There were a lot of firsts this week. We took our first vacation in five years since our honeymoon. We took our first vacation as a family of four. Our first to the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was a very rocky start since Evan came down with that wicked virus and managed to spike his fever to 106.1 at one point. Very touch and go, with almost two trips to the ER and nearly canceling the whole vacation. But we skipped the first three days and managed the fever with medicines and cool baths and things became better and by Monday the fever was gone and we were able to start our 7 hour drive to the beach house.
It was a fabulous time because we got a great house, had great friends staying with us who also had kids, and a short walk to a fabulous beach. Oh, and right next door was a beach gear rental shop, an ice cream shop, and a carry out food shop that is owned by Marylanders from our neck of the woods in Hunt Valley who sold crabby fries (fries with Old Bay seasoning and malt vinegar, a Maryland staple yum!) and Maryland style steamed crabs. What more could you ask for on a beach vacation?
The boys ate horribly the whole week. Evan because he was still recuperating from his illness and Cameron because I think he was just overwhelmed with all the changes to his environment from the new house, the five other kids around him, the four other adults, the wind and sun and sand and waves and swimming. The eating behaviors are horrible and nothing we tried worked. Their sleeping was horrible too either because someone puked per our typical reflux issues, or they were having trouble sleeping and having nightmares. So both Drew and I slept far worse than we usually do, making for not much of a relaxing vacation for us.
But it was super fun, and mostly because we got to spend time with our friends. It was nice to hang around other adults, chatting about grown up things, swapping stories about kids, sitting in silence and reading our books while the kids napped, taking a leisurely swim in the pool, napping, or stuffing yummy Dare Devil pizza and jalapeno poppers down our throats. We are already planning our trip next year, all we have to do is pick the week and we're ready to go. And next year's is sure to be more relaxing. It can only get easier traveling and vacationing with kids as they get older right?
Some things we learned about vacationing with toddlers:
- Plan what you want to do the day before, try your best to stick to your schedule so you can actually get where you need to and not waste too much time in the process, and be prepared to scrap your plans at a moments notice. Even if it means that they get sick the day before you leave. Always check ahead and print out contact information and addresses for the local pediatrician and ER. It's just a part of life when you have kids.
- If the trip typically takes you 6 hours to get somewhere, expect that it will now take you 8 to 9 hours to get there because of the kids. Yes, it's true. You will stop for breakfast. Then stop for a diaper change. Then another diaper change. Stop for lunch, but the kids need to run around in the play area for at least 20 minutes or it will be like trying to give a cat a bath when you go to put them in the car seat.
- If you are vacationing with friends it's best that those friends have kids generally within the same age range because they are able to play with each other and entertain each other in short bursts. Plus, everyone staying with you will understand any disruptions to the necessary schedule, meals, sleeping arrangements, need to find potties quickly and having to make many stops. No one will get annoyed because they have been there, done that, and understand.
- Take a very small baby pool to the beach so that you can put some water in it, the cheaper the better so you can throw it away or recycle it when you leave and not have to lug it back home at the end of the trip. Your toddler will thank you and you won't have a terrified baby clinging to you in fear every time you want to go dip your feet in to cool off. Most of the toddlers and infants we met were terrified of the waves and simply would not even put their toes in the water, but it was too hot not to find some way to dunk them and cool off. Having a pool under an umbrella is fun and cool and super convenient.
- Swim socks or water shoes are perfect on the beach as well as in the pool. I especially love the swim socks from One Step Ahead because they have a nice thing neoprene foam padding on the bottom so that the heat of the sand doesn't burn their feet but they have full range of motion like as if they were barefoot.
- Take painters tape, duct tape, and a water noodle with a hallow core with you. Use the painters tape to keep dresser drawers shut from prying fingers, duct tape to cover door knobs so that little fingers can't turn the lock on the knob and keep heavier items closed. Use smaller sections of the water noodle (sliced longways on one side) to keep doors from being slammed shut by kids by putting the piece of water noodle over the top of the door. You can do the same if there are sliding closet doors so the door won't smash fingers when it shuts.
- Pick up aluminum foil at the dollar store. Use the foil sheets and the painters tape to cover the windows in whatever room you sleep in to work as room darkening shades. Works like a charm at nap time to block out all the beach time sun pouring in the windows.
