Alright, so it’s not really our first family vacation. When Felix was eight months old, we headed to Florida to visit relatives. But traveling with an eight-month-old and a four-year-old are two very different experiences. One naps, isn’t terribly mobile, can be quieted with a pacifier, and contained in a stroller. The other is an uncontrollable bundle of emotion that runs around just looking for limits to test. So to say that I entered our vacation feeling a little trepidation was, well, putting it mildly. I pretty much expected the week to be one dark trip down the parenting rabbit hole, and even wrote about how we planned on managing the little guy’s energy during the trip.
What I didn’t anticipate was the many wonderful moments I’d experience. Prior to this trip, I clung to my pre-parenting view of vacations as rest periods, time for me to take in sights and culturally recharge, in between catching up on sleep and fresh air. The thought of doing that with a four-year-old in tow? Fuhgeddaboudit. I didn’t consider the family vacation as an opportunity to watch my son in a new setting, dealing with new people, places, and opportunities.
And while we had some down moments days when only mommy would do, or that time a dip in the deep waters of Lake Champlain resulted in a panicked kid wrapped around my neck like a forty pound anchor I present here are a few of the highlights for all those people who used to be like me out there, thinking that family vacations were going to be more work then they’re worth. Trust me — your doubts about family travel will be obliterated when your child rises to the occasion.
Seeing that smile! 1 of 10
I saw far more smiles than tears on this trip. Click on to find out more highlights...
Strolling in the Sun 2 of 10
Whenever we leave New York City we do our best to get out in the wild. Here, my wife is helping Felix identify some flower species growing alongside a lake in Vermont. Turns out the kid has an aptitude for plant identification, and also has an eye for chipmunk holes and gnome homes crevices at the base of tree, where he believes little forest people live. Hiking with him was a joy. He noticed mushrooms, spiders, and seed pods I would've otherwise just marched by without seeing.
Gleaning Crabapples 3 of 10
We were staying with friends in Burlington, Vermont, who took us to a nearby playground. The highlight? Not the play equipment, which, being unfamiliar, made Felix nervous, but the crabapple tree growing by the side of the road. The fruit was ripe, perfect for picking. He loaded up his hat and carried them back, so thrilled with his find. Later, him and my wife made this delicious crabapple jelly. He doesn't quite like it, but he's pretty proud of having picked the fruit himself!
Riding in the Car 4 of 10
A couple of late nights meant a sleepy, somewhat cranky kid. At least until the car started rolling, at which point he'd announce, "I'm going to just space out a bit back here." Five minutes later, those little eyes would close, and my wife and I could enjoy one another's company while he snoozed contentedly in the back seat. And when he wasn't sleeping he'd stare out the window, occasionally asking about what that sign back there said, or where those train tracks were going. It was a hoot.
Eating Meals Out 5 of 10
Here in Brooklyn, Felix has gotten inconsistent in his behavior at restaurants. Sometimes he's a perfect gentleman, while other times he pulls all the usual bad kid behavior squirming, whining, crying, making unreasonable demands, trying to play under the table. Perhaps because the situation was so special, he transformed into an excellent diner whenever we ate out on vacation. Here, he's checking out the Fiddlehead brewery in Vermont while I sampled the brews, which we then took next door for a wood fired pizza. A good time was had by all!
Visiting a Farm 6 of 10
Another communing with nature moment, this time at Shelburne Farms: Felix petting a two month old baby goat. He got to check out a cow up close and personal, along with sheep and chickens. All things he's seen before, only in zoos. Here on the farm he got to see how these animals are raised for milking and consumption. Call him "farm to table" Felix!
Spending Time with a Friend 7 of 10
Our friends had a two-year-old, and while in the past we would have worried about how Felix was going to get along with another kid, this time around we were blown away by how calm and mature a playmate he has become. At one point, the adults all sat around on the front porch chatting while the kids carried toys out from the house and played at our feet. It was pretty ideal, and helped my wife and I see how far Felix has come in his ability to be with other kids.
Playing in a Waterfall 8 of 10
Another natural moment see the theme? This time, ogling a waterfall in Massachusetts. He was a little nervous getting under the stream, but loved scrambling over the rocks and wading in the pools of river water. He was able to see firsthand how water erodes channels in the stone, but mostly we walked around in silence, just taking all the noise and power and grandeur in.
Getting Out of My Comfort Zone 9 of 10
We spent an afternoon picnicking by a river, and from the start, Felix wanted to head in the water. I'm not always the outdoorsy type, but he was so insistent, and I was the only adult with water shoes, so I waded in and ended up having a great time scrambling among rapids and sloshing around in the current. This was one of those great times where my son pushed me out of my comfort zone and I loved it. Thanks, kid.
Having Some Quality Solo Time 10 of 10
Of course, sometimes a parent does need a break. My wife and I took turns rowing a calm and quiet loop around a lake in Massachusetts while Felix dug along the sandy shore. We each had some independent time, a necessary bit of space in a day packed with family activities. See? Even in the midst of a vacation as a parent, it's possible to find some time for reflection and recharging.