Friday, October 16, 2015

The Family Vacation: Same Chaos, Change of Scenery

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

We took a little family getaway for a few days last week as my wife somehow managed to scrounge up some vacation days (see earlier post for necessary context).  We had managed a couple of long weekends this summer, but typically those involved trips up to a small resort owned by Jess's grandparents.  This time we opted to head some place new with the kids, so given the time of year and the amount of time it would take us to get there (a reasonable nap length) we decided on Duluth.

Before we had kids we liked to travel.  I was able to spend a semester abroad in college, and after our first years of grad school, Jess and I traveled around Spain for four weeks.  We'd also made a few trips to Mexico and tried to coordinate some leisure travel in the United States at least once or twice a year.  We were not frequent flyers by any means, but we liked to go when we could.  Once we found out we were expecting, I was adamant that having a baby would do little to dampen this desire.  I read books about how to travel with children and started to mentally prepare myself for the adventures that would ensue*.  Sure it would take a little work, but we were up for the challenge.

Then reality set in - traveling with kids is hard.  Even though they are small people, they tend to require a lot of stuff.  Even before we setting off for a weekend away we inevitably drive around our block at least once to pick up something we've forgotten - a favorite blanket, extra diapers, climate appropriate clothing, etc.  Once I needed to make a midnight trip to Walmart to purchase an extra Pack & Play, as our's was conveniently left sitting by our back door.  Factoring the extra drama and chaos by being off of a routine and sleeping in different beds, along with the cost of accommodations and meals for a family of five, it's tempting to not want to go anywhere, ever.  So whenever we manage to snag a few days off, we always seem to do that dance - it would be fun to go somewhere, but it would probably just be easier and significantly cheaper to stay home.

But every now and again you just need to get out of the house, and as someone who spends a significant amount of time in his house, that urge can become much more compelling.  Duluth was about a 2.5 hour drive from St. Joe, which we figured could provide enough time for Havi and Guthrie to nap if we timed it right by leaving mid-morning.  Naturally we booked a hotel with a pool because that is the most exciting thing of the entire trip for the kids.  Pools and continental breakfasts have become our default search filters when booking accommodations, and on our last hotel stay I actually found myself contacting various hotels to inquire about the depth of their pools.  Isla had taken to swimming without a life-jacket, and I wasn't interested in her hanging on me the entire time we were enjoying the aquatic amenities so I wanted to make sure she could touch on her own.  

When you take a trip and then find yourself spending a sizable amount of time in the hotel pool, you kind of wonder what the purpose of the trip was, and why you paid so much money when you could have just stayed home and got a day-pass to your local Y.  But then you wouldn't have any photos to put on Facebook (via Instagram via PicCollage) to show the world all of the fun things you do as a family, or the few times one of your children happens to not be crying.  This trip actually found us finding a good balance of doing what the kids wanted; swim in the pool and jump on the hotel beds, and what Jess and I wanted; see some of the sights, eat at some good places, and not stress out too much.  Of course we had our fair share of meltdowns and often resorted to what I like to call "any port parenting."^  But in the end I was glad we went and would deem the trip a success.

A key component was getting into a good schedule, even during our short stay.  We'd wake up, way too early for a "vacation" and gorge ourselves on baked goods at the continental breakfast.  This would typically give us an hour or so to swim before attempting to be out of the hotel around 10/10:30.  We tried to fill our day with enough activity to keep the kids excited and tire them out at the same time - we saw ships come into the port, we visited the Great Lakes Aquarium, ran around a few playgrounds and did some hiking at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  On our second day, all of the kids fell asleep in the car after playing at a playground, so we spend most of the afternoon just driving around Duluth, which was not-surprisingly peaceful and enjoyable given the scenic drives along the lake.  We'd keep lunch light which would work well for an early dinner out with the Senior Citizens, and allow us to get back to the hotel for a few hours of swimming before crashing in whatever bizarre sleeping arrangements we had devised.    

