Family vacation. Same chaos, pricier location.

“I’m going on vacation. I’ll bring you back a souvenir suitcase. It’ll be full of love, but otherwise appear to be empty.”- Jarod Kintz


The six o’clock hour seems much more civilized than its five o’clock predecessor. I am awake and soaking in the quiet of the morning. The calm before the storm of the eight tiny feet.

In these early moments I will have a cup of tea and enjoy my morning devotional. It’s coveted time where I am able to read scripture, connect with God and set my mood for the day.

Peaceful. Purposeful.

Then I will search for a weapon to kill the bird in the tree outside my bedroom window.

Perhaps I need another devotional……

While it is just one bird, it is louder than the rest. SO much louder. And in listening to its horrid screeching I suddenly realize this bird has been hired by my kids to make noise.  They have a pact. 

It all becomes so clear. They’ve made a deal with this tree dweller to sit outside my window and shriek in the wee hours of the morning. A sort of noise conditioning for old mom, you might say.  Well played, tiny offspring of mine.

I sit and wonder the terms of their agreement.  Is the bird paid in food or pieces of cotton for his nest? Why do my kids feel that constant noise is so important for me to endure?

And then I decide another cup of caffeine might be in order.

And perhaps therapy.

It is while contemplating therapy that I am reminded of my other intent for morning solitude. Firming up plans for our family vacation.

Let’s be honest. In a family’s infancy, vacations are a joke. A joke best played on brand new parents. Wide-eyed newbies who fully expect to get some rest and relaxation after packing their bags, leaving home, driving for hours and paying a small fortune. All with the illusion that they will perhaps sit in the sun, read a book and regain some of the composure they knew in a previous life.

There is only one problem.  (Cue the dramatic movie music……..)

The kids are still with them!

(Insert evil laugh. Or evil bird screech.)

No sooner had visions of hula girls with fruity drinks danced through their heads than the newbies realized their dilemma. They were now living out the same challenges they faced at home (baby proofing, endless diapering, grocery shopping, nap time, and on and on…..) but without the comforts of home. And likely at a much costlier locale!

will neverwill probably not, will try really hard, despite my Mommy Brain condition, not to forget our first family vacation. With a three year old and one year old in tow, we headed south. I heeded the advice of a dear friend and booked a condo in Amelia Island, Florida.  Unfortunately, I DID NOT heed the advice of my dear friend when it came to booking with the company she recommended.

But I can save 37 cents! How bad could it be?  


Think ‘fish-left-in-a-disposal-for-days’ bad. Should you begin to think I’m a vacation prima donna, I will share future stories of vacationing (and I use that term VERY loosely) in the beautiful (loose again) hills near my grandfather’s Arkansas home (loosest of all). It was more like Lord of the Flies Survival Camp in the Ozarks. But I digress…..more to come on that later.

The resort itself was wonderful but our individual unit left much to be desired. I can deal with mess at home but when I’m paying others for lodging, I expect it to be nice. I could almost hear the renters cackling as they counted their dollars and pictured us dumbfounded in the Fish Palace.

We decided to press on and enjoy the beach, the only reason two somewhat-sane people would travel 12 hours with two kids in tow. The problem was that the 100 yard trek to the beach took nearly as long as the drive from Indiana. There were beach chairs and sand tools and fifty variations of sunscreen and sippy cups and snacks and towels and coolers and hats and the weight of my increasing frustration.

Things were getting heavy.

I’ll just go ahead and admit that I can be a real jerk less than joyful when things don’t go as planned. I’d like to think I’m slowly improving in this area but I was ‘not improved’ in 2010 when this trip occurred. The fact that this area of the country was experiencing a heatwave did not help. It’s fun to be at the beach when it’s hot. It is not fun to be at the beach with two small children when it is 105°.

So, you’ve got ‘Fish Palace-dwelling, two kid-toting, heat wave-enduring’ Matt and Emily. Who’ve budgeted to make this first family vacation happen. Oh, did I forget to mention I had recently lost my job as the result of a layoff? So, just a bit more pressure to make EVERY dollar count and have the hap, hap, happiest vacation ever.

If you know me or have read more than three sentences of any of my stories, it’s likely obvious that I’m a bit of a control freak.

Teeny bit.

What do I do in the situations where everything seems to be turning out contrary to what I had carefully planned?

Answer: Control.

Squeeze the situation to match my desire. Manipulate everything. Make everyone miserable with my guiding, directing, controlling.

Check, check, check.

The days were enjoyable but still tense given the heat, and in total transparency, the realization that parenting doesn’t stop on vacation. Duh, I know.

After days of trying to get into our vacation groove I was made aware of some activities happening at the resort on our last evening. Dinner and live music on the patio. What could be better in 100° heat?

But I was bound and determined to go. We will have a good time, family. You WILL enjoy yourselves.

Forcing people to have fun always works….

Fortunately, we made it to the restaurant. Unfortunately, it was SO crowded and SO hot and SO miserable. SOOOO much of each of these things that I just gave up. Gave up. Relinquished control. Quit. I let the kids have huge ice cream cones for dinner. Chocolate. I. Did. Not. Care.

And you know what? It remains my favorite family vacation memory. Ever. Smeared, sticky faces, clothes covered in drips and hair matted with chocolate.

Shortly after, it began raining and I worried we might miss our walk on the beach. We headed out anyway. I watched as my little ones jumped into the tide pools and completely submerged themselves. Laughing and screaming and finally enjoying themselves. Freed from the weight of my control.  It’s heavier than even I know.

As I continue plans for vacation 2016, I am praying for a few things to remain top of mind. I need to:

  1. Have minimal expectations. Related to schedule, weather, activities and behavior. (Primarily mine.)
  2. Pack plenty of snacks, sunscreen and beach towels but leave Controlling Emily at home.
  3. Avoid booking the Fish Palace.

I’m making a note to reread this entry to myself when we approach this year’s vacation. Because as hard as I try to bury Controlling Emily, she has a tendency to reappear around the time we’re packing up the van to leave!

I know many of you have your own family vacation stories to share. I’d love to hear them! Especially the Griswold type!


** My dear Matt read this and said “I remember that trip and feeling SO stressed……we only had half the kids then. What on earth wevre we freaking out about?”  Good question, my dear. Good question.

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