Hi kids, it’s your dad. I write things here sometimes. This is one of those times, and there is something I need to tell you about. It happened in April of 2016…
We took a family vacation. You know this because you were there with us.
You had a lot of fun on this vacation. I know this because you told me. It was the kind of vacation that many families with young kids picture taking at some point—we went to Disney World and enjoyed the many things it has to offer. We watched you meet characters you’d met in movies and we went on rides that brought a kind of smile to your face that this type of place can bring. We arrived at the park at opening and left more than 12 hours later, you somehow as excited when we left as you were when we arrived.
As your dad, I loved watching these smiles. I loved watching you run from ride to ride even though we shouted after to you to “stop for the love of all that is good!” I loved that in the first five minutes we were on site, you were giving Mickey Mouse the gears for not knowing how to to spell his own name. I loved the subtle jaw drop that meeting each character brought. I loved your screams on the teacup ride and hiding from Ursula on the Under the Sea ride. I loved you wanting to eat candy all day and loved you saying the train ride back to the car was your favourite part of the day. I loved every minute we spent at Walt Disney World with you.
Here’s the thing though. We also spent a day without you doing things you might have loved to do. And I don’t regret it.
This is where you take time to collect your thoughts, stick your tongue out at me or maybe even use the middle finger I know you’ve learned to use.
The first time I said this out loud—that your mom and I went to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter without you, and that I thoroughly enjoyed it, I felt selfish, I felt dirty. I felt like a bad parent, silently plotting our escape that morning without giving you too many hints at what we were up to. “You’ll have so much fun here!” I had yelled to you before saying goodbye, making sure I didn’t also yell “but not as much fun as us!”
“Whoops,” I though to myself after turning these thoughts over in my mouth a few times. Had I just suggested that seeing you two being lucky enough to meet Rapunzel wasn’t the single best moment of my trip? It felt horrible to say it, it felt like I was a monster to even think it. It felt like I was betraying all the sacred duties of parenting we promise to uphold that first moment we hold you.
I’ll say it again because saying this needs repeating, being a parent can be hard and parents need breaks from kids sometimes. It isn’t easy pulling barbie heads out of toilets or hearing for the 135th time that you’e the worst dad ever. As your parents, we’re expected to love alone time when the alone time is going out for dinner, watching Deadpool or having a few drinks at a bar. But we’re not supposed to do things without you two. Not when those things could be fun for you too.
But hear me out. Harry Potter has been a big part of our lives since well before you were even born. Your mom and I read the books together, your mom and I watched the movies together, your mom and I talked about which wand we’d buy if we ever had the chance to buy one and your mom and I discussed the merits of warm butterbeer versus cold butterbeer. Your mom and I even had a long distance discussion when the last book came out about whether it would be financially acceptable to buy two copies of the book so we could both read it at the same time, knowing how much fighting might come from one of us reading it first.
And we were right there in Orlando, with people who would watch you for the day and take you swimming and give you Popsicles. We couldn’t let the chance pass us by. Imagine you being in an elevator with nobody around and you not pressing all the buttons—that’s the level of regret we’d have had to live with for the rest of our lives.
And let’s be honest—you don’t really care about Harry Potter. Yet. We’ve read the first book to you like eight times and you give up on page 32 every time. Yes, you like the movies, but even then you don’t wake us up at 5 in the morning to watch Harry Potter, you wake us up at 5 in the morning to watch Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol. So, maybe it’s a little bit your fault we had all that fun too. Up your Harry Potter game and maybe next time we’ll make it a family adventure.
So, I guess the question I’m trying to get a four- and six-year old to answer for me is: is it wrong to have favourite memories of vacations if they’re moments that don’t include your kids?
If it makes you feel better, parental guilt is a hell of a thing. I spent equal parts of the day marvelling at the wonders of the magical world I’ve spent the past 18 years of my life envisioning in my head and wondering if I should have been sharing that magical world with you.
“Should we have brought the kids?”
“All the other kids here are way older than ours, it’s not meant for kids that young.”
“Don’t you think they’d love to see this dragon?”
“If they were here there’s no way we’d be able to go on this ride.”
“Oh my god, imagine them seeing Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes!”
“Oh my god, I have a Hermione wand now!”
“They’d have totally screamed at that family for budding in front of us.”
It’s been a week now, I’ve had time to clear my head. I still look back at it and think of how much fun we had by ourselves, even doing things you might have enjoyed.
Here’s one harsh truth I’ve realized from this experience—parents don’t have to fill their top 100 moments with memories of things they’ve done with their kids.
So take that for what it is. You can go ahead and think that makes me a bad dad—I know there are those who will think that to be the case as well. But there will be others who agree. Other parents who will stand up tall in front of their kids and scream “I’ve had fun without you!”
Their kids will probably use all their bad words and they’ll demand ice cream and they’ll threaten to never come out of their room again.
You can do that too if you’d like, but I’ll still have fun without you from time to time anyway.
Go get the ice cream from the freezer.
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