Last Saturday night I was about to sit down and jot out some thoughts I’d had while in the Rockies with the kids… specifically, some survival tips for family vacations. But my attention was elsewhere because M was in the ER with Efram, who sliced his chest open while scootering down a rather steep hill. Of course, each of the 35 doctors who’ve seen him already (could the ER be any less efficient?) asks, “Were you wearing a helmet?” And the answer is a resounding… NO. Alas, although we have top of the line carseats, vaccinate for chicken pox, and force helmets on the kids when they’re biking, we did not mandate helmet wearing when Efram, Bennett, and friends were careening down a hilly driveway on a wobbly scooter. I know I’m a mediocre parent most of the time, but I like to think I’m a safety-conscious mediocre parent. Now that’s off the table too.
As for the vacation, I highly recommend Steamboat Springs and the Rocky Mountain region in general: tons to do with kids, stunning, and reliably good summertime weather. But if you’re planning a family trip, a few words of caution.
1. Hold your breath until day three. The first two days are generally awful. From Maui to Steamboat, I’ve learned that the first 48 hours of a family trip often result in me packing my bags in a fit of fury and announcing to everyone that they can all have fun, but I’m going home. Alone. For some reason, it takes us that long to get into vacation mode, get used to being around each other in large doses, for the bickering to stop, and for us all to just chill the hell out. (It was especially acute this time b/c the biggest three kids had been in Denver alone for a week or so beforehand..)
2. First Aid. I may be helmet-delinquent, but on holiday I come prepared because a vacation is a guarantee that someone will run a fever… even if they rarely do at home. Efram sliced his chin open in Israel (notice a theme?), we all got the stomach flu in Suncadia and the flu in Vancouver, Francie got a concussion in Maui, where Fiona sliced open her lip, and Efram almost lost a toe. I could go on, but essentially … come prepared.
3. Booze. I may talk a good game, but I’m not a huge drinker. Two exceptions – Friday afternoon (it’s the only way I can get through the meltdown-fest that we call Friday night dinner) and vacations. I learned the hard way that dry vacations are miserable vacations. So, at about 4 in the afternoon I make sure that I have a drink in hand, preferably one that I did not have to make, mix, or pour myself. (This wasn’t always possible in Steamboat, and I paid for it dearly.) I usually don’t remember much about the ensuing evening hours, but from the pictures I can tell that I always enjoy them thoroughly.
4. Help. A vacation is also a break from any sort of help you have at home. I spent a week in Steamboat doing all sorts of household work that I usually outsource. Which is why, when possible, I make sure the place we stay is serviced. Again, this wasn’t possible in Steamboat… (laundry + no booze = drudgery.)
5. Stay away from hotel sitters. I won’t go into details here, but there’s a woman in Phoenix who still has rope burn.
6. Apologize to nobody. Waitresses, airline passengers, fellow travelers — they’re all like horses: they smell fear. If you start apologizing for your children’s bad behavior, they’ll come in for the kill (Ma’am, we have to ask you to leave… move.. pay more). When a late-night/vacation-diet-induced meltdown occurs, do NOT make eye contact with anyone around you. Stare you kid down and wait it out. It will end, and you need apologize to no one for it.
7. Which begs the vacation-diet question: sort of like Olivia on her trip to Venice, eventually the vacation diet catches up with all of you, especially your kids. Seven days of ice cream in a row will inevitable lead to a meltdown, usually somewhere very public. No need to avoid the gelato, just be prepared. Like a CIA agent, I don’t walk into a restaurant, or any other enclosed space, without casing the place for the nearest, least conspicuous exit. You’d be surprised how often this has come in handy.
8. Go! People ask me why we travel so much with kids and I have to say that I often enjoy them more when we’re away then when we’re all at home. On the road we’re all forward-focused, fixed on the same goal, whether it’s navigating a new city or finding something to eat for lunch. Travel with kids is hairy, but it’s worth it. And it’s only when you go away that you get to truly enjoy coming home and tucking the kids into their own beds. Besides, survival lists aside, you only really remember the good bits…. right?