Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Break 2015: Traveling With Kids

I'm not perfect...and neither are my kids.

I know. It came as a real shock to me, too.

I don't have all the answers, for sure. But I do have some observations on traveling with kids, based know...the magic of SIGHT and SOUND...and experience...and I'm about to share them.

And listen, I've been there, out-and-about with my the grocery store, a restaurant, THE DMV (sorry not sorry on that one because STRESSFUL). We've been on vacation where it's hot...or cold...or humid...or raining...or in long lines...or all the kids are fighting...or they're hungry. OR I AM HUNGRY.

I'm sure people could write a book about me, my kids and my parenting skills...and hey. More power to ya.

I sometimes think about my young-mother self, and I'm really embarrassed at how I awkward I obnoxious I PROUD (of myself) I was.

And even how insensitive I was.

That last one...ouch! Because, I tend to think that I am very perceptive about people...that I would never say anything hurtful to another person, because I am so wise having a child with special needs...well, I have just about heard it all.

Having a child with special needs, you just learn early on...or I did...that people watch your every move. They are probably already staring at your child, because that's what people do, apparently. It may have nothing to do with the fact that your child has been quietly sitting in the bottom of the buggy...leaving a trail from whatever it is that's coming out of their diaper...and you are totally clueless. I'm guessing people look at them because, to them, they look...different. And because some people are rude. But some...most...are just curious...or interested. Or, like with Holly and I...because we HAVE a "Joshua," we are so happy to see another child/adult who looks just like him, and we aren't above following them around the store/mall/park/ball-field/beach to get just one more peek! Because we love them.

All of them.

At any rate, be aware...people ARE watching. Because, have an unruly child who throws a temper tantrum in the check-out line at your local Wal-Marks, and everyone in the store will be thinking, "DO SOMETHING WITH THAT CHILD." And they will secretly applaud when you do. But if that same child has Down Syndrome, and he is throwing a fit in the check-out line, you'd better not lay a hand on him or speak harshly (get down in his face and grit through your teeth, "YOUHADBETTERBEHAVEORYOUWILLBEINTROUBLEWHENWEGETHOME") to him...because it will go from the "bless his heart" the "what a horrible parent she must be...I'm reporting her," in 2.394945756678 seconds.

Traveling with kids...let me just say this right now, is not for the faint-hearted. IT.IS.WORK.

Write that down.

We have traveled a lot with our kids. We have never lived near either side of our family, so to go see them...we have to drive to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana...and even to other places in Arkansas. We've taken our kids to Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC. We've been to Virginia multiple times. We've also taken them to Colorado several times. And we've gone to the beach in Florida or Alabama at least once a year.

We feel like we have been "blessed" with really great travelers. I don't know if that's the case, or if they just got used to it over time. Either way, they say around here: IRREGARDLESS (gouging out my ears), they've traveled pretty well. Even so, we still had to deal with them once we got to our destination, because I don't care who you are or how great your kids are...there are adjustments that need to be made by everyone.

I think one of the main things to remember when traveling with kids is to lower your expectations. Seriously, we all have these dreams in our head of taking our kids to Disney World and having our trip turn into a commercial for the theme park...with laughing parents and squealing-with-joy kids and fireworks and fairies and pixie dust that makes everything so magical. Or, we dream of taking them on a ski vacation...of teaching them to ski and snowboard at an early age, so they will be those kids that just SWOOSH by everyone else on the slope. Yeah. We just know they will remember these trips forever.

They probably won't.

You will, probably. Maybe. Especially if you take lots of pictures.

Or, if one of your children starts popping out with the chicken pox on the 2nd day of your Colorado ski trip.

You'll remember that.

Just sayin'.

But when we started talking about taking our family to Disney World years and years ago, there was no "perfect" time to go for everyone in our family. We had 4 children in 10 years. What would be a perfect time for our older children, would mean bringing a toddler to Disney World.


I remember one time when my Mom was still alive, my sister, Leanne, took my parents to Disney World. They LOVED it. The shows...the parades...the restaurants...EPCOT. But my Mom's quote pretty much says it all about what she thought, "Disney World is not a place for children."


Um...yeah. Pretty sure it is.


Lower your expectations, people. It will be hot. It will be crowded. You will have to wait in a lonnng line for a 30 second ride...and then you will have to do it again. And again. And again.

So, I'm old...and the days of dealing with diapers and strollers are gone until we have grandchildren. Our 3 big kids are all young adults, and our baby is 19. They pack their own clothes and carry their own bags. They can help load and unload the car. They share the driving duty. They take care of all of their bodily functions without us even knowing about it. Well, mostly...because THREE BOYS. And boys love smells and sounds, no matter how old they are. I love them...but they are gross.

Young adults also eat...a LOT. Especially the boys. We've passed the point where we can order a kids meal, give them a cookie in the car, and expect that to sustain them for any length of time. No ma'am. They probably aren't going to "share" an entree with someone because the portion is too big. THE PORTIONS ARE NEVER TOO BIG. FOR THEM. They want food. And then they will want a snack. And then they will want more food. It will be expensive.

Young adults also That means they need space in the car...AND wherever you stay (hotel, condo, etc). When we were at the beach, we would cram into one car to drive to dinner...and there was some grunting and some "MY LEGS ARE TOO LONG TO SIT IN THE WAY BACK SEAT," and some red knees because they rubbed up against the seat in front of them...but for a 15 minute drive, it was doable.

