Finally! A family vacation that doesn’t need a vacation afterwards

I just returned from a lovely, relaxing vacation with my children.

I hope you all realize how significant that sentence is. There are three words in that sentence I don’t think I have ever used together before: “relaxing,” “vacation” and “children.”

I mean, let’s be honest here. Despite all of our perfect Facebook posts with their smiley-faced photos and superlative-laden captions, a “vacation” with three children usually means days of packing a bunch of useless crap you probably won’t use half of, running around airports and attractions trying to keep everyone happy, and at the end, five thoroughly exhausted and cranky family members.

This has been our experience, anyway. Which is why my husband has always said that, as much as we love them, going away with the kids is a “trip.” Just the two of us going away is a “vacation.” Thanks to my fabulous in-laws who are willing babysitters, we have been lucky enough to take a few wonderful vacations – Las Vegas, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and for our tenth wedding anniversary, Italy. Lots of relaxing on the beach and meandering through wine country and some sightseeing here and there, but mostly a whole lot of glorious nothing. We came back relaxed and tan and recharged and most of all, certain that we could never achieve such an experience with our children in tow.

Our first big “trip” did not do much to dispel that feeling. We visited my in-laws in Wisconsin. We brought with us five suitcases, two booster seats, one enormous car seat, a diaper bag, a double stroller, and three backpacks for the plane full of coloring books, DVD players, videos, snacks, stickers, card games, pacifiers and anything else we could think of that would keep the kids quiet and content. I prayed that my children would not freak out when the plane took off, that my daughter would not cry incessantly and make me one of “those” parents, that she wouldn’t have a blowout on the plane, that they wouldn’t kick the seats in front of them. My in-laws took one look at us and all of our paraphernalia when we finally disembarked, exhausted, and said, “We should not have asked you to do this.”

Ditto with Disney a few years later. Thankfully the kids were out of diapers and the car seat was now a booster, but doing five parks in five days is not a vacation. Approximately 6,000 miles of walking, countless character breakfasts, one vomiting kid who couldn’t handle the Star Wars ride, and one case of food poisoning for me later, and we were DONE.

Of course the children had a great time and countless precious memories were made; they will remember the trip forever. But I think it took me and my husband a solid week to recover. There was nothing relaxing about it.

So when my parents decided to get a condo in Clearwater, Florida, for the month of March this year and invited us down for the week, I was … sort of looking forward to it. “Aren’t you excited?!” my daughter asked. Of course I told her I was, and anyone who is human would welcome a respite from a New Hampshire winter; but I wasn’t sure “excited” was the correct word.

And when I thought about why I felt that way, I realized maybe I didn’t have to. Maybe I was looking at it the wrong way. The kids are 8 and 11 1/2 now. Maybe things could be different, and it wasn’t all on me, or my husband, or my parents, to create an amazing experience. Maybe we could just have one – and they could help.

So I started with the packing. Each child got a checklist and a stern warning to not include anything torn, ill-fitting, unmatched, or stained. And as if by magic, when I went upstairs an hour later, every item was laid out for me as requested. I simply gave it all a quick once-over and placed it in suitcases. Next I put out one backpack and made it clear that it was all the entertainment we would be bringing with us. In went one DVD player, three books, schoolwork, three phones/chargers, UNO, and my iPad.

At the airport, every kid hauled their own suitcase, one of my sons carried the backpack, and the other took my daughter’s booster seat. When we arrived in Florida after a smooth and quiet flight, the boys got the bags off the belt at luggage claim. It turns out they all love to feel useful and important and grown up. Imagine that.

And once our “trip” actually began? Aside from two fun spring training baseball games, we went … nowhere. The kids had a blast at the condo’s pool and on the pristine beach. I read two books. Every morning, the adults slept in while the kids played quietly on their devices or read or watched TV until we got up. In the evening, we either shared the cooking and cleaning duties and ate in, or we went out, where the children always found something on the menu they liked – even at the fanciest restaurant in town. Twice, my parents took the kids back to the condo to play card games at night while my husband and I strolled through town and got dinner or drinks.

It was heaven. It was bliss. It was – hallelujah – a vacation.

Melissa Runde lives in Windham.