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Vacationing with Grandparents: An emergency kit for family travel

Recently, our family took a vacation in San Diego. We’ve been on several trips over the last few years, but not all trips = vacations. As anyone who’s road-tripped with children knows, a 16-hour drive to Denver is no stint at the beach. And a week of sleeping in my sister-in-law’s freezing basement? Most definitely not a vacation. When you lie shivering on a mattress and wish you were getting a root canal or bikini wax instead, you know it’s bad.

Well, our San Diego vacation could have easily deteriorated into “horrendous trip” status. Why? It involved sharing a rental house with my mom and dad:and my husband’s mother as well.

You heard me: 3 grandparents over the age of 70 were in tow. And they’re not youthful 70-somethings who are on the go at every moment. They’re:old people.

Grandma #1, a.k.a. My Mother, wakes up at 2 a.m. every day and has a penchant for getting sick on every major holiday. Not just an “Oh, I have a cold but I’ll soldier on” kind of sick, it’s always “the Worst. Cold. Ever.” kind of sick where we all get to watch her make miserable faces 24/7. Every other year, said cold involves a trip to urgent care or the E.R.

Grandma #2, a.k.a. My Mother-In-Law, alternates schizophrenically between being on a vegetable-only diet and being on a deep-fried-Oreo diet – the only problem is that we never know which diet she is on at any given time. Grandma #2 has also lost her social filter, which means that she is prone to unwittingly barking out insulting comments at inopportune times.

Grandpa #1, a.k.a. My Dad, is quite easygoing and not much of a problem. He just insists on having the news on during all of his waking hours – at 80 decibels, because he’s hard of hearing.

Believe it or not, the three of them get along famously. Thank God for that.

Overall, the trip went surprisingly well given the circumstances. But I learned a lot about taking vacations with grandparents.

  • Grandparents do not like to share a bathroom with each other. This is because they all get up more times in the night to go potty than a pregnant lady.

  • Grandparents like routine. They must be told by 7 a.m. when all meals are to be served and what is on the menu. Do not go out with your children an hour before a scheduled mealtime and leave the grandparents at the house alone. They become suddenly unable to cook for themselves. They will sit and wait for you with their hands and faces pressed up against the window. Then they will make you feel bad that they didn’t get their num-nums until 6:15 p.m.

  • Grandparents are awesome recyclers and despise waste. They will reuse cups, Ziploc bags, and paper plates to the point where you ask them if a child has thrown up on the item when you weren’t looking. They will find a use for a shriveling tomato or mildly decaying fruit. They will insist that you save that one tablespoon of chopped onion. They will reheat their cold coffee 5 times. They will make your kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with 2 heels of bread.

  • Grandparents have hidden superpowers. Grandparents tire very easily and will insist that they cannot possibly do the heavy walking required of a trip to the amusement park. However, when they learn that there is a casino within a 50-mile radius of where you’re staying, they suddenly have limitless energy. They gleefully skip to their car, forget about their scheduled mealtimes and gamble without sustenance for up to 8 hours at a time.

  • Grandparents do not want to be a listed driver on the rental car. This is because they want to have the right to complain that they are stuck at the house while you spend the day at the amusement park. Do NOT ever challenge a grandparent’s right to complain about something.

  • Grandparents don’t like you playing favorites. If you are staying in a 2-story rental house, don’t play favorites and let one set of grandparents sleep downstairs and force another to climb stairs. You should take the downstairs bedroom for yourself and make them all climb the stairs.

  • Grandparents choose their own T.V. shows. When left to babysit, the grandparents will introduce your children to such fabulous children’s programming as Law and Order, Judge Judy, Headline News and anything on HGTV, in that order. So don’t worry when you tell your kid to get dressed and he says, “Objection!” or wants you to explain to him what a serial killer is.

  • Grandparents have a low tolerance. When your 5-year-old counts to 100 repeatedly for 30 minutes, Grandma will suggest you look into therapy for her obsessive-compulsive behavior. When your son burps the ABCs, they will write a collective check to the local military school.

  • Grandparents like to feel needed. Don’t make them feel like they’re not helping on vacation. If they insist on buying a 17-pound ham on the first day of the trip so everyone will be forced to eat fatty ham sandwiches for the next seven days, let them. They will pack up all of the leftovers in reused Ziploc bags and shove it in their carryon bags for the airplane.

  • Grandparents like to keep you guessing. The element of surprise is fun for grandparents! Give them the creative freedom to unexpectedly yell at a restaurant server who brings them runny coleslaw or throw your kid’s DS into the ocean to teach him consequences.

Despite all the lessons I learned from my trip with grandparents, I’d do it again. I told myself that just like with my own kids, there’s not a lot about our parents we can control. There’s not anything we can really do but laugh.

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