My Ideal Vacation with Young Kids

My trip to Texas taught me a lot about how I’m going to approach travel with young kids for the next few years. There are people who take their children to Disneyland, and talk in glowing terms about nothing but the smiles and laughter and first encounters with characters who previously existed only in a virtual world. I know that a trip I took to Disneyland with young kids would not be summarized with a Pollyanna attitude. There would be meltdowns and missed naps and obscene amounts paid for messy popsicles in the shape of Mickey’s head. I don’t generally consider myself to be a negative person, but when it comes to parenting I have a hard time managing my expectations and the trying experiences are what often stick in my memory.

Speaking of managing expectations, I didn’t manage mine very well for the first portion of our trip, spent in Austin. I was meeting my parents there while they were on a business trip, and staying with two young kids by myself in a hotel (my parents were in a separate hotel, a 5-minute walk away) was a lot harder than I thought it would be. T1 saw his first 3D movie with my parents and I’m happy about the little bit of time they were able to spend together, but that’s something I won’t be repeating again until both children are self-sufficient.

Traveling with young kids means making-do without the arsenal of resources that helps make parenting manageable and enjoyable. After two days I left Austin and drove over to Houston to spend a week with our closest friends from Chicago. When I got out of the car and hugged Paige it took a lot to hold back the tears – I was overwhelmed with relief to be in a kid-friendly environment with my friend who I can 100% be myself with. We didn’t have anything except the mundane planned for my stay. We went to the gym, made meals from scratch, traded off childcare responsibilities as we ran errands, and stayed up late into the night painting our nails and talking about our husbands.

We called each other sister-wife and didn’t judge when the other lost their cool while parenting. There is a This American Life episode about a feminist who chooses to become a polygamist and defends it as a feminist choice, and for the first time I fully grasped what she meant. Maybe we should buy side-by-side houses, knock down the fence between them, and live Big Love style with our kids galloping back and forth between residences.

By the end I knew I had found my dream vacation*, at least for the time when the kids are little. Help putting the kids to bed every night, help making dinner, help cleaning up after dinner, help when I need to unload emotionally at the end of a trying day. Aren’t holidays about escaping from the reality of your life into an ideal sort of situation? The solo-parenting thing is hard for me. At least now I know that I can daydream about that time, once a year, when I can take a break from real life, with all the necessary resources, working alongside someone I love who is doing the exact same thing.

And the kids loved it too. We plan on doing it every year, though I’ve warned our friends that visiting Palo Alto is a dangerous thing because once you’re here you won’t ever want to leave. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the side-by-side houses for sale so we can make our co-parenting a permanent thing.

TH came in on Thursday night and stayed through the weekend. On Sunday morning we woke up and I did some family pictures for them. Can you believe we got this picture of (almost) everyone looking and smiling at the camera using the trunk of a car as a tripod and the timer on my camera?

*Other than the trips we take to visit family. Those always mean lots of help and support!

20 thoughts on “My Ideal Vacation with Young Kids

  1. We all used to say that we now understood the point of harems, that they were for the women, not the men. Shared child-rearing for the win.

    Jenna Reply:

    Last summer when I was at BYU one of the professors assigned a book about a polygamous woman in Southern Utah. It was really beautiful to hear how the women formed a community and supported each other.

  2. The solo parenting thing would be hard for anyone. Glad you got a little break!

    I don’t have high parenting expectations-my kid didn’t come easy to me, so I pretty much enjoy parenting, whatever it brings, for the sheer fact that I’m grateful to be a parent at all. Unsurprisingly then, I love Disneyland. However, I love the low-key vacations visiting family and friends just as much, and because of the lower cost, we end up doing that more often for sure.

  3. Two summers ago my husband and I took our two kids (then 2.5y and 2months) on a 12 hour road trip from NY to Michigan to visit my best friend. It was hard getting there- it took 2 days with all the stopping. But once we got there it was awesome!

