Kids Can Make or Break a Vacation


By Kathy P. Behan

For years, my husband and I have advocated separate vacations. But the kids keep finding us.

–Erma Bombeck

Vacation. They’ve got to come up with a different word. It’s certainly not a real vacation when you go somewhere and bring the kids along. Well, if you have a babysitter in tow, it would probably count. But otherwise this time away from home is suspiciously close to everyday life, except it’s infinitely more inconvenient and stressful.

For starters, the alleged vacation begins with one of my favorites — packing. Now, trying to decide what and how much to bring is bad enough when deciding on your own clothes. But when you also have to do this for two, three or four other people (depending on the number of kids you have), it becomes a brain-boggling endeavor, especially when the kids insist on “helping.”

After I had sorted through everyone’s outfits, arranged the cooler, decided which baby paraphernalia to take, kept the kids at bay and organized the car toys, my husband came home and innocently inquired, “Did you pack for me?” He still hasn’t recovered from my response.

We also seem to have a problem keeping things packed. In the short time that unguarded suitcases are left in the hallway before they’re safely stowed in the car, many of the bags somehow manage to get ransacked. Maybe rifling through freshly-packed suitcases is a right of passage that all kids must go through. In any event, regardless of the child’s motivation, I have all too often found one of my kids sitting amid the scattered contents of the luggage.

Before our last trip, I caught one of my sons frantically searching through his bag. He suddenly let out a joyful whoop and triumphantly announced, “Great job, Mom! I was afraid you’d forget to pack my new purple sweatshirt.”

Despite the harrowing and time-consuming preparation, we usually begin our trip in splendid humor.

We start out singing travel songs, playing games about spotting license plates, and with the kids happily trading car toys. After an hour or so, these amusements begin to wear thin so I bring out the treats. Unfortunately, the kids devour the juice boxes and snacks in seconds, so we’re still left with a huge chunk of driving time looming ahead.

Kids, of course, do know how to fill this time. They begin taunting each other, throwing their toys, whining and trying to get their siblings into trouble. All the while, my husband and I are desperately trying to engage them in quieter and more genteel distractions.

It’s no use. Despite our best efforts, spending hours with cooped up, bored and irrational children, we usually arrive at our destination in a frazzled and completely exhausted state.

The joy of our arrival is soon replaced with the pain of unpacking. To put it bluntly, chaos ensues. We try to unload the car and determine who and what goes where, while simultaneously watching the kids and refereeing arguments between them. We’re not having fun yet.

We hop into our bathing suits and head for the beach. The sand is burning hot, the sun is scorching, but ironically the water is so cold that my limbs are instantly paralyzed. Only the most hardy adults and seemingly all the children are able to remain more than a few seconds in the arctic ocean. After alternating between frying and freezing, my husband and I are ready to call it quits. But not our kids. They’re splashing and swimming and digging with gusto. Only the most heartless parents would drag them away from such intense pleasure. And so we remain.

After another hour or so, we head back to our vacation home. We bathe the kids. No easy feat, since they’re all sand-encrusted . Then after we’re all showered and changed, we head out to dinner. Our destination? A high-decibel family-type restaurant. Ambience, hah! Good food is not even an important criteria. No, what we’re looking for is a place where our kids can easily blend into the noise and turmoil of their surroundings. We’re successful. We eat in a place that conjures up images of the food-fight cafeteria scene in the movie “Animal House.” The kids are in heaven.

On the way home, we stop for soft ice cream (so much for diet No. 374). The children adore their frozen concoctions and manage to only dump half their gooey contents onto the car’s interior. After reading books, brushing teeth, changing into pajamas and engaging in bedtime negotiations, the kids are finally down for the night.

Now it’s our turn. To do what? We can’t go out — not that we have the energy for a night on the town. After all, when you’re up at the crack of dawn and doing kid entertainment all day, you’re too pooped to party. Our vacation nights are mostly spent reading and watching TV. If we’re up for some real excitement, we play cards or backgammon. Whoop-de-do!

And so it goes. The kids are in their glory cavorting on the beach, going to the children’s museum, animal shows, playing miniature golf and they happily take part in the other diversions we’ve carefully planned for them. But the bottom line is that my husband and I don’t really get any R&R, unless going to bed early qualifies.

Despite the lack of adult entertainment and “down time,” I have a confession to make. I really am having a great time. Watching the excitement and enjoyment of my children is amazingly satisfying and renewing. Since becoming a parent, I find I can only truly relax and enjoy myself when the kids are close by.

On occasion, my husband and I have taken off for a few days and left the children with relatives. But even though I know the kids are well taken care of, they’re on my mind so often, I can’t really enjoy the solitude.

And so, until the children are older, we’ll continue to have family vacations. But they really should come up with a different name. Kid-acation. Vaca-dren…

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

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