Monday, June 29, 2009

Vacation, All I ever wanted

Friends, another fantastic entry from our friend Amanda. She recently returned from the frontlines of family vacationing. And don't forget to vote for her here (just leave a comment on this post), she is vying to be the Sego Lily Spa Blogger.

Families have been making pilgrimages since the dawn of time, right? I mean even before there was fire, certainly some mother out there was trying to figure out how to get all the scrappy-headed Neanderthal children from their cave to Aunt Uga’s cave across the valley. So why oh why is it so hard to gear up for a family trip? I love family trips (note that I call them trips: This is because anything with kids is a trip, while anything without is a vacation. Makes sense, no?) yet agonize for weeks, nay a month before worrying about all the details. When my kids were little, babies and toddlers, I worried to no end about their sleeping. Sleep is my holy grail. I will move mountains, change tides, and dim the sun if it means my kids get a good nap in or go to bed on time. We don’t mess with the sleep around here – mock me all you want. But traveling to somewhere new with {gasp!} different time zones or loud sounds or no darkening shades was enough to make me lose, you guessed it, sleep at night. And then I worried about what they’d eat. And then I worried about sunburns, bed bugs, cleanliness and having enough diapers. And then, thank heavens, my kids got older and I relaxed.

We just returned from a nine-day trip to Newport Beach about two weeks ago. It was heaven – just what a family trip should be. There was sun, beach, waves, cupcakes, family friends and their children that traveled with us, pizza dinners and my kids sharing beds and waking up at the crack of dawn to jump on beds and ask, “When are we leaving, when are we leaving?” So here are the important details that you need to know:

1. We drove the whole way in our mini-van. It’s true; we’re publicly announcing that there’s no way on this earth we could afford to fly six of us to California. If we did that, we’d have to turn around and fly right home – the flight would be the trip! I guess we’d steal peanuts and Sky magazine, but still… And yes, we don’t drive for fifteen minutes, let alone to a different state, without our DVD player stocked, the Nintendo DS charged, coloring books, Leapsters, pillows, blankets, surprise treats and candy. I don’t know how we all did it back in the day when our options were a) sleep, b) fight with a sibling, or c) do Mad Libs. Seriously, what do kids have to complain about these days? Maybe the seatbelts, but that’s about it. I think I once rode through Death Valley strapped to the bumper. Now I don’t let my kids out of their belts for more than 7 seconds before I get panicked and sweaty and start yelling, “BUCKLE UP! BUCKLE UP – HURRY!”

2. I was determined to be a) frugal and b) healthy so I packed a cooler of things from home that were a) healthy and b) would not last the nine days because I refused to waste eggs, cheese and fruit when I could schlep them in a cooler. I’ve been known to stash a loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter in my suitcase on work trips so that I could use my per diem on clothes and eat peanut butter sandwiches instead for sustenance. We stayed at a Marriott Vacation condo so we had a fridge for my stash. Can’t tell you the satisfaction I got from saving the extra $14 at the store from bringing my own eggs, cheese and such.

3. When you have a big family, you have to rethink what defines a trip. Is it eating out? Is it shopping? Is it fancy activities? Our answers were no, no and no. We have learned that what makes the perfect trip is any activity that is free and physical and makes the kids exhausted by day’s end (swimming, swimming, swimming, walking, swimming), that spending money on food in a restaurant is a total waste because they will never eat what you order, they would always have been just as happy with a bowl of cereal in the room, and they will act crazier and naughtier in any restaurant that is not in your home town simply because the locals are watching you, mouths agape, wondering from under which rock you and your spawn just crawled out. Save it – buy groceries and eat in as much as you can. And the shopping? I’ve got to believe that some day I’ll spend days languishing on some exotic beach, all golden and perky, only to surface long enough to shower and dress into something fabulous and then wander the local streets for hours in search of the city’s hidden treasures. For now, the only wandering I do is in the foreign Walgreen’s searching for the cheapest brand of Children’s Ibuprofen. Sigh. Someday.

4. Last but not least, as I had to keep reminding my husband, this is THEIR vacation too! Family trips are nothing if not memory building. New locations, rituals, and time spent together are what kids will remember. There’s a reason we remember family vacations from the early eighties but have no idea who our second cousin is. Vacations build lasting memories and are defined by the people in them, the mood the parents create, and the time together. No kid cares about how nice the hotel is or the size of the pool.

All in all, it was wonderful and money well spent. I love that as my kids (8, 7, 5 and 2 ½) get older, they are more fun to travel with. Every year it gets easier and I worry less about the minutiae and spend more time thinking about how we’re going to make our time together count. We also have a family cheer. I highly suggest getting a family cheer á la Griswold’s for a successful family trip.


Christy said...

What?! You're going to leave us hanging and NOT tell us the cheer?

I loved reading every bit of this and can NOT WAIT until I have a bigger brood of my own and get to take trips like this too...don't get me wrong, it's super fun with just one. But what can I say? I like chaos.

Dove said...

Bravo! I dig your vernacular and the way to shape it lady!

I'm headed to Canada in a few days for what might be the most interesting vacation of my life. If I survive it maybe I'll dish. Curently I'm busy bracing myself for it.

suzan said...

Loved this! Thanks!! Great Family photo at the top BTW.

Lindsey said...

Seriously your family is the cutest ever. And I mean it. What wonderful parents you are to realize how valuable trips like this are for kids - some of my best memories are from trips like this. The long car rides (puking involved in some), food brought from home (my mom is notorious for this as well), sleeping on floors, and limits on spending cash are overshadowed by the wonderful memories with my family.
The Liljenquists have a family cheer too - have Paigie show it to you. Now I need to come up with one for our little fam.