It seems silly to call a trip with your toddler-aged children a “vacation,” right? I mean, we all know what “vacation” literally means — “freedom from duty, responsibility” — and hence, flying to the sunny shores of Florida with two 16-month-old children definitely shouldn’t qualify, right?
Wrong! I am here to tell you that I did indeed take a vacation with my husband and our twin 16-month-old toddlers last week. And no, it wasn’t always pretty, but YES, I did manage to relax and enjoy my time, despite their presence. So, if you’re planning a last summer hurrah over Labor Day, here are a few tips:
1. Snack cups. Seriously, the girls love these things. I don’t know if it has to do with being “in charge” of something, or an ownership thing, but the girls love to walk around with their fists clenched tightly around a snack cup (full of snacks, obviously). So we gave them snack cups at the beach, in the car, at the pool, etc. This occupied them far longer than you might expect.
2. Easy access to relaxation. Stay in a place where you only have to walk a maximum of five minutes to get to the pool or beach. That way, when your break time arrives, you can go and get there quickly. When our girls went down for a nap, one of us would grab a book and a towel, and hit the beach alone. If the partner on duty needed backup, the person on break could always get back lickety-split.
3. Travel with others. More specifically, take friends who you like but who are going to give you space and who understand the limitations of travel with kids. We went south with close friends who have two young kids. We had big family dinners where the kids got messy while the adults drank wine and chatted. We babysat for one another. We commiserated, but the commiseration happened in the ocean, which made it much less com-miserable. (Also: since your friends also have young kids, they will be just as restricted as you are, and therefore everyone’s perspective is equally evenly skewed.
4. Dispense with anal-retentive tendencies. This is a hard one for me. However, I am sure I had more of a vacation because I allowed my children to eat sand, eat off the floor, wear the same diaper for hours, take late naps, take mis-timed naps, eat greasy food, etc. etc. Now that we’re home, we’re back to being clean and healthy.
5. If possible, schedule at least one night off with your partner. If you are not traveling with friends who can handle babysitting duties, then look into local babysitting services. Most hotels or time-share rental places will have lists of reliable providers.
6. Bring at least one book or delicious magazine. If you manage to read any portion of it, you will feel like you are on vacation a little bit. Especially if said reading happens pool or beachside.
7. If possible, get a room with a view. This way, if you are on duty and your children are napping or nagging or whining or even just playing nicely, you can tend to them but also steal peeks of the ocean or the sunset. This is a very nice thing indeed.
8. Go for long. Like at least a week. If you can. Not only does this allow you to recover from the travel (er, I’m not even going to talk about flights. You’re on your own there) but it allows you to actually relax into being on vacation. I would say 10 days is ideal, but most of us don’t have that kind of time/money/etc. A week is just awesome.
9. Document with photographs. Whatever happens, even if your vacation winds up feeling like work, you are guaranteed to miss the palm trees once you return. Once you’re home, looking at photos of your little ones covered in sand with an ocean in the background is a sure-fire way to forget what was hard about the trip and remember only the sweet stuff.
10. Manage expectations. This is not going to be like any vacation you ever took before you had kids. It’s going to be very very different. Climb into bed at night, exhausted after a full day of chasing babies on the beach, and recount with your partner what those other trips were like. Then fall asleep secure in the knowledge that one day, when the kids are at sleep-away camp, you will again bask in the glory of a child-less holiday. Until then: snack cups.