This trip was also somewhat of a redemption trip considering the end result of a similar trip we took last summer.  We were in a comparable situation with a few days off before a July weekend, and considered going up to the lake or just enjoying a few days at home, but in the end decided to go to La Crosse, Wisconsin - where I actually spent two years in grad school.  It is a scenic little town on the Mississippi River with a quaint downtown and enough outdoor activity that I figured would keep the kids entertained.  We were also able to stop by and see some of my old bosses from my grad school days and have them meet the family.  Of course our hotel had a pool, and even a waterslide and a "kid's pool".  Jackpot!  We had a fun couple of days, and the last thing on our trip agenda was to grab brunch at my favorite breakfast spot before having the kids nap during the 3.5 hour drive back.

We checked out of our hotel and were on our way to brunch when we got in a minor car accident.  Everybody was okay, but it did result in Isla being transported to the hospital via an ambulance and us needing to find a rental car to get home since our car was out of commission. Havi took her first and hopefully last ride in the back of a police car, as she waited with me for a tow truck while Jess went with Isla to the hospital.  After finding a rental car, getting a cab from the hospital to the airport to pick it up, and lugging our belongings, carseats and all, throughout the entire process, we finally made it to brunch about four hours later.  Isla still had an enormous cinnamon roll.  It seemed ironic that the one time I was in La Crosse and didn't go to a bar, of which there are many, was the one time I found myself in the back of cop car and inside the Emergency Room.

Luckily our trip to Duluth did not involve in hospital visits or interactions with police officers, just random run-ins with neighbors from down the street and an old college friend we hadn't seen in at least five years, and Jess .  Sure if you venture out you always run the risk of something unpleasant happening, like getting into a car accident or your kid throwing up chocolate milk while you are out to eat.  But staying home has its own risks too, like one of your kids "accidentally" cutting one of his/her siblings with a scissors.  I figure if it's always chaos, sometimes a change of scenery can be nice.  At least you can have a semi-viable excuse for allowing your kids to eat excessive amounts of junk food and stay up too late.  It's vacation!

I also figure at some point the kids will take much more interest in the places you are going.  One of the things we did before we left was check out a book about Duluth from the library.  We looked at pictures and I paraphrased the content, which was a tad heavy on the economic composition of the area.  After seeing pictures of the Aerial Lift Bridge and some of the big ships that come through the port, they could hardly contain their excitement of seeing it in person.  While it might seem pointless now to attempt to expose them to those sorts of things now, I think if you want them to take any interest in traveling as they grow up you have to set the foundation now.  I remember taking a trip to Washington DC when I was about 10, and after we got back our parents actually let us go see "A Few Good Men" because it featured a number of the historic sites we visited while we were there.  It was also the first "R" rated movie I was allowed to watch.

After our trip to Florida we kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that any trips we want to take with the kids for the foreseeable future will have to be somewhere we can feasibly get over a naptime.  While there are a number of international locations on my "to get to" list, it has been kind of nice to think about the cool places even within the state of Minnesota or surrounding states that we haven't yet experienced, or would like to experience with the kids - Duluth and the North Shore being one of them.  Even weekend trips to the Twin Cities have become a "mini-vacations" of trying to do something different that the kids will enjoy (in addition to swimming in the hotel pool).  One of these days we'll get them passports and put them on a plane, something we've yet to brave.  It will be chaos and there will undoubtedly be plentiful tears and Griswold references, but it will be well worth the adventure.  Even if they seem to hate every minute of it.

Now it's your turn.  What's a kid friendly destination that you've really enjoyed?  What crazy stories do you have of traveling with your kids?  Comment below if you would.

Notice the scowl on Havi's face even despite the ring pop on her finger.

Of course the small rocks are hot lava.
I suppose they actually might have been a few million years ago.

Where's Isla?  She's sulking in the corner of the photo.

Betty's Pies!
It's vacation....
The close of our La Crosse trip.
They didn't want to leave the ER since they got to watch "Frozen" 


*In one book, "How to Fit a Carseat on a Camel", I read about a family who had to retrace a sizable chunk of a road-trip to pick up their young son's imaginary "friend" who had forgotten to get back in the car after a stop at a gas station.  Once they got to the gas station, the son informed his parents that his friend had actually been in the car the entire time, he just didn't see him.

^I lifted this from the saying "any port in the storm"            

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