Sometimes when you have a large family you end up wondering whether "vacations" aren't just a little too much trouble. After all the planning and packing, wrestling with babies and toddlers, lack of sleep, difficulty finding hotel rooms, and laundry, it's easy to wonder, Is this really worth it?
We tend to travel relatively often, and I must admit that this question has frequently occurred to me -- usually while trying to get a wide-awake baby to sleep at 2 AM in a hotel room while the older siblings argue over who has more covers. But our latest trip really proved to me that while vacationing with many young children is definitely hard, it is also most decidedly worth it.
Here are some of my notes from the road:
We were all very excited to go to Gettysburg, because we spent several months this year reading about Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Civil War... and the Battle of Gettysburg.*** Andy needed to visit a business located near there for work, so we just tagged along. Our hotel was right at the bottom of Cemetery Hill, where the Visitor Center and National Cemetery are located and where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. (It also happened to be a large-family friendly hotel -- 3 double beds in one room!) We arrived in the evening and took a walk in the cemetery just before dusk. The crowds of the day had gone, and the buckeyes, cypress, and oaks towering above the paths and grave markers -- so many of them without any identifying characteristics -- rustled in the evening breeze. There, in the lavender and burnt orange of sunset, I watched as books became real for our children. They wandered in and out of the grave rows, reading names and unknown, unknown, unknown. They touched the cannons and looked out over the ridge down to the road where so many men had died. They stood on the same spot where Abraham Lincoln spoke the brief address he felt was a failure but is now engraved in stone. Katydid knelt by a row of New York dead, bowed her head, and prayed.
That night back in the hotel was a rough one. The babies were up for hours. Andy took Pop for a ride in the van at 3 AM in the hopes of putting him back to sleep, but -- no dice. He finally fell asleep on the floor with me at about 5 AM. Andy left for his business appointment a little after 7, and I brought all the kids to breakfast, then hiked up the hill to the Visitor Center, which was full of teenagers on school trips. What a change from the night before. The babies were not happy about being confined to their strollers in the museum, but the older kids loved it -- cases of muskets and bayonets and grapeshot and splintered timbers with bullets still embedded in them... what's not for boys to love? No elevators meant that I had to take the babies out of their strollers, walk them up and down the stairs, leave them holding hands with Gareth and Katydid, go back and haul the strollers up or down, wrestle them back into the strollers while they screamed and kicked their shoes off... all the while wondering (all together now), Is this really worth it???
Andy met us for lunch, and after a chicken wrap and some ice cream, I began to regain some of my optimism. (It's amazing how a hot fudge sundae can instantly transform a person into an optimist.) We took a driving tour of the battlefield -- which is spread out over many, many miles -- getting out periodically to walk, and by the time we got to the field where Pickett led his famous, doomed charge, I could answer my own question again:
Yes, yes, it is all worth it!
I watched my kids run down a lane in a field -- still a field, gold with wheat this time of year -- where history actually happened. I watched them whoop and holler and man the cannons and pretend to be Civil War generals and tell me they wanted to live in Gettysburg when they grew up and couldn't we come back sometime. They talked about Robert E. Lee and George Meade and Stonewall Jackson like they were real people whom we might have met before, and not just names in books. My four year old walked around clutching his Civil War comic book like it was his most prized possession.
It seemed fitting to me that there should be this kind of joy and life again in this place -- the kind of joy and life only children can bring. As I followed the kids back to the car, I thought, This is why we homeschool.
But as parents, it's mostly just what we live for.
****The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1-3, 1863, meaning we've just passed the 144th anniversary. Over 50,000 men died in this one battle alone. If you can visit just one Civil War site in your lifetime, I would highly recommend that it be Gettysburg.
A few good books about Gettysburg include: