Vacation With Kids

Posted On: 09.05.12

Before it happens, your mind will play tricks. You are a bit giddy, trying on “day outfits” and “night outfits” because, patently, the evenings will call for more glamor. As you fold tiny clothes into neat stacks, counting up bathing suits and sundry tutu skirts (never forget the tutu skirts), you picture the weeks ahead: smooth flights full of iPad surrender and lolli-pop sweetness (Disney Junior and lollies help, and profoundly, with different kinds of pressure that tend to manifest midair); car rides full of song and whimsy and improvised family games; sleep and serenity of the salty resort-breed; sun-kissed chubby cheeks, forever frozen in smiles; end-of-the-day hugs that scream appreciation; time to read and reflect and ponder the slide of seasons.

But then the day arrives. Departure day. And the early morning car service arrives to whisk you to the airport. And though you requested the biggest vehicle available, one adequate to accommodate, yes, three car seats, the car is conspicuous in its smallness, and the seats do not fit and your eldest child, a perennially reasonable child, is essentially sitting in the way-way back, her booster technically strapped in somewhere, but all but bobbing in a sea of your over-stuffed luggage. As you approach Newark, items of said luggage tumble on said child. And she is a good sport about it, but when you arrive – at the entirely wrong entrance to the terminal, thank you driver – this little angel announces her need to vomit. And so. Being the good parent that you are, you hoist her up over the cigarette laden trash, unwittingly approximating some iteration of the Heimlich Maneuver, and out it comes: a sweet swirly mess of Lucky Charms marshmallows, now in drippy and mocking liquid form. You have been pleading with her, and all of them, to also eat the cereal bits, but to no avail.

You wait on a long, winding line. Your children, obedient little beings for the most part, are bundles of energy, excited of course. And so they dance in place and run around clumsily, twirling their animal-shaped backpacks, flinging their little bodies under the retracting dividers, bumping into fellow passengers. You hear yourself say one word over and over: Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

After willing your kids to eat something pre-flight – dark chocolate covered banana bits and Gatorade will apparently have to do – you board the plane. Despite the fact that you booked all five seats together months ago, your seats are not together. They are within the same vicinity, a fact that gives you considerable hope. As you stumble to the back of the plane, you assure yourself that people will help out; you are traveling with three kids under five after all! There are two men, seated next to each other, immersed in a jovial exchange, who need to move back one row. One measly row. That’s it. Hardly the sacrifice. And the man on the aisle, an older gent, a man whose probably got a collection of kids and grandkids stowed away somewhere, is swift to oblige, unbuckle and move. But the other one? A young guy? Your husband asks him in the most diplomatic way possible if he’s willing to move just one row, and this guy’s face contorts in an immediate and baffling anger. He glares at your children and begins to shake. Says no. About seventeen times. And then mumbles: You don’t care about me. I don’t care about you. You’re not going to compensate me for my time.

Ah, humanity.

And so. Your family faces a fate of avian separation. You, the lucky one, are seated between the eldest (the kind, vomiting one) and the youngest (cute as ever, prone to a curdling scream). She starts to wail the moment you settle in. And then you learn that the pilot has not yet arrived. And that one runway is closed.

Two hours later, you take off. Thanks to an endless stream of Barney stickers, Blow-Pops, and Gummi-Lifesavers, the flight is decent. In an audible and grating whisper, the bitter man behind you complains about your kids the whole time and all you want to do is turn around and clock him. But you don’t. You bite your tongue and lovingly feed your progeny a steady stream of sugar and cartoons.

At the airport, as your better half is loading the rental mini-van, your clever children play soda bottle soccer on the pavement. Then you decide it would be a fun idea to give your one-year-old a sip of your Diet Dr. Pepper. Then you take a picture of your blue-eyed babe clutching the bottle of soda and post it to Facebook, along with a cute confession of your liberal ways. And then you wonder whether you should have done that. Meanwhile, your eldest, the very reasonable one remember, is announcing something through a huge orange construction cone, her little lips curled around the top.

At some point, you arrive at your destination and feel victorious. Until your baby wakes up at 4:30 the next morning. Until you realize your iPhone is mysteriously shattered into a million little pieces and the screen is smeared with the innards of a Nutri-Grain bar. Mixed berry, you presume. Until you realize that your cute clothes and nighties will remain woefully wrinkled in the bottom of your suitcase and that you will instead basically live in the overpriced, over-sized J’♥ Malibu sweatshirt you bought at a yoga studio even though you’ve never been to Malibu and you certainly don’t ♥ it.

