Vacationing with Kids: A Contradiction in Terms

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I went into this thing with low expectations. Really I did. I didn’t delude myself into thinking that our weeklong Cape Cod vacation with twin toddlers would be relaxing.

I went into this thing with low expectations. Really I did. I didn’t delude myself into thinking that our weeklong Cape Cod vacation with twin toddlers would be relaxing. Banished were thoughts of romantic moonlit sunsets at the beach. Ditto for digging my tootsies in the sand and letting the sound of the ocean waves lull me into a sense of tranquility.

I expected the trip to be prominently marked by sand. A ton of it. In every bodily orifice, in every food container, in every sippy cup. I expected mere two-hour stints at the beach. I expected at least an hour’s worth of preparation to get two 22-month-olds into their beach gear, slather them with sunscreen and then clean up the floor after they likely peed through their swim diapers before we finished filling the cooler with juice boxes. I expected some sleep disruption because the kids were in a new place. Above all, I kept in mind the wise adage uttered by my husband’s experienced colleague, “When you have little kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a change of venue.”

But I did hope for maybe a nice dinner out and shopping trips in picturesque towns. Forgeddaboutit. My cherubic tandem reduced me to a lump of Jell-O by week’s end. My husband Scott and I quickly learned that when Abbey and Jonah don’t get their way when they’re in an unfamiliar place, life is very unpleasant.

We should’ve known better. Both of last year’s two vacations featured sleepless infants. No naps. No night-night. The trip my friend Gayle and I took to her parents’ Narragansett home with our three children – all 11 months old – brought me to my knees. (We were outnumbered by the band of three babies for most of the week.) Her kid was a virtual angel while mine not only went on a seek-and-destroy mission around the unfamiliar environs, but also refused to sleep. On one particularly steamy night, I wound up collapsing into a recliner at about 3:30 a.m., furiously rocking the twin furnaces sweating in my arms so they wouldn’t cry and wake up my friend’s son. After a few nights of this, I was on the phone begging Scott to arrive early and relieve me.

Months earlier, Scott thought he was being nice by surprising me for Mother’s Day, taking me and the kids to a New Hampshire bed and breakfast for a night. We’re lucky the inn owners didn’t banish us from the premises, as well as the entire state. The babies squawked all night long, prompting us to immediately plop them in our bed so they wouldn’t wake the other guests. In the span of a few hours, I was peed, pooped, drooled and barfed on, not mention the fact that I, again, went sleepless. Who did we think we were? All the stories we’d heard from parents whose trips with infants and young children had gone well, that their kids never cried on airplanes or pooped on a hotel rug . . . either they were all lying, or our kids were, shall we say, very “active.”

When we embarked on this year’s trip to the Cape with my family, I was suffering from temporary amnesia, banishing the memories of the previous ill-fated trips from my brain. We should’ve known that there would be no such thing as a peaceful vacation after the first hour of our car ride in congested and oftentimes stop-and-go traffic. Envision an hour-plus of screeching which prompted a debate over which would be worse, jumping out of the moving car or withstanding another second of this endless verbal toddler torrent. Instead of drastic measures, we opted to sing songs, every children’s song we knew, to appease our little ones. It worked fairly well until we pulled up alongside a Jeep filled with muscular young guys. You don’t know how humblingly uncool it is to pull up alongside a vehicle whose occupants reek of cool while singing a loud, off-key version of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

The car trip foreshadowed our experiences with vacation dining. The moment we sat down in restaurants, Jonah would grab everything in sight and chuck it: menus, forks, napkins, sugar packets, his toy truck, Daddy’s food and Grandpa’s scotch and water. This was typically followed by the telltale ominous, rumbling noise that warns of an impending Jonah meltdown. At this point, all the adults, including my parents and brother, would start giving Jonah private tours of the local landmarks outside. As soon as Abbey’d get wise to the situation, she’d begin chanting, “Abbey too! Abbey out!” in increasing decibels.

We effectively ruled out going to restaurants until the kids are at least 25 after the last night we attempted (key word: attempted) to have dinner in Provincetown, a small town on the tip of the Cape. Jonah showed signs of another freak-out early after he refused all food and drink. When he began throwing things, yelling at the wait staff and spinning his head 360 degrees, we decided it was time for him to again inspect the exterior of the building. Abbey followed soon thereafter. Scott and I wound up eating dinner in the parking lot as the kids gleefully played in the car. It just didn’t have the same ambiance though, eating a scallop and lobster casserole from a Styrofoam box with a fork stolen from the restaurant while sitting face-to-face with our car bumper.

Throw in the night when Jonah refused to go to sleep and stayed up until 11:30 p.m. watching “Bowfinger” on the VCR with us, along with his naked peeing escapades in bed and you have enough ingredients to frighten my 27-year-old bachelor brother into postponing having kids for decades.

And it will indeed be quite a long time before I venture out for a so-called vacation with my little lovebugs . . . until next summer.

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