06 September 2012

Look, Kids, Big Ben! Parliament!

There are many challenges involved when traveling with small children. The smaller the children, the bigger the challenges. Based on the recent experience of our very first vacation as a family of four (co-starring a 4-year-old and 6-month-old), I can report that this is true.

Here’s the first thing that happened. We decided we’d go away for Labor Day weekend. But actually, before that, when we had our second child, we realized that it would be extremely helpful to have a larger vehicle. Though we weren’t quite prepared to take the leap to a van of any kind, we decided that two sedans were limiting us, with the children. Because here’s the thing. They have a lot of crap. A lot of crap. And looking at the possibility of going away, we realized that we’d need to pack, at the very least, a stroller, a portable crib, and a bouncy chair—which would immediately overtake our entire trunk and prevent us from packing additional necessary items in the car, such as underwear.

So in order to take a trip at all, we needed a new vehicle. And our deadline became Labor Day weekend. Due to a variety of circumstances, we did not actually come into possession of said vehicle until the very morning of the day we planned to depart. If I can offer any advice, it is this: pack your car the night before you want to leave. And so it should go without saying, you should probably at least have said vehicle you’re traveling in at least 24 hours prior to your departure.

But we’re idiots. Apparently.

And here’s the other thing. Where did all this stuff come from? When I was a kid, my parents both drove sedans or compact cars and we traveled all across the country in those. Never a van, never a station wagon, I don’t even think they had minivans then. And they managed to pack everything necessary to entertain and keep two children alive for an entire vacation in those cars. Again, we literally needed to get a new car in order to take a vacation. True story.

Why do we have so much more stuff? I don’t get it.

Anyway, after the difficult and trying process of installing both car seats in a new car for the first time (time allotted: 10 minutes; time needed: 1 hour, 10 minutes) and finally getting the whole thing packed—to the gills, by the way, there’s really no way we could’ve done it in one of the old cars—we were a few hours behind our planned schedule. And we were operating under the assumption that Google Maps provided an accurate accounting of the trip. Between our house and our destination (Traverse City, Michigan) it was meant to be only a little more than four hours. Piece of cake, right?

Of course, we have very small children. With very small bladders. And very short attention spans. Sure, the wife and I, in our footloose and carefree, pre-children days, would’ve made it no problem, without stopping. But we had to stop. Frequently. At least more frequently than we ever predicted.

Second piece of advice: double the travel time. Just trust me. Whatever Google Maps tells you, double it. Maybe make it two and a half times. You’ll need it.

It was well after dark when we finally arrived at our destination. Along the way, we came very close to losing our minds (without the vacation officially ever starting). The Doozer started asking that age-old question (“When do we get to vacation?”) within the first half hour of the trip. No, really. The first half hour. The other one, Little Brother, cried and screamed for large portions of the drive.

As a result, “We’re making memories!” became the oft-quoted mantra of the trip. Which would inevitably result in a collapse into cackling laughter. (Otherwise, one or both of us would just start crying uncontrollably. Come to think of it, that probably happened, too.)

So, after a whirlwind weekend tour of beaches, lighthouses, general stores, playgrounds, and restaurants, it was time to hit the road again. And, once again, a complete and utter failure to budget time accordingly. One could call it a borderline disaster. Or quasi-successful. Or just hellish.

But we were making memories. Or so we keep reminding ourselves.

What else happened? The Doozer swam in Lake Michigan for the first time. And ate fried pickles. And had ice cream for dinner one night. Yes. we did that. Don’t judge us. It’s vacation. And real life goes out the window, you have to improvise, make it up as you go.

Ice cream for dinner. And it was blue. And shaped like Mickey Mouse. With Oreo cookies. I think that pretty much sums up being on vacation with kids. It gets like that.

There was the horror show of a toddler having to urinate in a public restroom at the beach. (Which is a whole other story in itself.) Plus, restless nights as we all slept in the same room together. And not even out of necessity. No, there were other rooms available. But the Doozer insisted on sharing the bed with us for the entire trip. Yep. One big happy family.

We all made it home. There’s that at least. We learned a lot. Maybe it was more of a learning experience than a vacation. Maybe other people can be saved. Maybe we can prevent hardships from befalling other traveling families.

Or again, maybe we’re just idiots, and nobody will learn anything from us. Because everyone else is smarter and wouldn’t make these mistakes.

Whatever. Leave us alone.

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