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Whose stupid idea was the family vacation, anyway?

I don't know who invented the idea of family vacations, but I'd like to get a piece of him. After nearly 17 years and literally billions of conversations with other parents, I've decided that whoever it was, he was either a sadist or a congenital idiot. Maybe both.

I began to suspect this at the beginning of a summer holiday several Julys ago. It was during the final days of the now deservedly extinct Pan Am Airways, and our 747, having pulled away from the gate, revealed a minor mechanical problem--a wonky windshield wiper or wobble from the in-dash 8-track player, no doubt. After three hours of being trapped in this non-air-conditioned sardine can, my toddler's diaper started leaking. Not just wee-wee, but hysterical yellow baby shit of a type second in viscosity only to 30-weight motor oil. Upon trundling him aft for a change, I was told by a sweaty, short-tempered flight attendant to return to my seat, as takeoff was surely imminent. Forty minutes later and not one inch further above the tarmac we'd been sitting on forever, my kid, in a tantrum the approximate intensity of your average grand mal seizure, bit a hole right through his lower lip. That was when a kindly gentleman across the aisle offered to spike his bottle with a little crème de menthe. I entertained the idea, but in the end, I drank it myself.

It's fair to say that neither I nor my 18-month-old were having any fun. Looking back, the reasons why are obvious. Let's take it as a given that anybody under the age of 3 doesn't want to go anywhere except to bed when he's tired, to the potty when he's a big boy, or maybe to Grandma's--if she lives less than 20 minutes away. Small kids don't like having their routines disrupted, and if you take them on vacation, they'll make damn sure you fully understand their misery by making your life a living hell. They will get fevers, get constipated, get insomnia and inevitably--or within a week, whatever comes first--get you, their parents, to wondering why the fuck you ever decided to reproduce in the first place.

Very small children and air travel is again problematic. Kids have these really short horizontal Eustachian tubes that don't drain well, so they get humongous headaches upon takeoff and landing. But I think this is only part of the small child's horror when it comes to air travel. Adults who do it regularly have convinced themselves it's a safe mode of transportation; kids know better. They see it for what it is: a bunch of meat crowded into a giant Pringles can with wings and thousands of pounds of highly explosive fuel on board.

Once you get to your destination, the fun begins anew. We went to Florence, Italy, one year (as opposed to Florence, Ariz.), and my spouse and I could barely contain our excitement while anticipating a visit to the archaeological museum. Imagine my horror upon finally understanding that while we viewed said museum with delight, my 4-year-old viewed it as a really cool place to barrel around as fast as he could, hiding behind various exhibits again and again in a game of "let's freak the parents out by disappearing in a foreign country." At one point, we found him hiding behind a 2,300-year-old Greek storage container. It looked oh-so-fragile inside its puny Plexiglas, and it was obvious it had been broken and put back together at some point. Apparently, a rambunctious kid back in 1915 had inadvertently smashed it to smithereens. To this day, I don't remember anything about the archaeological museum in Florence except my rock-hard conviction that my son was going to be the second person in history to break that pot.

Those years of tots and trans-Atlantic travel are long past. We have teenagers now, so we're broke all the time. Though the younger one can be cajoled, and sometimes bribed, the older one is of an age where he'd rather eat ground glass than go anywhere with his parents. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, or bad. I only know that nowadays, when I travel by air, all tucked up safe with my page-turner and 10 milligrams of Valium, my only thought upon hearing a baby cry is: "Thank Buddha, Allah and Jesus; it's got nothing to do with me."

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