Family Man: Chevy Chase Did Not Prepare Us for This
I throw the last of the huge duffel bags – which could double as walruses – into the station wagon, climb into the driver’s seat and breathe a sigh of anticipated island relief.

“We’re going on vacation!” I say, too cheerily, to my equally overworked wife, Wendy.

Everything has gone according to plan. Our sons, wearing their favorite pajamas, sit groggily in their carseats. There are picture books, crayons and pacifiers in our carry-ons. Arrangements have been made for pet care. My wife and I have yet to argue. And my mother-in-law, Cindi, is tickled to ride between the kids as we head for Puerto Rico, a trip she and my father-in-law have made possible.

For more Family Man reflections, go to:

  • A Beautiful Mess
  • Loving Mud and Monkey Bars
  • Something About Mommy

  • Fear and Parenting
  • Just Like Me?

  • This is where the perfection ends. Some 18 hours later, my haggard family – ravaged by hours of transcontinental travel and changing time zones – drags its collective butt onto my in-laws’ sailboat.

    Cindi proudly guides us around their docked retirement vessel, demonstrating the pump-toilet, sunken fridge and movable ladder. Jacob (15-months-old at the time) takes the latter (pun intended) reference as a cue to test the wooden steps and falls backward before I catch him.

    Casting a glance at her father, Sheldon, who’s looking worried about impending damage to his boat, Wendy warns, “Jacob’s gotten a bit more mobile since you last saw him.”

    Because of the time change, our kids won’t go to sleep. Instead, they christen the boat by pushing buttons they shouldn’t, shouting protestations at every “no,” and littering snack foods around a once-pristine cabin before we stuff them (kicking and screaming) into their cocoon-like berth.

    Countless harrowing moments of Jacob snatching breakables, Benjamin going stir-crazy and tropical rain pelting us through open windows in the middle of the night (twice) mark our time on the claustrophobic boat.

    On one particular night, Benjamin valiantly tries to sleep, but Jacob keeps smacking his head and cracking up because of the novelty of bunking with his big brother. After several attempts to settle them down, all seems peaceful. Then, a whistle blows in an apparent rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Wendy opens the door and reveals Jacob, who’s found an emergency whistle. Everyone on the boat laughs, especially Jacob.

    Off the boat, my in-laws take us to places such as El Yunque rainforest. My legs ache after the slippery hike down to a gorgeous waterfall, but then Benjamin cries out, “Daddy, let’s go in!” We strip to our swim trunks and I wade into the c-c-c-cold! water, wincing at the granite poking my suburban-tender feet. Benjamin suddenly looks terrified.

    “I don’t like the rocks!” he yells. I call out, “Get on my back!”

    Like some kind of beluga whale, I carry my son into the spray, with him giggling and screaming into my ear, “This is sooo cool!”

    Midway through our trip, we sail to the neighboring Culebra Island. Prone to nausea, I sit in the cockpit, breathing the salt-air with the deliberateness of a man about to make his first bungee jump. More importantly, I need to look in control for Benjamin, who has begun to turn the color of cooked eggplant.

    Trying not to alarm anyone, least of all my son, I grab a beach towel and hold it in front of his face. He sits up and unloads the morning’s scrambled eggs.

    “Feeling better?” I ask, attempting not to gag. Still looking wan, he barfs twice more, then breathes easier as he sits back with his mommy.

    I wrap up the sulfur-smelling towel, feeling like such the stud father. I am holding my son’s stomach contents without a wince. And I’ve completely forgotten about my own seasickness.

    We finally reach Culebra and partake of Flamenco Beach, where I teach Benjamin how to handle the waves.

    “I’m surfing, I’m surfing,” he calls out as he flaps around in an inch of water.

    Meanwhile, Wendy chases Jacob, who eats his weight in sand and runs away from the sea foam that splatters his pudgy, sunscreen-slathered body.

    After a week of fun and sons, we board our flight home. For six hours, the boys sleep a good portion of the time. But after hours of being cooped up, every parent’s air-travel nightmare begins – our little one starts to wail, spill cola and kick the seat in front of him. As if we’re not embarrassed enough, the evil woman in the kicked seat glares at Jacob like he’s a colicky spider monkey. Her irritated sighs, nasty whispers and complaints to the flight attendant make us feel worse than we already do as we try everything to calm him. Does she think we want our toddler to throw a two-hour fit? This last episode of vacation trials makes us wish we had enough Benadryl® to put ourselves to sleep.

    Mercifully, though, the flight ends and we make our way back home. Benjamin asks, “Daddy, when are we going back to Puerto Rico?”

    I’m not sure how much more of the Caribbean I crave, but I’m certainly already planning for another opportunity to enjoy the unfettered time a family vacation makes possible.