    We did nothing much – out to lunch, a trip to the splash park, a walk on the boardwalk. We watched her kids while she went to a doctor’s appointment. The husbands stayed home while we went shopping. It was us, our husbands, our 4 kids (her twins were 4 months), her parents and brother stopped for a visit. Otherwise it was just visiting, just being together.

    It was a rough trip, but I knew if I didn’t make it while I was on maternity leave, I wouldn’t be able to make it. I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t agree more with you about that being an ideal vacation.

  4. Jenna, that is what your husband is for.

    As a military wife, my husband works LONG hours, and is sometimes gone for months at a time, but when he is home, he does all of the things you say would make up a “dream vacation”. You don’t need a vacation, you need a more present spouse.

    Jenna Reply:

    If only life and employment were structured in such a way that someone could say “I’m going to do this the way I want to do it” and there would be no negative repercussions.

    hello there Reply:

    I think what Military Wife is trying to say (and correct me if I’m wrong!) is that when your husband IS home (on the weekends and etc.) he should be doing all those things. You know? Helping you with things. Then you’d have weekly vacations!

    I know you mentioned that he’s been working a lot lately, so maybe he does those things when he isn’t swamped but your comment in the post seems as though he never helps you with things. I think he deserves a serious “talking to” if that’s the case! ;)

    Military Wife Reply:

    That is exactly what I meant. I know first hand how difficult it is to parent two small children “alone”. But at the same time, my husband never truly leaves me “alone” either; I don’t refer to myself as a single mother or a solo parent when he’s gone or working 16 hour days, because he supports me consistently. Whether he is just down the street but stuck at work or in Iraq and a completely different time zone…emails, text messages, even phone calls throughout the day provide the support I need to not feel like I am in this alone. And when he is home, it is an equal partnership.

    Jenna, I would suggest couples counselling. Or at least sitting down and having an honest conversation with your husband. I’m sure he’s working hard to advance himself in his career field, but he needs to realize the damage he’s doing to his family. You seem more and more upset and miserable in each post; they all seem to be a cry for help. The sad part is that HE should be the source of that help. Not T1′s preschool/daycare, not a nanny, not a friend you get to see once a year. Your husband.

    Hannah Reply:

    I don’t think Jenna said, anywhere, that she hasn’t got help when TH is around. It’s just that, unfortunately, he isn’t around much as a function of his employment and that can include weekends or long stretches away.

    I may be completely wrong but that’s how I have interpreted it and that is also my impression having met both of them in person…

    Anna Reply:

    I agree with this post. Marriage is a partnership and though there are times when the burden falls to one party, it should be kind of like a see-saw so it balances out.

    I don’t have children and I cannot even begin to understand what level of commitment they would be but my husband works a lot of hours. He’s an attorney and he goes to work every single day. I am in law school so I am home more frequently so the burden of housework and the dog fall to me most of the time. But he still pitches in–I’ve never once felt like I’m doing everything and he’s just swanning in to eat dinner and go to bed. Sometimes I feel incredibly frustrated when I have a lot going on in school and I’m still responsible for cleaning/cooking/running errands/dealing with the dog and he’s still at work at 9 p.m. but I talk to him when I’m feeling that way (not always nicely) and we work it out.

    I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of your marriage because no one but the two of you really know what’s going on. But I really suggest you seek couple’s counseling. You should not feel like a solo parent, even if he is traveling all of the time. You need emotional support and actually being there support just as much as financial support. It takes two to tango as they say and he’s just as responsible for them as you are.

  5. We live really close to my parents and almost as close to my husband’s. We get all the “can you come over and do XYZ?” calls now, which is kind of annoying, but I’m sure it will all be worth it when we have kids and have abundant childcare available since they are waiting on the edge of their seats for grandchildren, lol I do wonder about future vacations with our children though. We actually love Disneyland and go very frequently, and naturally we will bring our kids there someday, but we will miss being able to run around the parks like kids ourselves, just the two of us…. :T

    Jenna Reply:

    I think some parents run around like kids and enjoy it just as much! Maybe you will be like that. Just depends on the parents.

