The Truth About Vacations with Kids

A year ago I wrote this post for my dad’s 70th birthday – Charging into the Atlantic – My Dad and Cape Cod.  Shortly after my whole family read that post and got all fired up about missing the Cape so much, my dad (in a very Oprah like manner) announced that WE WERE ALL GOING BACK.  So, one year later, after so much planning and wishing and hoping and trying not to let expectation get in the way of pure joy, we went.


The last time we took a flight, we wanted to throw our kids out of the plane, no lie.

But now at 3.5 years old, the plane bit was a piece of cake.  Ipads do the trick every time.  And snacks.  MUST ALWAYS HAVE SNACKS.  They really got a kick out of the whole travel part of traveling this time, and let me tell you, after the shellshock of the last time a year and a half ago, my husband and I were THRILLED.  I got to read a book on the plane.  I GOT TO READ A BOOK.  AN ADULT BOOK.  Wait, come on now, you know what I mean.


Thoughts and observations –

2 weeks of being out of work, off social media, not reading the news, just OUT.  I haven’t been out that long since maternity leave, AND THAT WAS NO VACATION EITHER I MIGHT ADD.

It wasn’t that relaxing of a vacation, but it was blissful.  It was non-stop and energetic and full of laughter and teasing and once again, viewing the world through the little kids eyes.  Everything is awesome.


It was in everything they saw, ate, smelled, played with, heard, touched –

It was my girl showing us around – “LOOK MAMA!  DERES A BATHROOM IN HERE!”

It was a secret stairway and playing family with cousins.

It was finally accepting that I will always always always become a little girl when I am with my parents.  And that’s ok.


It was realizing what really matters and what just doesn’t.

It’s watching your kid’s heads explode when entering Candy Manor – HEAVEN FOR KIDS – and hearing them talk about it and want to go back and say they miss it just like you and your little brother did all those years ago.


It’s watching and hearing your parents reminisce about being out here for their honeymoon some 45 years ago.


It was my mom bringing her yellowed out recipes from our childhood for casseroles and Jello cake – enough for 12 people at each meal.  This is her love language.  That and words.  She’s really good with those words too, I tell you what.

It was really really really wanting a gin and tonic, but in that next second knowing that I didn’t really want a gin and tonic, I just wanted to chill out for 5 seconds can I PLEASE HAVE 5 SECONDS MY PRECIOUS ANGELIC CHILDREN? I picked the wrong lifetime to quit drinking.  KIDDING. You know I love my sober life.  But yeah.

It was watching your husband dance with his little girl at the band concert for the very first time.


It was not being able to keep fruits or vegetables stocked on any given day because once 6 kids hit the kitchen, all bets are off.

It was not watching a lick of tv for two weeks other than the kids shows, which for a tv addict like me, wasn’t actually hard at all.


It was everybody going outside on the massive front lawn and people driving by thinking we had some kind of a day camp going on with all the sports my nephews and brother had going with all the kids.  My brother works like crazy on his fitness level and all these kids get to play with him.  When they are whining, he doesn’t take it.  I LOVE THAT ABOUT HIM.  He takes the “there’s no crying in baseball” philosophy all the way down to 3 year olds.


It was walking each morning for exercise and enjoyment and just talking with whomever joined the walk that day – most importantly my little mama.

It was my boy belting out the Imperial March (the Darth Vader music) song as he does and then everyone else in the house immediately joining in each time to make it the official theme song of this vacation.

It was standing in the kitchen with my sister-in-law and mother talking about how devastating it was to drop me at my last rehab and go on their Cape Cod vacation almost 15 years ago without me.  But knowing I was safe for a bit in rehab gave them a chance at a little break.  It was mom breaking down three times in her memories of how it was.  What it was like.  I never ever want to cause that kind of pain to anyone ever again, especially my parents.


It was being with my brother – my one and only – and realizing again that we are the only two people on the planet who had the same childhood, have the same memories and the same nostalgia about all this.  Together.  The same way all our kids will remember one day.  They are the only ones with this exact experience with these exact people.


It was me losing my patience and then immediately regretting losing my patience and realizing I need to soak this all in because it may very well never happen again.  Constantly playing out that tape in my head.

It was me trying not to compare my kids behavior to the behavior of their cousins and just appreciating their differences and how awesome they all are.

It was me watching my sister in law – seemingly effortlessly – manage her family with her 2 boys and 2 girls and my brother.  I mean, they drove out to the Cape from Los Angeles and she hadn’t even broken a sweat. Talk about planning!  I know she feels stress and anxiety and worry the same way we all do, but you’d never know it to look at her.  She’s cool as a cucumber we are growing in our backyard.  I’ve known her since we were all kids in high school, and I love and admire her so damn much.


