By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
Going on vacation with twin two-year (25 month) olds is stressful and exhausting in ways I’m almost still too tired to even adequately explain. There is almost no down time. No relaxing by the pool, reading a book and getting a suntan. No lying on the beach, feeling the warm sun. Almost nothing like what I think of when I dream of going on vacation. On the other hand, there is a lot of chasing after children who are so excited they can’t control themselves and the stress of traveling.
Before our children, great vacations used to be about special time with my wife, going to new and exciting places, and getting some much needed rest and relaxation. We’ve been to the Bahamas, to the Galapagos Islands, and even on a cross country camping trip for 28 straight days. But ever since our children were born, I’ve had to adjust what my expectations of a great vacation really are. I am finding that vacations are becoming less about where we go and more about family time – especially time with my children – and introducing them to some of the things that I really enjoy so we can share them together.
The hardest adjustment with vacations with little children has been the traveling. When it was just me and my wife, the trip was part of the excitement. I love flying and driving together is how my wife and I fell in love. Now it has become the most dreaded aspect. On this past vacation, we flew down to Florida to stay at my parents condo, but to get there we left our house in Long Island at 7:40 in the morning and didn’t arrive to our destination until 6:00 that night. Eleven hours of traveling with two two-year olds requires a constant awareness of how they are doing and everything around them. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Getting bored? Restless? Which toy would help them now? Is it safe to let them run around? When do we need to distract them from wanting to run around?
The hardest part of the trip down was our second delay. There was an hour delay while we were waiting at the gate. That was certainly frustrating, but at least Lucas and Dorit could run around and not be restrained in the car seats we brought. We were able to get them a snack and we could easily change their diapers. We had a great view of the airplanes taking off, landing and coming to the gates. Not fun exactly, but not really bad at all. After we boarded the plane and got settled we were told we were going to be delayed about 1.5 hours on the tarmac.
I felt a sense of panic creeping in. It was one thing to let them walk around in the airport killing time, but what were we going to do with them for an hour-and-a-half stuck on the airplane? We had already strapped them into their seats, but after a few minutes realized it would be better to let them out, move the car seats and let them play on the whole row. It was not a lot of space, but it was as much as we could give them. We played with them, we read to them, we sang with them and when I looked at my watch we still had one more hour to go.
I don’t know how we made it. Our 15 year-old goddaughter was with us and she was incredibly helpful. Each one of us went through periods where we were each the main entertainer, the supporter and the backup (hopefully, resting up for when we were once again the entertainer).
After what seemed like seven hours but was less than a third of that, the pilot told us we were the next plane to depart and we put them back into the car seats kicking and screaming because they wanted to be free. I remember feeling this immense sense of relief. We made it. We survived. Then it hit me. We still had three more hours to go until we landed in Florida. Once we landed, we had to schlep our stuff to the rental car location and drive almost 2 hours. We weren’t even close to having survived yet.
Another major adjustment is the lack of sleep. Previously, vacation was a time to sleep without being woken up by the alarm and to catch up on lost sleep. Now it means waking up while they are still stirring but not yet awake to turn off the monitor so they don’t disturb my wife. Then I sneak out of our bedroom to wait for them to fully awaken. While this means I don’t get enough sleep during vacation, I revel in the extra time with them and that has become a major part of these new vacations for me. Just the three of us together where Daddy is “The Parent,” the primary caretaker instead of Mommy, with all of the pluses and minuses that go along with that position. One of the hardest parts of being a working Dad is I get so little alone time with either of my children. At night when I get home we have dinner, bathe them, nebulize them and get them to bed. By the time they get up in the morning, I am almost always on my way to work already.
However, when they wake up during vacation I am still around since I don’t have to leave for work. I step quietly into their room, pick them both up in my arms (hear them both say, “Two babies!”) and carry them to the kitchen. Then we would discuss what to eat for breakfast. Sometimes it was as simple as cereal (Cheerios or Special K) and sometimes it was eggs (with cheese, of course) and even pancakes (with bananas.) The other nice part about this is that it makes everybody happy. My wife loves the extra sleep and my children and I love the time with each other. That extra time together makes it possible for other special time to happen as well.
About halfway through our vacation, Dorit developed a rash on her ears, we think from the sun, and I needed to go to the Walgreens to pick up some anti-itch cream for her. When I said I was going, Lucas started to get upset. I asked him if he wanted to come with Daddy and he looked at me with his beautiful brown eyes and said in his high-pitched voice, “yeah.” As though he was saying, “That’s a silly question, Daddy, of course I do.” I looked at Gem and she nodded, so off we went.
