Our last vacation, immediately before pandemic pandemonium, was to Vermont. We rented an Airbnb in Stowe, a 3-hour drive from our home. We stayed close as we had been sufficiently stung by our previous trip, a 5-day getaway to Florida, during which our daughter seemingly contracted every possible childhood illness.
It all started on the plane. She was a gem during the flight. She happily bounced up and down the aisles, smiling and waving, pleased that 100 strangers had been assembled here for her amusement. We read Little Blue Truck, decorated the tray table with neon pink post its and stacked the plastic beverage cups. Towards the end of the flight, she snuggled up, bunny lovey in hand, chubby cheek against my chest. As if she could sense my husband and I were exchanging congratulatory glances, praising each other for a job well done, she started to heave. The wheels grazed the tarmac and she projectile vomited down my V-neck t-shirt, sending a waterfall of fig bar scented puke into my bra. I sat there, a buoy in a lake of vomit, my breasts protruding as the only islands.
My husband, an innocent bystander and speechless on the shore, turned towards us when she started to heave again. Both of us rendered incapacitated, he did the only thing he could: stuck out his hands. She threw up into this makeshift bowl, a donor giving to a begging boy. A wire-haired woman reached out tentatively across the aisle, flimsy airplane napkin waving, a futile attempt to rescue us from the lake in which we were already drowning.
In those 5 days, my daughter ran the spectrum of pediatric illness, from vomiting and diarrhea, to fever, to cough and congestion. Naturally, we vowed never to travel again.
Alas, the winter in Boston is cold and long, and we soon found ourselves craving a change of scenery. We chose Vermont, the obvious pick for a winter escape. I saw a picturesque cabin, fire roaring, snow falling, my family safe and cozy inside. Surely our vacation woes couldn’t follow us there. Let me say that we have since come to terms with the reality that there really is no such thing as vacation, in the formerly known sense, with young children. One friend has coined these trips, “parenting in a new locale”, which I find much more appropriate.
Our first morning in Stowe was unseasonably warm. Fog floated off the ground, dancing in celebration. We arrived just before bedtime the night before, so hadn’t yet gone to the store for provisions. Hungry and tired, we ventured to town for breakfast. The Butler’s Pantry, charming and quaint in a rustic home, is exactly what I had envisioned for our triumphant return to the vacation stage.
The four-top in which we were seated was by the bar. A few other patrons dotted the dimly lit and otherwise empty space. We ordered quickly, knowing our toddler was a ticking time bomb, only able to sit for so long before exploding. She was already blowing raspberries, or as we call them, raspberries of doom, a warning shot that her discontent was building. We played peek-a-boo behind the menu. We doled out our emergency stash of Cheerios one by one, a vain attempt to delay the inevitable. My husband wore the Magna-Tiles we keep in the diaper bag as earrings. She smiled, amused by this attempt at distraction, focused on what she really wanted: to be free from the confines of the highchair, straps oppressive against her wiggly body.
We caved, as we both knew we would, and took turns walking her around. We looked at dogs and trucks pass by the window. We said hi to the one other family choking down their pancakes. As the clock crept closer to a more acceptable hour, the restaurant filled. We changed our strategy to accommodate the growing number of people, now taking our daughter outside to let her roam unencumbered on the sidewalk. On my second rotation, I scooped her up to check the status of our breakfast. She whined, protesting the disruption to her freedom. I walked to our table to find it bare, my husband checking his iPhone. As we were plotting our next act, I was interrupted. A woman stood from the chair at the table behind me.
“Can you move so your child is not screaming in my direction?”, she fired, steam streaming from her ears, a cartoon character in our morning drama.
I froze. Flustered and in shock, I stared at her blankly for what felt like forever. My mamabear instinct to keep my child away from danger finally kicked in and I fled, muttering under my breath, “Clearly, you don’t have children”, my husband trailing behind.
To their credit, the staff at the restaurant was incredible. The owner comped our breakfast and apologized for his rude customer. The chef sent out delectable blueberry lemon donuts (do yourself a favor and order these if you ever find yourself there). Our waitress, the true heroine, sat down, right next to the woman, and told her this was a family restaurant and we were most certainly welcome, disgruntled toddler and all. She stood at our table and told us the same, tears dripping onto my spinach omelet. I am so grateful for this waitress. I wish I could remember her name.
Hours later when I had recovered from the shock and sting of the episode, I realized what had troubled me the most. This woman didn’t see me. She didn’t see the peek-a-boo and the Magna-Tiles, the pointing out the window. She didn’t see the carefully choreographed dance my husband and I had been performing, taking shifts to entertain our most loyal patron. She saw through me, eyes fixed only on my child, as if I was the empty vessel whose sole purpose was to carry the weight of another.
I wish I had had the wherewithal not to retreat. Rather, I would have stood, firmly at the table.
“Thank you for noticing my child is having a hard time. We are actually here on vacation and my husband and I would love nothing more than to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Would you like to hold her for a while so we can eat?”
Maybe I’ll try that next time.