'Tis the season. Who doesn't look forward to a summer vacation, some much-needed time away from the daily grind? What can be better than soaking up rays on a beach, completely lost in a good book on the Kindle or a heated contest of Words with Friends on the iPad? Sleeping late, sipping fruity cocktails with umbrellas by noon and dining well after normal suppertime, then painting the town red by night -- and starting the next day with a piping hot cup of Jo (or Bloody Mary) by the pool?
Then again, a quick jaunt to Vegas always hits the right tone when Paris, Venice or Bellagio is just a short flight away. Befriending strangers at the craps table, rooting for that three-team parlay in the sports book; enjoying an hour (or five) of pampering at the spa; catching the latest in world-class entertainment; savoring a fantastic multi-course meal, while counting up the winnings for the day. (Are Don Rickles and Wayne Newton still headlining?) What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!
Once kids enter the equation, however, the whole dynamic completely changes and the term "vacation" no longer applies. Even the most efficient of packers notice their bags grow exponentially as diapers, wipes, pull-ups, tushy cream, children's Tylenol (still recalled?), adult Tylenol or stronger (for us) and countless outfits begin to add up. Who can leave home without Texas Lion, Heart Doggie, Alvin (Simon AND Theodore), Good Night Moon, Moo Baa La La La, stickers, activity books, numerous balls, various snacks and some book called Fifty Shades of Grey that I found in my wife's overnight bag? While luggage with wheels makes strolls through the airport far easier, it hardly matters when two strollers, a car-seat and a booster get added to the load.
Security becomes an adventure when kids are too scared to walk through the body scanner or freak out because Pooh has to be screened with the carry-ons. A portable DVD player (or iPad) can provide hours of in-flight babysitting, but try explaining why SpongeBob cannot be turned on until the plane is mid-air or why she can't find out if Dora makes it to the Lost City because we are landing. That "kids-under-two-fly-free" is a wonderful cost-savings, though toddlers rarely enjoy sitting on laps for three-plus hours and often yell "walkie" before the plane takes off.
While other passengers generally (fake) smile at children, many become panic-stricken when they end up behind them in line for security or are seated within ten rows of our family. The words "sorry about this" hardly seem adequate, and pretending the situation is well under control often works best. Airport gift shops offer a vast array of "appealing" impulse items that they simply must have. (What child can live without that comfy plane pillow?) Kids are no exception to jet lag, as meals and naps get interrupted and their ears get clogged with no logical way to clear them. Car trips definitely have advantages, though repeated bathroom stops can turn a normal two hour drive into more like five and the "are we there yets?" come more frequently.
Hotels offer opportunities for wild exploration as spacious lobbies, long hallways, ice machines and elevator rides translate into time to "unwind" that often brings new scowls from annoyed guests. The sleeping arrangements make for some interesting dilemmas. Our 5-year-old likes to sleep with us, which means I get kicked more often than usual and barely have access to covers. The 21-month-old sleeps in a hotel-provided crib that may not meet minimum safety standards and she wakes up throughout the night, much to the chagrin of the neighbors on either side of us. She has yet to notice that her sister gets the better sleeping deal, but seems thrilled to have my undivided attention early in the a.m. when we hit the hallway running (literally) without any consideration for those silly "Do Not Disturb" signs. Frankly, anyone who is still in bed at 6:30 a.m. is wasting the day.
Kid-friendly activities provide the highlights of these vacations. Amusement parks and zoos can be a blast until the heat, long lines and dirty restrooms bring back the tantrums (mine, not theirs). Children's museums seem more fun in their website descriptions and are never located close to the hotel. Swimming at the hotel is often the best activity and a slide immediately turns a good pool into a great pool (though I may be approaching the upper end of the age limit on slides). Of course, we are years away from the point where we can lounge in chairs with a good book (or iPad) while our "expert" swimmers fend for themselves. As far as fine vacation dining, multi-course Continental meals get replaced by attempts to find the best chicken fingers in town.
Once eating and sleep schedules get messed up from the travel day, they never get back on track. While hotels are generally good about having milk available at all hours, expect to pay about the same price as one would for a glass of fine wine or 18-year old scotch. When babysitters are needed for special events (or we are at wit's end), beware that those crocodile tears are sure to follow due to the presence of a stranger in a strange place without the normal comforts of home (but I am usually fine after an hour).
Still, the unbridled childlike enthusiasm, the pure joy and laughter captured at various times during the trip, the countless Facebook "likes" from the newly-posted vacation album make all the aggravation worthwhile (almost). My oldest generally cries during the trip home and we take that as a sign of a good time that she wished was not ending. Her little sister just goes with the flow, happy to be back with plenty of room for "walkie." As for us, we are (begrudgingly) ready to hit the daily grind again, but could sure use a "vacation from our vacation."