The Ghost of Holidays Past or 10 Things I Learned from a 2 Day Vacation


There is no such thing as a vacation when you have children, at least not in the way you remember.  The lazy days spent on golden sands with a Corona and a good book, the apres ski drinks that started at four and ended at the jacuzzi under the stars, the whirlwind city tours spent walking hand in hand through romantic jardins du fancy pants? Ghosts of holidays past.  Holidays, vacations, mini-breaks, anything requiring leaving the home for more than a few hours with children involves stealth and military precision planning.  It involves compromise, sacrifice,packing half of household goods to avoid a meltdown in the immigration hall, humor and a mutual agreement that the democratic principal may need to be put on hold for the safety, health and continuance of the family unit.

Yet we continue to do it, clinging forlornly to the hope that at some point, some day, the balance will once again tip in favor of the us, the adults.  Oh, we have had successful holidays–usually when we are vacationing with other families and the children entertain one another.  Or when there are additional adults on hand to offset the five am wake up calls.  There have been the times when we do something that is geared for kids and is by default, extortionately expensive and makes you want to poke at your eyeballs with the umbrellas from your overpriced drinks.

My children are actually great travelers.  I am the mom on the plane who gets complimented on having beautifully behaved children.  My husband is the king of packing and we can fit a month’s worth of gear for four people into two small bags.  My boys will walk for miles, uphill all ways, without complaint.  Yet somehow these things are never enough.  Inevitably when the four of us go away, we end up shouting at one another in a public forum, someone or ones ends up in tears, cold shoulders are presented on public transport and threats to never again go on vacation are thrown down with aplomb.

We should know better.  We never learn.


There was the tantrum in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  There was the near-divorce in Florida.  The shouting in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, meltdowns in Central Park, near-miss eye-gouge on a hike in Norway, lost crowns, thrown out backs and road rash in Cape Cod.  There was a broken rear windshield in Maine and getting pulled over by the police in Newport.  Those are just off the top of my head.

This weekend we took a mini cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo, mostly inclusive, entry through the fjords, a deal for February break.  Below are the list of the ten lessons I learned on a two-day trip.

1.  Buffets bring out the worst in people.  Granted, not as bad as the riotous scrum for party hats in a Las Vegas casino on New Year’s Eve, but still.

2.  Regardless of size, class or location, a ship’s cabin is not big enough for four people, one of whom is a 6’5″ adult.

3. Sometimes it is worth is to just pay the $55 USD for hot chocolate and cookies, just to give you something different to talk about.

4.  Six year olds take up more bed space than you think they would.  Especially when you are sharing a bottom bunk with them.

5. If you leave the bathroom door open when you are having a shower, it sets off an alarm and there will be frantic knocking at your door complete with a slightly out of shape security guard clutching her chest trying to ‘calm the situation’.


6.  You can still eat steak even when your false tooth/bridge falls out half an hour before departure. Also, you can buy dental adhesive in Norway.  And it’s just as expensive as you would think it would be.

7. Kids are not interested in museums, sculpture parks, architecture, design, sight-seeing, ambiance soaking.  The highlight of their trip will be kicking the piles of snow going up the very steep hill to the ski lift and balancing precariously on the edge of said ski lift giving their already out of breath mother a heart attack.  (Mental note:  Do not go to Grand Canyon until children are older).

8.  If you want to yell at your kids, don’t do it in English.  Everyone speaks English these days.  I recommend Lithuanian, maybe Swahili.

9. Muesli/granola in NOT a good thing to eat with a precariously adhered dental bridge, even after having used the exceedingly expensive dental fix.

10.  Two days together requires several days of forced separation.

So for the rest of the day the 6’5″ adult will snuggled up in a normal size bed watching the Olympics, the oversized six-year-old is checking on his online dragon breeding facility, the nine year old is probably doing something he shouldn’t be and I am writing this, trying to figure out how to make the next vacation we take a successful one. Because of course there will be another.

I never learn.

17 thoughts on “The Ghost of Holidays Past or 10 Things I Learned from a 2 Day Vacation

Add yours

  1. Funny, I woke up thinking about our trip to the Jungfrau region of Switzerland, where I had a huge fight with my then 8 year old son, while looking at breathtaking scenery. Yeah, vacations always brought out the worst in both of us!


    1. Elyse, your son is older…it gets better, right? Tell me it gets better! If he survives not hurling himself off of a ski lift, and his father, will it get better? Vacations, I think, are so full of expectation they invariably don’t live up to that one is always slightly, sort of, on edge..


  2. And then there is the dividend you may never know about; that for the boys in their later life these vacations will re-emerge as bonding experiences with new friends, something to share to get close to that someone special or relating with their own children…You’ve given them experiences that will keep on giving.
    I have a friend (now in his 50s) whose parents took a family trip to Cyprus when he was six. His memory of the trip? Not Roman ruins or crusader castles, but standing knee deep in the water contemplating (and learning eventually) how to swim. It’ll be interesting in a couple of decades to see which moments from these vacations are the standouts…and probably not the moments you’d think!


    1. That is entirely too well thought out and logical an argument for an afternoon spent recovering from days on a ferry cruise with two small people and a tall husband. I can only hope that those few moments atop the ski jump hill in the Norwegian mist will fuel their friendships in years to come, that the 10 dollar sugary kid cocktails will make lasting memories and that the lecture filled Metro ride won’t make the grade. Yes, it will be interesting to see how they remember these little trips. If I survive long enough to hear about it!


  3. Don’t think of them as difficult vacations.
    Think of them as…research on suitable locations to leave the kids!

    (whenever I asked my parents where we going, my mom invariably answered “to drop you in the woods”.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahh, such fond memories….
    My idea of a perfect vacation at this point would be to sneak off with hubby and smuggle ourselves away in a shipping container. I wouldn’t mind hopping a freight train, either. I think I may be confusing running away with taking a vacation.


    1. It is easy to understand why sometimes. There was a mediocre movie called ‘Date Night’ that came out a few years ago, but there was a brilliant scene when Tiny Fey was talking about how her fantasy was sitting in a hotel room by herself sipping a Sprite-and you could hear every mother in the world nodding along…


  5. ‘There is no such thing as a vacation when you have children’ – quite right. And no sick leave or weekends. If you’re lucky you might have an hour or two to yourself in the evenings…


  6. Sure, family holidays can seem like hard work when your kids are little, but you’ll never, ever regret the time you spend with them. Our kids are 12 and 14 and we’re keenly aware that we’ve only got a few more years of family vacations before they’ll want to go off and do their own thing. Make the most of it!


  7. This post reminded me of travelling as a child with my (large, unruly) family – I don’t know how my parents did it! We were staying in quite a posh hotel in Paris once (on my Dad’s company if I remember correctly, we moved to France shortly afterwards so I think it was some kind of reccee), and my then-two year old brother decided to throw a tantrum over dinner. My parents did all they could to discreetly shush him while the rest of us wolfed down as much food as we could, knowing that our time in the hotel restaurant was limited. Finally Dad picked my brother up, and started to carry him out of the restaurant – at which point my brother decided to throw the little car he had had in his hand the whole time…
    It sailed across the room and landed… smack in the giant bowl of vanilla pudding at the buffet. You don’t know ‘judged’ until you have seen a roomful of Parisians react to a ruined bowl of vanilla pudding. The waiter fished the little car out and made a great show of walking across the room holding it disdainfully at arms length and handing it to my mortified mother as we all scuttled out.
    The car thrower is going to become a father himself in a couple of months… my parents can’t wait.


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