You know that expression about how it’s not the destination, it’s the journey? It mostly shows up superimposed over a sunset on the Facebook walls of people who don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere in life. Well, there might be more to it than I thought.

The big family vacation is complete. Took the whole tribe cross-country last week. Eight people: Me, my wife, my brother, my sister-in-law, their three kids (9, 6, & 3) and Mom. Flew to Seattle and got on a boat. I have never travelled with children I worried overmuch about before. Usually if there was a fussy toddler or a bored third-grader on a group trip, they were someone else’s problem. This trip, their fun was on all of us. A few notes:

 I normally fly with one wheeled carryon and a backpack. This week, we had more luggage than the Rolling Stones. We checked ten suitcases. I have moved across states with less stuff. It looked like we were heading for a tour of duty in Afghanistan but with more stuffed animals.

 I cannot imagine flying with children in the days before the portable DVD player. God bless that battery-operated pacifier – no unhappiness for four hours in either direction. I don’t know what Bubble Guppies are, but I’m buying whoever thought them up a drink.  

 I’m sure my mother will have a lot to say about the preceding note. That’s fine. I remember flying as a child. I got a free pair of sharp wings with a stickpin on the back and a deck of cards that I didn’t know what to do with. I would not have enjoyed my company. And I liked to read. An easily bored child on a four-hour flight to Seattle in 1982? The horror.

 Airports are fun with kids, though. All the magic has gone out of them by the time you travel on your own, especially for business. But take kids with you and revel in them shouting the exotic-to-them destinations as you pass every gate (“Atlanta! New York! Orlando!”) and those gates stop seeming like stops you have to pass on the bus ride home and start seeming like portals to adventure.

 Also: Southwest Airlines does not have tequila on the menu. Love your airline but would like to see you shape up on that, Southwest. 

 Passing through both airports and ship terminals with kids is enlivened by the presence of dogs, especially when you can’t really explain what the dog is doing that precludes him from being petted if you want to avoid putting words like “bomb” or “drugs” into the very front of a three year old’s mind just before you let her talk to the TSA.  

 Kids focus on different things. We saw much more new stuff on this trip than I usually do in a new city, because they remind you that it’s all new. “That dog is from Canada! He’s a Canadian dog!  That’s so cool!” It’s lovely. 

 The dark side of this, of course, is that twenty years from now, we will ask the adults who were children about their memories of Alaska and they will squint into the mists of time and recall that the boat had a pool. It is plausible that the magical cruise with an unending supply of breathtaking scenery and several different exotic ports of call will be remembered primarily for the exotic flavors of the soft-serve machine and unending supply of Froot Loops at the buffet.

 Taking kids on a cruise ship is not for the imaginative. Mom had a room with a balcony, and I spent several nights with my horrible traitorous brain gleefully constructing elaborate scenarios that ended in splashes. I probably checked Nana’s patio door-lock 750 times in seven days, and I was rarely comfortable if I could not actually see all the kids with my own eyes.

 My favorite Kid Moment of the trip was on the flight home. As we landed at Midway shortly after midnight Sunday, my brother said to his sleepy three-year-old “We’re here!” She replied “We’re not here” in a tone of voice that made it clear that what she meant was “Until I can unbuckle this f—— belt and get up out of this f—— seat, don’t you f—— dare tell me we’re ‘here’. Seriously, I don’t want to here another sound out of your loathsome lying piehole until I can stand up, get my blankie, and get off this g—— airplane. Blink once if you understand me, Daddy.” 

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