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The unsung hero of the family vacation
My parents were always working hard to make sure our family trips became treasured memories. - photo by Erin Stewart
Well, its happened. Ive become my mother.

It was inevitable, and its been happening slowly through the years, but on our recent family vacation, my metamorphosis reached a critical point.

This realization struck me as we drove through the beach town we were visiting last week, and I kept pointing out the hotels I had researched but decided not to stay at during our trip. That place had a pool but no laundry, I said, pointing to a condo unit that had been a serious top contender.

My husband looked at me and nodded, pretending like he cared even a little, tiny bit about the amenities at the places we were not staying at.

Then, as we pulled up to the condo we were actually staying at, I said the vacation mom-ism I heard on every trip as a kid: Can you believe we are actually here? Is it just like you imagined?"

My mom uttered these same words on Every. Single. Vacation. As a kid, outside of the few minutes stuffing my favorite teddy bear into my backpack, I had spent precious little time imagining where we were going. I wondered why we were sitting around marveling at the reality of our vacation and talking about places where we were not staying.

But now, as a mom, I get it. For mom, the family vacation had been building for months. She researched hotels long before the trip began, making life-altering decisions about whether childhood vacation memories would be better built in a two-bedroom condo or a rental house. And what about the pool situation? Proximity to a grocery store? Sufficient seashell to child ratio?

I understand now why mom watched the weather forecast for weeks before the actual vacation, freaking out that the beach trip may be ruined RUINED! by the tropical development the meteorologist is watching closely. I see now that mom lay awake at night making packing lists, reading hotel reviews and poring over day-trip itineraries.

I took all these things for granted as a child. Somehow, vacations just happened. We went cool places. We did cool things. I never realized my mom, without internet and armed with only her Fodors travel guide, put her heart and soul into planning fun-filled vacations for our family.

And then, when we got there, I took for granted that there was always sunscreen, hats, sand toys, snorkels and all the other paraphernalia that she somehow Tetris-mastered into our luggage.

I didnt have to worry about deposits, forecasts or sunburns because my mom was there, working behind the scenes.

So, now that Ive crossed to the dark side, I get it. And Im grateful for the time, money and energy both of my parents put into taking three children on vacations from the time we were too small to even realize wed left home.

Now Im the one obsessively reading TripAdvisor reviews. Im the one planning, plotting and imagining.

And just like the younger me, my children have no idea.

Perhaps in 20 years, when they have their own children and find themselves pointing out random hotels that they almost stayed at, theyll get it.

And maybe then, just like me now, theyll finally say thank you. Thank you for the work and the worry and the money and the time. Thank you for the beach puzzles that just happened to be there on rainy days, the sunscreen slathering, the spit-shine of my snorkel mask in the middle of the ocean while I clung to your back. Thank you for hot compresses on aching ears on airplanes, aloe vera on sun-touched skin and endless patience when my thermal underwear was too itchy.

All those plane rides and prep work added up to so much more than a trip. They created the memories that mark my childhood the breathy quiet of snorkeling side-by-side, the thrill of the first ski lift, inky stamps in my passport, pages of textbooks come to life in Europe.

Above all, thank you for time together, experiencing new faces, places and vistas Ill never forget.
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