Last week, my family and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for a much-needed “vacation.” For the past thirteen years, we’ve stayed at a beloved bed and breakfast, squeezing a cot and, most recently, a pack-and-play next to our four-post canopy bed. Sure, we had kids, but nothing had to change. We could still enjoy our quaint New England home away from home. It would just be a little, well, noisier.
Sadly, last summer, after the second day of our son waking up at dawn and screaming his little lungs out — much to the chagrin of the other house guests, whom I feared were about to turn into the New England version of villagers with pitchforks (graying old ladies wielding tacit disapproval and sailboat-themed throw pillows) — we realized a change was necessary. And so we withdrew our life savings and rented a house on the island. Armed with a couple of books and some sunblock, we prepared for a week of rest of and relaxation with the kids.
Such delusions were our first mistake.
Vacations with children are wonderful. They’re filled with magical first moments, family togetherness, and a refreshing disconnect from technology. What they’re not filled with is sleep. Or anything resembling “relaxation.” Vacationing with a small child is a bit like vacationing with a werewolf. Everything may be fine by day; come nightfall, and you’re living in terror of howls from above. Here are six signs that you’re vacationing with small children:
1. The roosters are relying on you to wake them up. Every day, at the crack of dawn, our toddler son arose from his slumbers, desperately crying out for mama and cheese. In retrospect, we should have placed a cheese plate in his crib at bedtime; we might have been able to sleep in (and by that I mean later than 6 a.m., of course).
2. You’re counting the minutes until nap time — yours, not the kids’. Sure, you’ve planned a full day of snorkeling, swimming, or museum hopping. But nothing compares to that sweet window of time the kids hit the sack, and your head finally hits the pillow.
3. You’ve become the Sun Tzu of Go Fish. You’ve masterminded strategies for every possible card-fishing contingency, and your poker face is worthy of any game in Vegas. If the Bellagio ever opens a Go Fish table, your kids are getting a full ride to college.
4. You know the location of every ice cream shop within a thirty-mile radius. You even have the ice cream man on speed-dial, right above your mother and your kids’ pediatrician. Because nothing pacifies an overtired kindergartner (or her mommy) like chocolate-chip cookie dough.
5. You’ve resorted to a hose for applying sunblock. Face it: there’s no easy way to rub SPF 200 on a wiggling toddler attempting to climb onto your head while you slather sunblock on his tiny torso. Desperate times call for desperate measures…
6. Despite the exhaustion, it’s the perfect trip. During our vacation, I watched my five-year-old tentatively jump from a pier without her floaties, bursting with pride to the water’s surface, finally trusting herself to swim on her own. I watched my son explore hidden corners of his strange new environment, squealing with delight over an unexpected flower hidden in blades of grass, or an old Highlights magazine lurking under his sister’s bed. I watched my kids laugh together, shout together, and spend every moment they could in each other’s company. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or the sugar rush from the five pounds of fudge I consumed, but I felt a rare exhilaration that made me never want to leave that island.
Ultimately, vacationing with kids is hard work that may make you wonder why you ever voluntarily left your house. But I like to think that, when I look back at the photos of my family playing in the sand, I won’t remember that my daughter just had a meltdown because my son chewed the front door off her sand castle. I’ll remember that, for one shining moment, my phone was off, my laptop was hundreds of miles away, and we were the only people in our little world. Even if we all passed out five minutes later.