Last week I took the kids to the beach for a few days while Greg traveled for work. (Notice I did not say I took a vacation.) Here are a few things I learned about embarking on such an adventure.
Toddlers and mobile infants do not like being strapped down for long periods of time. By long, I mean more than half an hour. This might seem obvious, but if you know you’re going to have to immobilize them, you’re going to have to accept and prepare for the fact that you will have to stop. A lot. On the way to the beach, our first stop was prompted by Eliza about 20 minutes in, who was screaming. She had started to nod off but woke in her usual way these days when she has night terrors. I decided to fill up the tank and check on her. At the gas station I chose to hold my already full bladder to avoid taking both kids into the bathroom because Zach was asleep and Eliza said she didn’t have to pee (and had calmed down). About three seconds before entering the on-ramp again, she said, “Pee, pee, PEE PEE!!” So, our first stop became two stops. I lugged both kids into a Burger King bathroom to find Eliza had wet herself. I checked her car seat. Wet. I guess whatever dream she had about dogs barking scared her enough to pee. I changed her clothes and strapped her back into the damp seat. The next stop was prompted by Zach crying, who needed to eat. The final stop was prompted by Google maps, which clearly screwed up its satellite imagery of how to get from 295 North onto the Atlantic City Expressway via routes 168 and 42. (Of course it was now rush hour as well, so every wrong turn meant more time sitting doing nothing on a course to nowhere.) I’m not sure what town is in the middle of all that, but I had to get out at a convenience store in what I think was a poor suburb of Philadelphia with both kids and get help. Zach also screamed for the last half hour of the trip before arriving at the rental house, but I was NOT going to stop again. (I knew I would just be prolonging the torture.) The point is that what should have been a 3 1/2 hour trip lasted 5 hours, 15 minutes. You have to assume the journey will require lots of stops for young children and take about 25-40% longer than it should.
Have a plan to keep them busy when they must be in car seats. I had planned to take the drive over afternoon nap time so the kids would sleep, and that at least bought me some quiet time. (Of course, Eliza did not sleep at all on the way back after we stopped for lunch, but Zach did – until the last half hour, when he decided to scream.) I was going to borrow my friend’s portable DVD player, but she couldn’t find the cord for it at the last minute. Having Dora along for the ride would have helped a LOT. Instead, Eliza wanted to sing songs she knows over and over and over again until we were hoarse. If I would stop singing, she would say, “bitsy spideh gain, BITSY SPIDEH GAIN!” I’ve also heard you should take a trip to the dollar store and get some new toys so you can keep your kids occupied. Snacks that take a long time to eat (such as raisins or goldfish) are also helpful. I put them in the snack trap cup for Eliza so she would only minimally spill them everywhere. Of course, it is not easy to pass food and toys back from the driver’s seat, which leads me to my next point.
If at all possible, have a one-to-one adult-to-child ratio. This, I have already learned, is the key to a successful trip anywhere with little ones – the aquarium, the zoo, the mall – and especially a multi-day outing. Of course, there are times you have to, or even want to, travel with them alone. I definitely prayed several times that God would keep me from crashing while driving as I wrangled my right arm around behind me to hand Eliza food or fish around for her blankie that she dropped. If someone had been in the passenger seat, the drive itself would have been much safer. At the beach, there was never the same group of moms and kids there, but my friend who organized the trip brought a babysitter as well as her sister-in-law, and I am being honest when I say I couldn’t have done it without their help. Looking back, I think most of my conversations began with, “Would you mind holding Zach while … ” or “would you watch Eliza while … “. Everyone pitched in, which was great. I honestly think they felt bad for me. It’s kind of weird to hear someone say, “It’s very different to hear you talk about how hard it is with the two of them versus living it. This is great birth control!”
No matter how hard it is, you have to do it. It takes guts and a lot of work and planning, but what’s the alternative? I’m pretty good at keeping my kids on a schedule because I really value how important sleep and routine are to growth in their early years. But sometimes, you have to get out and do things. And there’s something to be said for teaching your children to be flexible and how to adapt to different situations. Of course they didn’t eat or sleep as well as they normally do, but they had a great time and experienced something new. One of the most important things I’m taking away from this trip is that I have to plan the next one.
But I hope in-between I get a real vacation, which would entail leaving the kids at home.