At some point, the tides shift. Your kids begin to sleep and smile a lot. You notice that you aren’t bitching about being shredded with exhaustion. You notice that you have read a couple of books, are starting to feel relaxed. You notice that you are feeling a steady stream of joy watching your kids play with their cousins, and squeal through late-night games of Flashlight Tag on the pristine California lawn. You notice that your baby is saying new words. You delight in the fact that your middle child is sleeping with your neon yellow scarf every night because “it smells like Mommy.” You notice that you have not watched television, a typical staple of escape, for two whole weeks. And you are pleased.

But then. It is time, to do it again. Fold those tiny things into piles, messier this time. Shove said piles into clunky rectangular beasts with wheels. Stock up on items for the bribery you will again employ.

But this time? Your visions are not of beaches and sunny perfection. Your visions are of home. Of toys spilling from the cabinets, of shoes strewn by the front door, of mail piling up, of the cats you left behind.


And suddenly you can’t get there fast enough.

Any vacation with kids stories? People on planes stories? Am I the only one who has a hard time relaxing on family vacations? Do you think vacations with kids are the Universe’s way of reminding us how much we cherish, and appreciate, home?

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Oh, and...

  • Speaking of the glamor of parenthood (ha), check out this wonderful article over at Psychology Today by Susan Newman, PhD. I was thrilled to learn that Susan mentioned yours truly in it!
  • My latest at the Huffington Post: My interview with the lovely & talented Gretchen Rubin. Her book Happier At Home hit shelves yesterday and is absolutely wonderful.
  • Help! Anyone know where I can get my hands on a Doc McStuffins Halloween costume?



29 Comments for: "Vacation With Kids"
  1. Monica Roberts

    So true! This made me smile.

  2. Mira

    Love this post! Especially the part about Facebook because I think we all do that, posting weird things and then wondering why we did. Did she like the soda? 🙂

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      She did like the soda, unfortunately. She has also tried to sneak sips of my iced coffee and Husband’s white wine. Not good, but kind of funny!

  3. JHL

    Hilarious. Sounds like you all had quite the adventure. Good that you are able to laugh about it. Those children keep us on our toes, don’t they? And soda bottle soccer IS clever.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Yes, as a former soccer player who is married to a former soccer player, I took great pleasure in the fact that they turned the soda bottle into a soccer ball. An adventure indeed. Happy to be home.

  4. No, no kids. But I thank you for this anyway. You remind me that people traveling with children are doing the best they can. I promise I will be a bit more patient on my next flight (and hopefully the little ‘angel’ behind me will stop kicking my seat.)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      So funny that you write this because the trip home on the plane involved a certain angel kicking a certain kid and a wonderful woman who was SO unbelievably understanding. Future post! Yes, for the most part we parental units are doing what we can to keep the peace. I know I feel for fellow parents who are struggling with their wee ones; no one wants this, or chooses it.

  5. I don’t have children but your story made me smile. I flew to London two summers ago to babysit a friends triplet nieces. That was an adventure. Had to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the car and road while navigating foreign streets with three screaming 11 year olds in the back seat. The was a true test of my nerves. But my favorite part was having to get them from Heathrow to Rome in one piece. the morning of the trip two of the girls got into a knock down drag out fist fight over the remote control and the dog. Once I got to Heathrow to check us in all three girls were fighting (pinching, poking, making fun of the weaker sibling. You know the usual.) I think the people in line thought I was the worst mother ever! I wanted to put on a sign that said not my children. And like you once I got to the plane they had switched us up on seats. Try explaining to one triplet why her sisters want to sit together and not with her. Anyway, it all turned out fine and I enjoyed my time with the girls but it made me appreciate traveling alone!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh man, all of this sounds SO familiar. Yes, traveling alone becomes like a spa treatment 🙂 There have been very few occasions on which I’ve traveled sans the kiddos. Interestingly, on these trips I have felt far more anxious about flying. Alas, a good thing about traveling as a family – no time at all to focus on the fact that you are suspended in the sky. Love the bit about how you wanted to wear the sign!

  6. maureen

    Love it! Especially the part about the outfits! On this year’s vacation I finally decided that it wasn’t worth changing because anything I wore ended up with my 1.5 year olds meal all over it.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I know. I always bring such an array of clothes and then I end up wearing the same few things over and over, wrinkles, stains and all. It’s very sexy. But I kind of love the fact that we never learn, that we always imagine THIS will be the time when we have that civilized getaway.

