Vacationing with small children is a wild, exhausting, action-packed, drama-filled, Kodak moment-waiting-to-happen adventure suitable for those most brave, fortunate and reckless of parents. I’ve pretty much said this before. And in my family, it goes a little something like this:
The madness that was our recent trip to Aruba began right out of the gate. Literally. After landing, and then dragging four carry-ons and two diaper bags off the plane, and then weaving my way to the baggage claim, I notice something very odd. Someone’s toothbrushes, sunscreen, big-boy underwear and other items are making their way around the conveyor belt, and everyone who was on Flight 829 from Baltimore is totally getting a kick out of this. Whose luggage was it? I’ll give you one guess…
Next stop: our all-inclusive beachfront resort where they serve endless amounts of French Fries drenched in nacho cheese, super-greasy chicken nuggets, and delicious fruity beach drinks. This will be my meal of choice for the next nine days. It’s a menu from Heaven – unless you actually mind undoing seven months of intense exercise in about four days.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should mention that in addition to my family (two adults, three kids) our group consisted of an additional five adults and seven kids all packed into four hotel rooms. It’s a gloriously-chaotic compilation of nieces, nephews, and in-laws. Ten kids. Average age of the little ones? Three and a half. There were ten of them.
Our time spent at the resort was an awesomely-tiring circus of fun and craziness. Here’s how an average day would go down:
3:00am: baby wakes up.
4:30am: baby wakes up again.
Look, anyone who can maintain their baby’s sleep schedule throughout the course of an international vacation really has this parenting thing down. Furthermore, baby Brody had an ear infection and I’ve found that when you’re traveling, you’re only ever as happy as your least healthy child.
6:00am: Jimmy decides he’s ready to be up for good.
Quickly and quietly, I surrender and take my oldest outside so my still-nursing wife and the other kids can get a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep. See, when our family of five shares one small hotel room, each night brings with it yet another hostage negotiation, and these kids know they have all the bargaining power. They’re cute little criminals.
8:00am-10:00am: kids play in sand nicely while mom and dad enjoy coffee and conversation.
Umm, just kidding. The kids are probably arguing over who had the pink bucket first… at least that’s what I gather as I hear a chorus of toddlers screaming “MINE!” Or perhaps it’s a scuffle over the rightful owner of an incredibly popular Thomas the Tank Engine toy. The purple sand shovel? That’s “MINE” too. If you’ve ever been on a trip with a bunch of kids, chances are you’ve said “you can share” many, many times. Or my personal favorite: “well, take it back from him.” Either way it’s gonna end in tears.
All of this leaves me wondering why I’m drinking coffee when I could be drinking bourbon. I’m kidding, of course. The bar doesn’t open til 11…
10:00am-11:00am: get ready for the pool.
Getting small children ready for the pool truly is God’s work. If you’ve ever seen how ghostly pale I am, you’ll know that we’re rollin’ to the pool with sun shirts, sun hats, and lots of SPF 75 sun screen. Spray-on sunscreen is amazing, but the best way to cover a face is the old fashion way, which can get sloppy. So imagine all this happening while two toddlers scream “MY EYES!!!!” at the top of their lungs.
Ready to swim? Almost. All we need is our flotation devices and ear plugs. And one last trip to the potty. Oh, and JUICE!
I may need a vacation from all this vacation…
11:00am-2:00pm: pool time.
Time spent at the pool is legit family fun time, and involves a lot of playing a pretend “silly” lion, or launching kids up in the air as far as humanly possible, or contests to see who can make the most amazing football reception while leaping into the deep end. It’s all good stuff.
My wife and I keep those kids swimming as long as possible because every two minutes spent in the pool adds another minute to naptime. It’s science. And when you’re vacationing with small kids, each hour of naptime is like a stick of pure gold. You treasure that stuff.
2:00-3:00pm: shower and prep kids for their naps.
Getting multiple sandy children to willingly take a shower is painful, and once in the shower, getting them out can be twice as difficult. I find bribing them with Skittles helps move this process along quicker and with fewer tears, but if you have a better method please let me know.
Now quick! Grab a drink, take a deep breath, and enjoy every glorious moment of childless conversation. And remember the cardinal rule of naptime parenting: you wake ‘em, you take ‘em.
If there’s one way to ensure you’ll get terrible service and judgmental looks from strangers, it’s walking into a romantic restaurant at its peak busy hour and asking for a “table for 14 plus 3 high chairs.” Predictably, once we’re seated it’s nothing but chaos. Picture broken glass because someone didn’t use two hands. Picture a toddler in timeout because he was climbing on the table and yelling for no reason. Picture a scene as loud, wild and destructive as a group of college students on Spring Break… only louder. THAT’S what it’s like dining at a table for 14 plus 3 high chairs.
8:00pm-10:00pm: keep kids occupied until bedtime.
This usually involved long walks, contests to see who could make one of the babies laugh the hardest, or dance parties – and indeed, some of these kids can really shake it. At this point I’m down for pretty much whatever it takes to bridge the crucial dinner-to-bedtime gap; however, that does come with a few caveats. Climbing rocks? “Just be careful.” Running around the pool? “Be careful.” Dancing around a cactus? “CAREFUL!”
Which brings me to my point: I don’t understand why I tell my children to “be careful.” It’s as senseless as “it is what it is,” and as unhelpful as when you lose your phone and some genius says “well, it’s gotta be SOMEWHERE.” Lesson learned: “being careful” means nothing to my children – particularly Jimmy, who actually did fall on a cactus. I guess that just is what it is…
How do we go about capitalizing on this newfound freedom? We go to sleep cuz we’re exhausted and this whole process will repeat itself in the morning.
So yea, that’s what it was like vacationing with a bunch of kids.
Oh, and in case anyone is wondering what it’s like getting a flight out of Aruba, apparently this is the process: you stand in line to check in, and then check your bags. Then you stand in a line to have your passport checked, after which you stand in another line to have passport “verified.” Then you stand in line to go through security. Once your shoes and belt are back on, you make your way to “US Departures” where you grab the bags you just checked, and then stand in line again to go through another layer of customs, after which you go through security. Again. And then you check your bags. Again.
It was every bit as long and painful as a tax audit. Or a Redskins game. At one point I actually wondered if this was the island’s way of punishing me for not attending a single timeshare presentation. Perhaps I’ll never know.
What I do know is this: in a few years, these trips will be relaxing and rewarding. But for now, while the kids are this young, I’m simply thankful that it was indeed a very rewarding nine days in paradise.
Cuz let me tell ya, there’s nothing relaxing about a table for 14 plus 3 high chairs…