It was watching all the cousins play together.  Working it out.  Taking on their roles without any conflict most of the time, as if they’ve been playing together their whole lives.  In reality this is the most time they’ve ever spent together and it was awesome.  Really truly awesome to see the dynamics of all that unfold.  I was a proud excited aunt long before I was a mama to my own kids – and watching the bigger kids be so kind and inclusive of my littles?  Well, heart swells doesn’t begin to cover it.

It was me missing my husband the second week because he had to come home to work and I really really missed his company and our teamwork.  I don’t show him that enough.


Guilt remorse regret.  Gratitude, joy, laughter.  All the feelings. All at once.


There are things you see in our vacation photos – things that make you think, OH MAN THEY HAD THE PERFECT VACATION – and we really did, however.  There were many moments of stress and frustration and exhaustion.  So let me break it down for you – what you see in the pictures and what you don’t see after the frame.

What you see – cute strollers strapped together by connectors that “help” me push two at once without bringing our huge Bob stroller on the plane with us.


What you don’t see – me crying on the inside and swearing every swear word imaginable because those mother effing wheels don’t work for shite.  They are the devils work, these cheap umbrella strollers and make me 11 million times more thankful for our used Double Bob jogger.  It’s a freaking limo.

What you see – kids having an absolute ball at the beach with their cousins.


What you don’t see – the pouring out of sand and washing out the bottom crack and inside of these children hours later it’s still in there how is it still in there?  Bug bites and rock cuts on your feet.  They don’t photograph so well.  Little bastards.

What you see – A family out at the band concert with candy and balloons and singing and dancing and light sticks and blankets and pictures being taken.


What you don’t see – a grown father and daughter seething with hurt and regret over conflict hours before but putting on a good face for the kids.  It’s all for the kids.  Our hearts are all on our sleeves, even when we are fully grown.  Maybe even more so.  Luckily we have another chance to go to the next week’s band concert and make up for it.  You just never know how many chances you have.

What you see – kids getting ready for bed, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, kissing everybody goodnight one last time and climbing up to bed.

What you don’t see – this mom counting the seconds until they stop resisting their overtired natures and just fall into sleep so she can go downstairs eat some junk food and watch 10 minutes of a show on Netflix before crashing into sleep and waking at 5am to do it all over again the next day.  Hopefully and thankfully.  But not before she drags her tired bones back up the stairs to give them one more kiss and watch them while they’re sleeping for a minute.  One of the best parts of her day.  Her reset button.  Her gratitude bucket runneth over.

What you see – A child having a tantrum about wanting something she really shouldn’t have and the mom calmly trying to assure her she doesn’t need that thing right now. You hear, “Mama I don’t want you to be our mama any more”.

My sweetest hearts.

What you don’t see – the mom being proud of the daughter because she did, in fact, calm herself down and moved onto the next right thing.  Pride in exerting her own desires and wants and then being ok when told no even when it really ticked her off.  The girl saying, “But mama, we don’t ever want you to die.” And then singing quietly, “mama is the best mama is the best mama is the best” after she’s calmed down.

What you see –  A great big table at a restaurant full of kids and adults that are obviously related and having a special meal after cooking and cleaning for this huge group every night for almost two weeks.


What you don’t see – the bonds.  The way this little family has grown so big.  Bigger than they ever dreamed of.  Mostly in unseen ways.  The love and affection they have for each other. Hard to express it.  Big.  Like a house.

What you see – 4 kids behaving really well and going with the flow and two littler kids – the 3 year old twins – having  a much harder time because they are used to routine and structure and miss their playroom and their bedroom.  They are rowdy and at moments out of control and their mom is seemingly letting it happen.


What you don’t see – The mom is sympathetic to her kids.  This is out of their comfort zone and it’s not their fault.  This mom is trying her best not to compare kids and behavior for she knows comparison is the thief of joy, but also, her kids are perfect just as they are.  They are 3 years old and it’s rough sometimes to deal with change.  Hell, she knows it as a 43 year old.  They’re doing just fine.

What you see – a mom grabbing her kids and taking a long walk and getting donuts and coffee even when they get donuts a lot….I mean a lot.


What you don’t see – that mom really needs some time alone and for her alone sometimes means with just her kids because that’s calming for all of them and they have the best talks over coffee and donuts. We did some serious hiking on the roads out there with no sidewalks and extra hills.  After crossing a busy street (running with stroller) these kids yelling, “good job mama!  You’re our hero!”

What you see – a mom sighing and exhausted and put out by her kids.  Every mom has to take care of her kids, so why do you get the luxury of being put upon?

I got all the flowers.

What you don’t see – this same mom moments later laughing so hard with her kids that she has tears running down her cheeks and her kids say, “is it happy crying or sad crying” and you say happy and they try to make you laugh even more because that is one of their favorite things to do. This mom is grateful every day even through exhaustion and chaos for this life and these kids.  Every moment.  Every moment grateful.  Even when it’s really hard and she’s really over it.