  7. V

    I have to give you a huge virtual hug because you handled that flight so well! The only direct flight from LAX to TPA is a redeye, which we typically avoid like the plague. We travel this route to my family 4 times/yr, and I am happy to connect to avoid the crappy plane (not a tv in sight), lights off within minutes of the door closing and the terror (mine) of sitting with our boys (3.5 and 1.5) in the dark. This summer, to use a companion ticket, we had the pleasure of confirming that all my reservations about that flight were 100% correct. First, our seats were separated as well, which is infuriating considering we also take pains to make sure we are all together. My always happy 1.5 year old screamed for 45 minutes after a delay pushed him over the edge. The 3.5 year old, although well-behaved, slept only 45 minutes all night. Besides my frayed nerves, I couldn’t believe the under-the-breath comments all around. Unlike you, I lost my cool and told my husband the teenage children of the woman in front of us must have walked out of her vagina full grown considering she had no memory of the challenges of dealing with toddlers (on a redeye no less!). I didn’t whisper. So you should be proud. As for me, never again.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Oh, I love this. Especially what you said to the mom in front of you. All of us need to realize that these situations are trying and that we parents are doing the best we can. There is so much we can’t control and we are trying. Sometimes, I am really amazed that I don’t lose my cool. Oddly, I think kids have mellowed me. I think I used to have much more of a temper. Or maybe Husband mellowed me; he is a freakishly mellow guy, which I appreciate. So happy to see you here, V! Hope you and your boys are good. We so enjoyed Cali; I imagine you have quite the sunny life there. One of these days we must meet up! xxo

  8. Kristen

    Oh goodness – what a flight! I would have switched seats if it had been me (I’m a firm believer in karma).

    I’m a wreck when I travel and don’t settle until I’m at my destination. It does take away from the excitement of getting there, but I hate the unsettled feeling and it is very hard for me to relax until everything (including me) is in its place.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Travel days are tricky beasts. And even more so with the little ones. I am realizing that the kids help with my anxiety about flying which is a nice thing. I’ve heard others say that having kids makes them more anxious about flying and I am glad that this is not the case for me. I think having kids makes me more anxious about flying without them. Good thing that doesn’t happen much!

      Thanks, Kristen!

  9. In May we traveled to Florida (13 hr drive) for a Disney cruise that was to kick off our two week Disney cruise/Disney world/South Carolina Beach vacation. The ride down was perfect with the little guy (2.5 yrs old) happily entertaining himself with Disney Junior, Thomas the Train, coloring books, and “new toys.” We thought it was a dream come true to have such a wonderful little traveler AND then we pulled into the hotel (for our pre-cruise stay) around 2am and at that point little man realized that we were NOT actually at “Mickey’s boat” and Mickey and his friends were not there…cue major toddler meltdown. I am certain that all our hotel neighbors were cursing us for the 40 minutes it took to calm him down. Valuable lesson learned: Tiny kids have no concept of time. If you say, “We are going on a trip to Mickey’s boat” then the first place you arrive better be Mickey’s boat!

    Re: Doc McStuffins, I have a friend who put together a Doc costume just this past weekend for her daughter (age 6) following this guide:

    It came out great and she is very excited to use it when Halloween season gets here! She added the headband (even though guide does not mention it) and is going to put her daughters hair in braids. To top off the costume, she went to the Disney store and picked up the stuffed dragon on the show (not sure of his name) for her to carry around.

    Good luck with finding or making one!!!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I so love your travel story and I am BEYOND thankful about the Doc McStuffins info!! I haven’t yet told Big Girl about this because I fear I will not be able to make it, but I am feeling optimistic. Yay! Leave it to her to pick a costume that must be made when there are so many easy and fabulous prefabricated options out there. Alas.

      Thanks so much, Amnada!

      PS – Thoughts on the Disney cruise?

      • Glad to be of help and I have complete faith that you can pull off the Doc costume and Big Girl will love it! Homemade costumes really are the things of childhood memories.

