I was at the beach recently with my toes in the sand watching my three-year-old twins attack what they thought was a live crab. It was actually a carcass. They are savages. With the breeze and the birds and the reef in the background, I couldn’t make myself care. This was the first time I’d sat down on a vacation in five years. With three kids under five, sitting wasn’t an option. If I could have upgraded my parental traveling status like I could upgrade hotel rooms, I would have. But now that the cooler houses both lemonade for the kids and adult beverages again, I’ve had a chance to whittle down the things that matter and the things that just don’t when on a family vacation:
This one’s obvious, but also not. I’m not sure how, but I’ve managed to let entire family trips pass me by like a lucid dream. Between planning potty breaks and rental cars and child-proofing like MacGyver, I’ve forgotten about the people. If the point of traveling is to get up close and personal with the ones you love, then that should probably include some eye contact and conversation about something other than logistics. It takes more conscious effort than you’d think.
“Water, water everywhere and not drop to drink.” Coleridge was a poet and a visionary. Between pools and oceans and amusement parks and parking lots, I’ve had my fair share of desperate situations. Safety has to come first. The kids have to know the rules. No walking anywhere without holding a parent’s hand. No swimming without us. And no drinking the pool water, because we’ve all seen “Caddyshack” and that’s just gross.
If I’m going to Charleston, South Carolina, I’m going to see Fort Sumter and walk the old city streets. If I’m going to Maryland, I’m going to eat some crab. It’s easy to seek out the old familiars in unfamiliar places, but a McDonald’s PlayPlace and a trampoline park will be the same everywhere. You might as well take the tour, eat the weird and awesome food, and let that one experience be different from all the rest.
I am pro-sleep, and I don’t care who knows it. Naps and bedtimes don’t have to happen at the same times with the same military precision, but they have to happen. We all need to be able to hit the reset button or nothing and nobody will be any fun. This advice comes from experience. We’ve tried it both ways. Throwing caution to the wind did not work with any of our internal clocks.
I mean, sure, a click on the old iPhone isn’t going to hurt anybody. But the ritual of the Christmas-card-quality beach shot or the staging of “quirky” Instagram moments can ruin you. Sometimes a mental shot is enough. Your kids will thank you when their internet footprint is one pixel smaller due to your self-control.
Raise your hand if you can work anywhere. Me, too. I work in my head even as my body is at rest. And sometimes that’s okay. The best-laid plans were hatched by the likes of us constant creators. But! That doesn’t extend to emails and texts and everything else that goes along with the gig. Brainstorming is one thing. Gripping your phone like you’re on call for the Bat Signal is another (she says as she gently lays it aside).
Hot spots, or not
Listen, when you’re checking a party of five into a restaurant at 5 p.m., you’ve got to give up the idea of cool. It’s you and the octogenarians for the early bird special. Sure, some people may be headed to the trendy spots with real tablecloths and glasses that don’t come with lids, but that’s just not you right now. Be a trendsetter when the kids are old enough to watch themselves. In the meantime, enjoy the nightcap with your significant other after bedtime and watch a little “Westworld” with your feet up.
Okay, so sometimes you’re going to need to check those work emails. And you’re going to lose your cool when the minivan DVD player is on the fritz. And you’re not going to hit every item on the vacation bucket list. And you might eat more chicken fingers than fresh seafood at the beach. It’s all okay. At least you made the herculean effort to get everyone out of the house and on the road and into a new space to try a few things. What’s a good vacation without a few horror stories to take home with you anyway? In the grand scheme of things, vacations will come and go. Some will be worth remembering, and some will be worth serious psychological suppression. Family, though...they’re for life. We might as well pick the things to care about and let the rest go before we lose it, National Lampoon-style.