What you see – a dad – the patriarch of this family –  spending an exorbitant amount of money for a vacation for his family that seems over the top and grandiose and so many people will never ever get to take a trip like this and taking two weeks off work seems like such a luxury and it must be nice.


What you don’t see – This dad, grandfather, has been working hard his whole life and this is what he wanted to do more than anything for his 70th birthday so he saved and planned and set everything up for optimum enjoyment at little to no cost to his family and we all had a once in a lifetime trip together that we don’t take for granted for one second even when we were a little annoyed or put out or impatient.  You don’t see that we love so much that our hearts break a little each time we have to leave each other.  You don’t see that we are so alike underneath it all and love so hard that it hurts to even look each other in the eye sometimes.  When we check in and ask “are you ok?” we know the answer already.

We know what it means.  We know none of us are getting any younger.  We know that these kids are only little once.  We know that we are all still here and yet life and distance get in the way and for two weeks we got to be together in one house and share in the daily activities that we never get to as adults and with our own kids and it was wonderful.  Hearing stories and laughter and raucous playing with 6 kids that we’ve brought into this out of control world – this privilege that we have – we are aware.  We are happy.  We are grateful. We are tired.  We are so appreciative of our parents for making it all happen.  Words cannot express the gratitude.

I talked with my mom and sister in law about how we used to judge how other families or even just people lived their lives.  If it wasn’t up to our standards, it was less than or wrong.  Well, not anymore.  All of us have had epiphanies.  Life changing events that have caused us to re-evaluate everything.  I don’t know anybody else’s life and they don’t know mine.  Not really.

Nobody knows our low lows and high highs that happen all in a day.  In an hour, hell in a minute.  Having kids and having kids on a vacation of a lifetime is a lot of pressure.  The need to be in the moment and soak it all in is so important.  But it’s also ok to take a moment to yourself.  To say, I need a break.  For self preservation. To say I need to be away from people for a while.  Even though we don’t see each other all that often, it doesn’t mean we need to be in each other’s faces 24/7.  Nobody wants that.

I try my best to live without expectation – good or bad.  It is what it is.  If you have expectations all the time, you miss what is really in front of you.  And it’s really really good.


After two weeks away with my entire family, I am so grateful to be home.  Which makes me realize how much I truly value and enjoy my every day life.  That’s a really good thing.

I love love love hanging out with my kids so much that it feels like a vacation almost every day I get to be with them.  Even when they’re being little jerks, we still find the good moments.

So yes, a vacation isn’t really a vacation with little kids.  But damn, how lucky are we that we get the opportunity to do it?  And then to be with the rest of our family?  Look around, look around at HOW LUCKY WE ARE TO BE ALIVE RIGHT NOW.

All that said, I thrive on structure and routine, and if I could I would kiss structure and routine I right on the lips, because I’ve missed them that much.  Walking into work last week felt like a vacation.  This trip was exhausting.  But in such good ways.


It’s good to be on vacation.  But it’s also good to be home.  If home is so terrible that you long to be on vacation all the time, well, you know what I’m saying…..

Home is where the bra isn’t.  But that vacation bra time?  That wasn’t so bad at all.  Totally worth it.

So many firsts happened, so many lasts.  So many moments I whispered to myself – don’t forget this.


My dad had made a master vacation playlist for his ipod that we listened to in the minivan the whole time and this was one of the last songs we heard in Boston before leaving and coming home – appropriate, no?

How do you measure a year in the life?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?
In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife

From Rent, the Musical.

A year in the making, this vacation was.  And I know my dad well enough to know he’s a bit sad that it’s over.  We don’t have it to look forward to.  The next thing, as he always likes to look ahead.  And we all keep saying, just soak this in.  Just revel in this moment.  All we have.  All we have.  It’s so good.

The truth about vacations with kids?  They’re hard work.  They’re not carefree.  They’re not easy.  But they are memory makers.  They are investments in your family and nostalgia builders. They are experiences that you’ll only have once and yet years later you’ll try to recreate them and they will never be quite the same.  But the feelings are there.  And they are delicious.  So we keep doing it because we want our kids to have that.  We want them to know what it feels like to look back on childhood memories with such fondness and gratitude that they pass it on.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely.  A million times over and over with no thought to how much work it is.


We said our goodbyes to our vacation house and cousins and I hugged everybody too long and too hard and we said, “Bye cousins.  Bye house. Bye room. I’m gonna miss our room in our vacation house. But our room at home has rails on our little beds so we don’t fall off.  So that’s good.”

As I arrive home and see tourists with strollers I realize again excitedly that I live somewhere people come on vacation. And that’s pretty damn cool.




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