        My thoughts on the Disney cruise: GO! Your girls (and you and Husband) will love it. They cater to little princesses and princes like you would not believe. The children programs are wonderful. I often tell friends that the access to ALL the characters is worth the cost of the cruise, haha. The adult only area is relaxing and you would never know there are children on the boat when there. I do suggest if you go, get a cabin with balcony because it is great when little ones are napping to not be “trapped” inside while they sleep. We have been twice now, once when Little Monster was about to turn a year old and then again this past May when he was 2.5 yrs. He enjoyed it both times and we have another booked for next September, although if we do not end up conceiving baby #2 then we might move it up to November. I am working on a series of Blog Trip Reports on this last cruise if you would like to check them out here are links to the two completed. Lots of pics…I am an obsessive picture taker!

        I need to finish and post the remaining parts because summer activities took over our lives. If you would like, I can email you the links when I post the rest about the cruise….also feel free to ask anything. We are fairly experienced with the Disney cruise experience 🙂

  10. Jess

    I love this. I know exactly how you feel! That is why we only go to places we can drive to in under 2 hours. Sad but we just can’t handle it! Your middle girl sleeping with your scarf is the cutest thing EVER! Love that.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I know. I just love the scarf thing and am planning to write a whole post about it. So so sweet. My kids are not good in the car either. The older ones vomit and the babe screams. Lucky me. Miss you! xxo

  11. Jan

    This post was great and made me smile. I so remember those days with fondness. Glad you had a nice vacation. So gald you are back !

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I know that one day I will look back on our nutty travels and be so nostalgic. I try to remember this when I get uber-exasperated. Thanks, Jan!

  12. Great post. Hard to believe that someone would refuse to help a family that wants to seat together. Glad you enjoyed your time through it all… and so true coming home can be so delicious !

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      I know. I assume that human beings are reasonable and caring beings but it’s not always true. Still not sure what was up with that guy. Makes me curious if he had a really bad experience on a plane once or something. Was downright off. Thanks, you! Hope all is well.

  13. J

    Compensate him for his time? He’s clearly bonkers.

    Sounds like you had a lovely and relaxing vacation. 🙂 I love vacations, and I like travel (the being on the ground in another place), but I’ve come to loathe air travel. It’s sad, because it used to not suck.

  14. Hiccups of all stripes notwithstanding, I think it sounds like you managed everything in good stride and with good humor. That’s all that can be asked of parents traveling with young kids. Well done!

    We did three kid trips this summer, with varying levels of success. Disney World (with my husband’s entire extended family!) was the big winner. The trip itself was wonderful, as was the availability of lots of extra adults (aunts, uncles, grandparents) to help wrangle the kids. However, it’s not too hard to get a kid geared up to go see Mickey, so it was a pretty easy trip. Chicago was our long-weekend trip in mid-July and it was a good one. Just the 4 of us and only gone for 3 days. The hardest one was Colorado for 6 days in August. I’m not sure exactly what was different, but it just felt harder than the others.

    After CO we decided that we’ve earned ourself a grown-up trip, probably sometime after the first of the year. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve done NYC, so we may be headed your way. Stay tuned!

  15. To that man on the airplane, refusing to move? I would’ve put the two worst behaved kids next to him (not that you have ill behaved kids or anything, but you know what I mean), fed them lots and lots of sugar throughout the flight (though, not without a little wait, allowing them to scream bloody murder) and I would’ve put my tall husband behind him and instructed him to kick the seat the entire flight. On second thought, I would’ve more likely muttered (very loudly) “what an asshole” and moved on my merry way. =)

    Our two-week vacation this summer was put on hold when my husband contracted (and was hospitalized for) viral meningitis. Once he got better (hooray!), we scrambled to salvage our second week of vacation. Though, much shorter than we had hoped, I think the two of us had a new appreciation for vacation and it almost didn’t matter how exhausting it is to plan and implement (especially with a toddler), because getting away, together, all in good health made it so very worth it.

  16. This pretty much sums it up for me! I have yet dare to travel by air with my 3 kids, because it was teetering dangerously on horrific with just 2! Road travel is just as messy, except your not on public display – except at gas stations! 😉
    When I was a “newbie mom”, I was naive enough to think that vacations were still, indeed, going to be a vacation for me. But in the past 7 years, I have come to realize that if my darling offspring are along there is no true vacation. And – yes – it is so much easier to stay home…but then you miss out on all those great crazy, stressed out moments that make such hilarious and heart-warming memories!

    I realize you write from your perspective, but I’m so curious how you view your husband’s experience sometimes! I know that my husband has a MUCH harder time with the messiness and unpredictablity of our kids – home or away! 🙂

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