When we got to the store, I took him out of his car seat, put him on the ground and we walked into the store hand-in-hand. I have to say the feeling I had was such a sense of pride. Very similar to when I walk into a room with Gem and people look at us and I know they’re thinking, “he’s lucky to be with her.” Walking through the Walgreens, everyone would look at us just like that, like I’m lucky to be holding the hand of such an adorable little boy.
We started walking around the store trying to find the Benadryl cream and before long, though, he became fascinated by all that he saw in there and he fell behind. Every few steps I would turn around to see where he was and he would see me and he would starting running to catch up, his arms moving from side to side, his short little legs pumping faster but still taking such tiny steps and my heart would leap.
Then he turned down one of the aisles and I went to check on him.
He said, “What’s this, Daddy?”
“What’s this, Lucas?” I responded knowing this is a game we play.
“The Wiggles,” he answered enthusiastically and he jumped up and down.
He was so excited about this $1.99 Wiggles coloring book that I decided to buy it for him. He held it close to his chest as we walked around the store, not even letting me take it out of his hands so I could pay for it. Fortunately, the cashier was smitten with him and scanned the bar code while he was still holding on to it. When we got home, he was so excited to show his sister and they both looked through it together. My wife and I looked at each other smiling. I would gladly spend $2.00 to see them this excited.
During our previous vacations, if my wife and I wanted to spend an afternoon just doing nothing but reading or resting, we would. But with two toddlers that really isn’t an option. This meant we would do something in the morning before their nap and then as soon as they got up we were off again. Lucas and Dorit seemed to get more energy from all we were doing while we had less and less.
There are advantages to doing so many things. For instance, it gives me the opportunity to introduce my children to things I really enjoy. It was too cold to spend much time at the beach, but the time we had there was so enjoyable. I dug out a stretch of sand and made places for them to sit as if they were on a comfy couch. Then we worked together to build a big hole that all three of us could stand in. While I was building a wall around our hole, Lucas would try to imitate what I was doing. I can remember digging holes and walls in the sand when I was a kid and now my son was doing the same thing with me.
We also took two trips to the zoo because we all had so much fun there. Walking around with our children, listening to them announce the names of so many of the animals we saw as well as learning new ones was such a wonderful experience. No matter where we were in the zoo, when we heard the lions roar, Dorit would always say, “What’s that sound?”
“I don’t know Dorit. What’s that sound?” she asked, playing the same game as Lucas did at Walgreens.
At one point, there was a place we could stand on a little foot bridge and drop fish food into a pond. If we looked over the railing into the pond we could see the fish come up and eat it. But some birds had also figured this out and would try to eat the fish food before the fish got to it. They would fly across the little pond, right in front of Dorit and Lucas, and eat the food we threw in. While startled by the birds, our children thought this was possibly the funniest thing they had ever seen. They kept asking us for more food so they could throw it in the pond. When the birds would swoop in to get the fish food, they would screech and then laugh hysterically – often stomping in place or jumping up and down because they didn’t know how to contain all of this excited energy they were feeling. A couple of times they were so excited I had to grab them because I was afraid they were going to jump off the bridge into the water.
Unfortunately, our last night on vacation arrived. We decided to eat our last dinner together before we went home at a restaurant and we were having a great time. I was sitting in between my children and loving every minute of it. Dorit was having spaghetti for the first time and I got to show her how she could eat it. She was having so much fun, and even eating some, too. Of course, we had washed their bibs and had forgotten to put them back in the diaper bag, so I had to wrap a napkin around her neck to try to keep her somewhat clean.
Finally, my dinner came and I asked her if she wanted some. She said yes and I told her we needed to wait until it wasn’t so hot. Then she said something back to me, but I didn’t quite catch it. I asked her to say it again and she did, but again, I missed it. Something about “help daddy” but I couldn’t quite understand. I was concerned there was something wrong, but since I couldn’t understand what she was saying I couldn’t help her like she wanted. Thankfully, looking at me earnestly, trying to speak as clearly as possible she said it one more time and then I realized what she was saying. I repeated it back to her, “Help Daddy blow.” She gave me a look that seemed to say, “Uh yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying all along, Daddy.” She wanted to help me blow on my food to cool it off. I almost cried right there. I brought my food in front of both of us and we started to blow.
As I adjust to this new kind of vacation, I am finding that while they are very different – and more exhausting – than the way I always knew vacations to be, they are uniquely special and create wonderful memories of their own.