Young adults need their own beds. Gone are the days when Jim would get one small room, and pack blow-up beds for all the kids. No. Please, just stop. Those days are gone like yesterday. We have two kids who are married...and each couple needs their own room, their own space. You cannot make them sleep on the floor or the couch ON A VACATION. If you have a death in the family, or there's some sort of family emergency or what-not...OF COURSE, people will pile up on couches and love-seats and recliners and in sleeping bags on the floor. In the words of Joshua: Imnottalkingaboutthatrightnow.

I'm talking about on a family vacation.

Like I told Jim before we booked our Spring Break trip, either we invite all of them...or we don't. Either way. But just know what to expect, and plan for it...and don't complain about it. If we invite our's our treat. Jim didn't complain at all. We loved having our family with us.

Sitting on the beach and watching people is one of my most favorite things. And, it doesn't matter if you are at the fanciest place ever, or on a public beach, you will see all kinds. ALL.KINDS. Trust me on this one. I was all manner of entertained all week. But, be advised: on the beach is close quarters, and the people next to you can hear everything you say. Even if you think you are far enough away that no one will hear, we will hear. The wind will carry your voice.

We saw all kinds of families. Most were very loving, and most had really good intentions. Some were just...frustrated. Or maybe uneducated in how to talk to kids. Or other humans. Or, maybe, as I think is the case with most people...we get into a habit of speaking a certain way. Either it's how people spoke to and treated us when we were younger, or...nope. There probably isn't another reason. It's pretty much that. I think that how we speak to and act toward others has to be so intentional every time, or we naturally revert to what we've known, even if we know that's not the best way. I've seen this personally in my life and in Jim's. We want to be know? We aren't always...but we try.

My heart broke for the little kids planted next to us on the beach, whose dad yelled and criticized them THE WHOLE ENTIRE DAY. And my heart broke for the Dad, because that's just got to get old, right? He even turned his criticism on himself, "yeah...I'm a mean dad...I know. I'm the MEANEST DAD ALIVE, right?" It was so annoying. And sad.

And then there was the Dad I watched from our balcony. He walked out to the pool-deck with 4 small kids in tow. He was carrying chairs and an umbrella and an ice-chest. The kids were carrying towels, beach toys, and little beach bags/back-packs. At the Dad's request (apparently), they all stopped and set down their stuff. They all got in a line and held their arms out straight to the side. This Dad went quickly from kid to kid...spraying them down with sunscreen, and rubbing more on their faces. One by one by one by one. And then he sprayed himself. And then they all picked up their stuff, and walked down the boardwalk to the beach.

I don't know their story, but I thought, "what a great dad!"

When you take kids to the beach, be prepared: they might not like it. I know. Shocking, right? The first time we took Holly, she was 18 months old. Joshua was about 3. Joshua went running toward the water as fast as his legs would carry him...with Jim following right behind him. Joshua had no fear of any of it. Holly was so excited...we talked for weeks before about the beach and the ocean and the water and the sand-castles we were going to build. We read books about going to the beach. She ACTED excited...but 18 MONTHS OLD.

We carried her until we got down to the beach and then we set her down and let her get her first feel of the sand.


And, after her feet got wet in the ocean, and then covered in sand that wouldn't brush off...she freaked some more.

Nearly all of the pictures we have of her that year show her 1) being carried, 2) on Jim's shoulders, or 3) sitting in a lawn chair.

All of our kids love the beach now, thankfully, but traveling with them...or with anyone else...requires a ton of compromise. NO ONE is going to get to do everything they want to do, when you travel with a big group. And that needs to be okay. There were several places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do, places I wanted to eat, when we were at the beach over Spring Break...but it didn't work out...and that's okay. Just spending time with my family was so precious.

The best advice is to CHILL OUT. The things that are hard at home, like nap time or eating out at a restaurant or bed-time...will still be hard on vacation. It might even be harder, because you will be worried about not bothering the other family members.

And if you are the friends or family members who are traveling with someone who is struggling with their kids on a trip, look for ways you can help. Offer to stay in the room while their child naps...or give them a night "out" by watching their child at the condo while they go to dinner. There are a lot of ways you can help. This is easier if this is a family trip, because you know it's more about "family" time. It's a little harder when you are with friends and thinking, "I took off work for THIS?"

If you are the one having a hard time, don't be afraid to ask for help...and be gracious to accept it. You can pay it forward to another harried parent one day.

Above all, make memories.

Spring Break 2015 Updates: here, here, here, here, here, here.

"But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others..." James 3:17


  1. Oh man, you hit the nail on the head! We took our two little girls (3 and 4) to Disney last week, had 4 day passes... and only used about 2.5 days because they were just. done. They liked the hotel pool, eating popsicles, and catching crickets. We had a great time doing those things! Next vacation: we'll plan for the free stuff ahead of time and do the expensive stuff only if they're up for it! Literally as we walked out of the park with both girls crying on day 3, we muttered, "Happiest Place on Earth! Ha!" :)

    1. Bless your hearts! I just want to give you a fist-pump for solidarity. Been there, done that. :) Thank you for commenting!