An Every Day Vacation

By Diane Stark

It was Tuesday morning, and we had just returned home from vacation the night before. My husband and I had taken our five children down to Florida for ten days. We had a wonderful time, but now, it was time to get back to real life. I was already feeling overwhelmed, and it was no wonder. My To Do List looked like this:

1. Unpack our suitcases, and wash the resulting mountain of dirty clothes

2. Sift through the hundreds of emails that came in while I was away (This means resigning myself to the fact that although that recipe for cheesy oven baked country ranch potatoes does look both healthy and delicious, the odds that I will someday use this recipe are slim to none and then force myself to hit the delete key.)

3. Tackle several upcoming writing deadlines

4. Clean my house

5. Figure out how my house got so dirty when no one was living in it for the past ten days

6. Go grocery shopping (or teach my children to enjoy their Froot Loops with milk that now resembles cottage cheese)

7. Did I mention the laundry?

The plan for the day was to tackle my “To Do List.” I got up early and threw a load of clothes into the washing machine. I was wading through my email when I heard my three-year-old son Nathan on the stairs. “Mommy, can I have a Pop Tart please?” He asked in a still-sleepy voice.

I grabbed a strawberry Pop Tart and a sippy cup of milk for him. “Here you go, Baby,” I said, planting a kiss on the top of his head.

Moments later I heard, “Uh oh, I dropped some of my Pop Tart on the floor.”

I bent down to pick up the strawberry Pop Tart and spotted a piece of blueberry Pop Tart down there as well. We’d been on vacation for the last ten days, so that meant that a piece of someone’s breakfast had been lying under my table for quite some time. Upon closer inspection, I noticed pieces of someone’s lunch and dinner down there too. Because it was prime ant season, immediate action was required.

I moved the kitchen chairs into the living room and got out the vacuum. But before I could push start, Nathan said, “Ooh, Mommy, you built me a train!” Nathan pointed to the kitchen chairs, which were now lined up in a row.

Nathan ran and sat down in the first chair. “Sit on my train, Mommy, and I’ll take you for a ride!”

I glanced back at the vacuum, picturing the giant ants that would overtake my house if I didn’t clean up the smorgasbord under my table. I was about to say no when Nathan grabbed my hand. “Please, Mommy? My train is going to Florida. You and me can go on another vacation!”

Another vacation? It sounded too good to be true. I grinned and sat in the second chair of the train.

“Toot toot!” said the conductor wearing Thomas the Train pajamas. “Next stop Sea World!” Two minutes later, Nathan turned around and said, “We’re at Sea World, Mommy. Let’s go watch Shamu’s Big Show.”

We got off the train and sat on the couch. “We’re in the Splash Zone, Mommy, so you’re going to get wet. The water will be cold, so don’t cry when Shamu jumps out of the water and splashes you, OK? When I went to Sea World on vacation, I saw a little boy crying because Shamu got him all wet.”

I smiled. Nathan didn’t mention that he was the little boy who cried.

After Shamu soaked us, we got back on the train and Nathan drove us to the beach.

By 10 am, I’d ridden Nathan’s train and had the following unbelievable experiences:

1. Rode Bert and Ernie’s Big Coaster, not once, but four times (Busch Gardens has a Sesame Street theme.)

2. Cooked cheeseburgers for a tyrannosaurus rex

3. Petted a sting ray named George and two dolphins named Ozzie and Harriet

4. Built sand castles at the beach and lost three toes and an eyeball to a giant shark that was hiding in my sand bucket

5. Ate chicken nuggets at a dinosaur restaurant called T-Rex (think Rainforest Café, but with meteor showers and giant lizards)

6. Rode the Busch Gardens safari train through the safari which, oddly enough, only contained dinosaurs

7. Had my picture taken with Elmo and Cookie Monster, but decided that Big Bird was just a little too big to be my friend

8. Re-lived all the best moments of our vacation (and some completely made-up moments as well!)

Yes, I’d done all of those things, and I hadn’t even gotten out of my pajamas. (Amazing, isn’t it?) It certainly wasn’t what I’d planned to do with my day, but when a three-year-old paleontologist-turned-train-conductor invites you to go for a ride on his chair train, it’s a rather unique opportunity.

The truth was, running around the house pretending to be on vacation was probably almost as much for Nathan as doing it the first time. Watching his imagination run wild sure was fun for me.

We’ve been home from vacation for a few weeks now, but I’ve been back to Florida almost every day. Do I have time to ride a chair train every afternoon? Not really. But here’s the thing: My children and I counted down the days until that vacation. We were beyond excited about it and really bummed when it was over. But when I ride Nathan’s train each day, I get to witness his excitement all over again. I watch his eyes light up as he feeds an imaginary dinosaur. I hear him giggle because the giant shark is nibbling on my toes. It’s like he’s actually back in Florida.

When you’re three years old, every day is a vacation.

And I’m really glad Nathan lets me tag along.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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One Response to “An Every Day Vacation”

  1. What a wonderful gift of time you are giving your baby. Memories to treasure.

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