“Family vacation” is a phrase that doesn’t always recall images of tranquility. Many parents return from one feeling like they need a vacation to recover from their vacation — and that feeling is hardly the exclusive realm of special-needs parents.
We’ve had family vacation hits and misses, and over the years we’ve learned what works for our family. Most important, we learned when you find something that works, stick with the formula and repeat it over and over. It’s no accident we’ve rented the same beachfront condo unit in the Outer Banks three years running.
A few years back, we rented a lake house in New Hampshire. It was a big, four bedroom house that we split with friends (whom we had successfully vacationed with in the past). It had a pool, beautiful hilltop views of the lake where I spent many summers as a child, and plenty of activities nearby.
The trip was a disaster. The weather was awful — with three or four full washout days of rain. It got so bad, that at one point on a chilly, rainy morning, when all four adults and all four kids were getting short-tempered, I ran outside and jumped in the pool in full clothing in the middle of a downpour. Soon all eight of us were swimming fully clothed, laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
Worse, Ryan was going through a very difficult sleep period. I’d almost blocked it from my memory, but for months he refused to spend a full night in his room. He slept on the floor at the foot of our bed night after night after night. And lest you think we were being cruel by relegating him to the floor, that was only after weeks of having him in bed with us. We tried to make it physically uncomfortable while still telling him he could come in our room when he needed to. Eventually, it worked and he went back to sleeping in his bed. The issue (knock wood) hasn’t been seen since.
Those sleep issues bridged our vacation, and the combination of lousy weather, lousy sleep, and unfamiliar surroundings took a major toll on the week. On the day our rental ended, our co-vacationers planned a full day of local activities in the surrounding mountains. We beat it out of there and headed for home as soon as we possibly could. We just wanted to forget the week ever happened.
That trip was at the end of a tricky run of vacations. The previous year, we took the kids to Niagara Falls on Spring Break, to spend a couple of days at the Great Wolf Lodge, a huge indoor water park with theme hotel rooms. It wasn’t a disaster — we had fun in the water park at times. But I recall Ryan being on edge and very difficult throughout the two or three days we were there. It was very frustrating, and left us with that familiar feeling of “is everything always going to be this hard?”
To top it off, Riley got car-sick in our rented SUV on the way home, leaving us to cover the last few hours with the windows down. We were all pretty miserable by the time we pulled into our driveway.
But a funny thing happened when we got home. A few weeks earlier, we had ordered new bedding for Ryan. Veronica found NHL sheets and quilts in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog and Ryan was thrilled at the site of them. He didn’t just want ONE team on his bed, he wanted them all. We looked over the options carefully and he selected sheets with the Western Conference team logos and a quilt with the Eastern Conference marks.
I don’t remember if the items were back-ordered but it seems they took a long time to arrive. Well the package was waiting for us when we returned home. Before we did anything else, Ryan insisted we open it.
I have never seen that child so excited. After several days full of unhappiness, he was suddenly grinning from ear to ear and could not wait to go to bed so he could sleep among all the NHL teams.
Just as babies often find more enjoyment in the box a fancy toy comes in than the toy itself, there is a lesson in all of this. For us, that lesson is K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Vacations are not about ambitious plans. They are about finding a place where Ryan can feel at home, Riley can feel like she’s having fun, and the two of us can feel relaxed. After all, we will spend more time together on vacation than in any other week of the year.
We’ve done that the last few years. Sure, there have been bumpy moments, but the overwhelming memories are positive. The only real sadness for Ryan (and all of us) has come when it’s time to head home. I’m not even sure a set of NHL bedding could undo that.