- If you are renting the place you are staying at check ahead of time to find out what baby gear they provide. Lots of places provide a high chair and a pack n' play portable crib. But most don't provide baby gates for stairs or have any baby proofing items like cabinet locks or door knob covers. You may want to find out if you need to bring these things with you. You can also ask if there is a store locally that you can rent these items from. They rent anything from baby gates and high chairs to full sized cribs and the cost per week is reasonable. You will want at least one baby gate at the top of every staircase for every floor that you have toddlers staying on.
- If you are staying in a house that has a pool see if you can find out how much patio or deck space you have to work with between the fence and the ledge of the pool. Most pools, especially the ones in the Outer Banks have no shaded area so if you want to have your little ones down there you either have to confine yourself and the baby to a beach canopy which is kind of small. Or you can splurge $60 on a small 10'x10' portable canopy and a couple of dollar store bungee coreds, the kind you often see at large flee markets or farmers markets and festivals. It collapses nicely, offers shade, some come with bug netting, and makes for a nice poolside area to put your baby pool in while you relax. Use the bungee cords to tie the canopy frame to the pool fence so it doesn't blow away in strong winds at the beach. Well worth the effort to bring on our beach trip.
- When you arrive at your rental house make sure you check under every cabinet that the kids can get into as soon as you get there and have put up the baby gates. There are usually cleaning supplies that someone has left behind that need to be put out of reach.
- If you are vacationing with kids who are still in diapers, establish a designated spot (or two depending on how big the place is or how many floors there are) for disposal of the diapers. If you are staying on the top floor of a house you don't want to run down to the bottom floor at 6am just to put a poopie diaper in the trash. Make sure you have extra trash bags to throw the stinkies in.
- Check the lint filter on the dryer before you use it. No one ever seems to remember to clean the filter on the dryer and I do not want the place to burn down on me while my beach towels are drying.
- Unless you have a wagon like this with huge fat air filled rubber wheels, your radio flyer wagon isn't going to cut it. And neither is your large wheeled jogging stroller, even if you pull it backward with the big wheels first. The wheels are just too skinny and sink right into the soft sand But it is worth it to rent a beach cart like this for a few buck for the whole week because that way you load the cart up, pile one kid on top, and carry the other while you drag them through the sand. No matter what you do, you WILL be exhausted and taxed to your physical limits just to get to and from your spot on the beach. But it will help just a tiny bit if you have a beach cart to haul what you thought wouldn't really be all that much but has suddenly taken on the weight and bulkiness of six elephants.
- If you are flying kites with your little kid for the first time, don't bother bringing out the fancy cool kite you bought back when you were young and had money to splurge. It simply isn't worth the time and headache and frustration to try to get it up fast enough to make your kid happy. Instead, get the cheapest lightest kite you can from the dollar store. Because it will go up fast, and then about 30 seconds after you hand it to your 2 year old to hold onto they throw the string handle away and watch it crash of fly off into the dunes.
- The car dual screen dvd player is a parent's best friend on a long drive. I feel sorry for our parents who had nothing of the sort back when we were kids.
The boys were alternately terrified of the beach and the pool and brazen to the point of recklessness with enthusiasm for the water. At the beach they would be upset and within a split second love the sand and wind and water. So much to see, feel and do at the beach. And the same was true for the pool. They were afraid of it at first, and very upset when we put the floaties on them, but later they couldn't get the darn floaties on them fast enough. By the third day they were both asking for the beach (which like other words such as fork and ocean always sounds like a dirty word when my kids say it) or the pool. And they were very specific that they wanted to go in the BIG pool and not the baby pool. They were fearless and would try to jump in belly first on their own. They loved the ladder to get in and out of the pool and now know how to peddle their legs while swimming. They also drank more pool water than I'd like to think about. I think if we'd been on vacation for the full seven days by day four or five they would have had no issues with walking in the water on the beach and swimming like fish in the pool.
Our trip home took 9 hours because of traffic and stops along the way, and it's very good to be home. Especially since none of us slept on the ride back. But we are so ready for next year's vacation and are already planning the week out. We even joked that one day this same group of parents will be looking back on this year's vacation and shake their heads laughing at how rough the early vacation years really were. Thanks to the P family and the S family for joining us and making the trip so much fun. Next year there will be a whole lot more pictures taken. There wasn't a lot of time for me to pull the camera out.