The beach has pristine white sand. A soft breeze ripples the palm tree leaves as I laze in my hammock, fruity drink in hand, as the sun turns my skin a soft bronze. Ah vacation. And, unfortunately, a total fantasy. Especially with young kids.
This summer, we didn’t spend one night away from home, let alone a few hours of uninterrupted relaxation by the ocean. It really didn’t have much to do with the economy. Instead, it was about our sanity: our third child was born in March, and for some reason, my husband was not eager to hop on a plane with three kids ages 5 and under—especially an infant. I can’t say I blame him. Because no matter where we go, it would just be a lot of work. The backdrop would just be prettier.
So what do you do? How do you find your own fun?
We are lucky to live in Southern California, a place where many people visit from all over to enjoy the many miles of coastline. But the reality of packing up the kids and the car and schlepping 20 minutes to the beach was almost too much for my tired brain.
There are lots of other things to do that don’t involve removing sand from between 30 little toes. We got yearly passes to an aquarium, the zoo, the science center and a botanical garden—places that the kids love but we don’t feel guilty if we only stay for a couple hours. We try to get to one or two of these places each month.
The bigger challenge was how to keep things enjoyable for the kids during the week, while my husband worked and the summer stretched out before us. Our first son and our daughter are 21 months apart, so they have similar interests. I started planning play dates at the park. Or the pool. We did arts and crafts at the library and each child got to attend a couple weeklong day camps.
It was great hearing the kids wake up in the morning, excited for whatever adventure awaited them.
And then there were days when we just did nothing. I’m not one of those moms who always has a project ready to be constructed out of empty toilet paper rolls, clothespins and birdseed. My kids watched movies. Or made up Star Wars stories to act out together. Sometimes they’d grab paper and crayons and sit on the floor, heads bent over their creations as they drew maps and spaceships and Mommy (looking somewhat like a potato) while their 5 month-old brother played beside them on a blanket.
We’d head out to the front yard, where I’d sit in a chair and play Beyonce on my iPhone while my daughter danced on the grass.
Then we’d go up the street to play with the neighbor boys—bikes, light sabers, water guns and baseballs.
We stopped the ice cream man. Who cares if it was close to dinner? I want them to have wonderful memories of their childhood, to look back at all the fun they had. Even when we just stayed home.