  6. Interesting. Maybe the people I know are less helpful?– though I think my parents are pretty great, honestly–but I have never found going anywhere with my daughter much of a parenting break, even if other people are willing to pitch in/help me out.

    For one thing she still insists on me doing most things for her (only Mommy will do for bedtime routine etc etc): and even if she IS willing there is so much that is impossible for me to delegate (like my parents are great, but anything to do with discipline or getting my daughter to do stuff she doesn’t want to: that’s my job). Even if I am especially successful at passing the parenting buck, this means something like 50% parenting (instead of 95%+ parenting). I don’t really count working half time as a real break, you know? Especially because what makes parenting tiring is not the individual tasks, but the way you can never just completely forget about doing it and turn off that side of your brain/self.

    So to me vacation versus no vacation is pretty much the same in terms of parenting. What vacation DOES mean, though, is doing the often-tiresome tasks of parenting in a more exciting/amusing setting. Like if I am doing to have to hassle with naptimes and tantrums, why not do it on a beautiful beach or in a cool city instead of my boring apartment? My child can refuse to eat anything but carbohydrates and sugar at a traditional inn in Japan or a sultan’s palace in Indonesia just as she would do at home, but then I am enjoying myself! (We took her to both of those places and it was great, for ME.)

    This does mean that I only go to places on vacation that I like: which means that Disneyland is not going to happen until she’s much older and more capable of 1. gratitude and 2. controlling her behavior (and even then, maybe never: I really don’t like Disney). But lots of people really like Disneyland, not for their kids but for themselves (isn’t it a top honeymoon destination?), so why not take the kids there and get to do something you enjoy?

    Personally I think you should just drag the kids along on everything you like to do, like food festivals every weekend and the National Mole Festival in San Pedro Atocpan (latest addition to my travel wishlist). Maybe things will go badly, but maybe they won’t (my daughter often surprises me with what she likes): and then you won’t have regrets/feel like they are holding you back. And if that means you take them on extended trips to visit YOUR friends, then they can deal with that too :)

    Jenna Reply:

    I wonder if traveling more before we got married and had kids would have helped? I do like your attitude though.

    I have no desire to do Disney without my kids, so I like your example. I think it would be easier for us if we enjoyed general sightseeing a bit more (though I don’t think I could ever like some of the (boring) museums you enjoy :) ). But our favorite vacations involve a lot of sitting around and relaxing and reveling in good food. Two things that are difficult to enjoy with kids.

  7. This makes me so sad for you, Jenna! All the things you say would make a dream vacation should be an everyday part of marriage with a present and supportive partner. It must be so hard to have TH gone so much. Do you see an end point to his job being like this, like is he just paying his dues and they’ll eventually move him to a position with less traveling?

  8. This is just a thought but if these are the kinds of things you really need help with, why don’t you consider pulling T1 from daycare and hiring a nanny instead. Having someone else in the house to help with not only the kids, but the cooking and laundry too sounds like what you really want. My husband works in a similar field to yours and though we don’t have kids yet, most of our friends and co-workers do. They all have nannies whether or not mom works, and the nannies act like “third parents” or as you’ve been saying “sister wives” without all the social stigma and you know, illegalities.

    Jenna Reply:

    Nannies are $20/hour here. Preschool averages out to $5/hour. Plus, his preschool is

    I can’t wait for T2 to be able to go too!

  9. I know you get a lot of flack, but I admire how you handle doing so much of the parenting ‘alone’. I have said it before, and I will say it again, happy to help out any time once I am not a steaming pile of vomity mess! Clearly we need to get houses side-by-side in PA :)

    Jenna Reply:

    Yes! Live side-by-side with me! We’ll take photos and chase kids all day long. Our husbands can join startups together and never come home.

    Sira Reply:

    … um, you’re aware that there are plenty of startups that still respect work-life balance, right? It’s not an all or nothing thing.

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