of the fact that he was well-educated. The home itself has been preserved really well and is still beautiful. It was really special seeing Lincoln run up the walkway. I couldn't help but wonder what impact he will make on the world someday and be grateful for the sacrifice of MLK and so many others who have gone before.
Of course, we stopped by the MLK Memorial as well. Normally it would be a little creepy to take a picture in front of a grave (or at least I think so), but not so this time. In fact, it was a really precious moment I'm glad was captured. I can't wait to show these pictures to Lincoln when he gets older.
By the time evening came, we'd gotten sick (something we ate?) The night ended with my girlfriend vomitting around 8p and me vomitting at 3a. Thankfully, our boys appeared unaffected (answered prayer), and found plenty of other ways to amuse themselves, although we're still not sure who won the game below :-)
I've shown you the picture-perfect parts of our trip, so I feel obligated (in the name of "Real") to tell you about the plane ride home, which was - in short - a disaster.
Things started off well when the flight attendant suggested we move into the two seats across from us (which were empty) so Lincoln could have his own chair. But what was supposed to be an added convenience, soon proved to be too much freedom.
Soon after takeoff, I cued up his favorite episode of Thomas the Train on our iPad and prepared to relax for a little while he watched, which he did ...
... for all of 10 minutes before getting bored. Like the meticulous, organized mother that I am, I accidentally left all of the plane toys I'd purchased at home on our bar cart. Which meant Lincoln was left to choose between me and the pull-down tray table in front of him as entertainment for the next two hours.
He chose the tray table. (*face palm*)
I'm pretty sure he put that thing down and up 50 times during the whole plane ride. And it wasn't one of the light, plastic ones that come down noiselessly. It was one of the heavy, metal ones that drop with a loud clank when you don't guide it on the way down. The woman in the seat of front of us (poor victim) peered through the seat gap, clearly annoyed after only the second time. And after the 50th time, I finally made him stop, which was the beginning of the end.
I was getting desperate. As a last resort, I turned to sugar. My girlfriend had given me a lollipop for Lincoln, to help keep his ears from popping on the descent (which was genius!) We were about 30 minutes from landing, and I decided I couldn't wait. So I tore open the Dum Dum furiously and all but shoved it in Lincoln's mouth. He calmed down immediately and occupied himself with enjoying the lollipop. Every lick of it. That is, until it was completely gone, and he was whining for another one. Except that I didn't have another one. And I wasn't going to give him candy for the whole 30-minute descent.
Except maybe I should have? In protest, he resorted to falling out and screaming at the top of his lungs. Another mom across from us sympathetically offered him a second lollipop, which I politely refused.
A well-meaning flight attendant came by to identify the problem child and try her best to help.
"What does he want?" she asked, obviously concerned.
"Oh, just more candy," I replied, trying my best not to sound as flustered as I truly was.
"Oh well then give it to him, girlfriend!" she replied, stuffing a small bag of gummy bears in my hand.
Of course, once he had seen them, there was no way I could deny him. And since he knew I had a whole bag, he stuffed them into his mouth three at a time before the chubby hands were out, asking for more. I promise he ate that whole bag in less than a minute.
Then came the whining. And crying. Except worse than before.
And I had no more candy. And I was determined he wasn't going to win.
But ohhhh, did he win.
By the time we got off that plane, everyone knew who we were. I was so embarrassed I didn't discipline him on the spot like I should have, afraid of being "that" mother. But as soon as we got onto the jet bridge, I communicated in ways that were well-understood, my dissatisfaction with his behavior. Lincoln didn't make another peep until we were outside, loading our bags into his grandmother's trunk to go home.
So there. It certainly wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, but despite one big meltdown and a few other minor ones, we had an amazing and truly memorable trip. Plus the benefits of having another kid around to play with Lincoln cannot be overstated. Part of the reason I was able to be so present in the conversation and each moment, was because I didn't have to entertain my son every second. (I finally understand what my mother-in-law has been trying to explain to me about having multiples. And all this time I thought she was just on a plot to get us to have more kids ... which clearly she is!)
Moral of the story is this - often, parents (myself included) let having a kid keep them from doing the things they really want to do like take a vacation when you need one. But it can be done, and it doesn't have to be expensive or depressing! It is true that you have to make adjustments and sacrifices along the way, but I imagine there are few greater joys in life than spending time with the little people God has entrusted to us. At home, and abroad :-)
Which is why we're already planning our next "Mommy Trip." Paris, anyone??!
**Special thanks and credit to Sheena J Photography (who Lincoln affectionately refers to as "Aunt Sheena) for taking many of these beautiful photos throughout our trip. We can't wait to visit you again soon!