When is a vacation not a vacation?

Answer: when you bring the kids.

To be fair to the girls, the first five days of our vacation — spent at the family camp on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee where we go every August — were pretty damned awesome. We went up a couple of days later than planned, due to Hurricane Irene. More specifically, due to our fear that either a.) a tree would fall on our tiny cabin, killing us instantly or b.) we’d be stuck inside the (rustic, basic, no indoor plumbing, just beds and a couple of old dressers) cabin all day with the girls — a slower, more agonizing death.

Once we got to the island, the weather was gorgeous, and we had a great time. It was the ideal combo of visiting and socializing with the other campers, spending time as a family (or some permutation thereof — like when I took Elsa out on a canoe, or Alastair and Clio and I played bocce) and doing things by myself / with Alastair: reading, kayaking, tennis, etc.  The girls were delightfully independent (they can *finally* pump effectively on the swings!! Hallelujah!) and there were lots of other kids their age (or older, with a soft spot for little ones), which made things a lot more relaxing for us.

But Irene was the cause of another change in our plans: for the past several years, following this family camp vacation, Alastair has performed in the Plymouth Folk and Blues concerts in Plymouth, VT. He was slated to do the same this year. But, sadly, the area (along with many other parts of Vermont) suffered a direct and devastating hit from the hurricane, so the event was cancelled.

So I had the brilliant idea — and I really did feel brilliant about it at the time — that instead of going straight home, we should find somewhere else to extend our vacation. And — hey — how about going up to the White Mountains and taking the girls to Story Land, which we’ve heard such great things about?

[Insert menacing music — Dun, dun, DUNNN — here. Break for commercial.]

Amazingly, given that it was Labor Day Weekend, I was able to get us a reservation at what appeared to be a very cozy little inn (The Bartlett Inn, highly recommend) with two adjoining rooms, no less. I was terribly, terribly proud of myself.

And, sure, maybe the girls had been getting a little cranky and needy toward the end of our family camp stay. But it was probably just because they knew we were leaving, and were unhappy about it. And they were probably a little overtired, from staying up until nine most nights and being so active all the time. And they were probably just generally a bit overstimulated by the whole thing.

But it was nothing that taking them to yet another new place — specifically, a theme park on Labor Day weekend and their first-ever stay in a hotel — couldn’t cure!!

[Insert more menacing music here, if you like.]

There is so much about what happened between Saturday and today that I want to torture you with write about, in graphic, excruciating detail. But I’ll try to restrain myself. And really, there is one basic theme that runs through the whole thing: the children were being assholes. Whiny, grabby, cranky, pouty and LOUD. Like, extra, uber loud. They would be horsing around — in the car, in our rooms — and suddenly just scream at the top of their lungs, and then do it again thirty seconds later after we told them to stop. Time-outs and revoked privileges / toys / etc. were utterly ineffective. It was completely infuriating.

And the chief perpetrator was Clio. Which is of note because when the kids are being assholes, usually Elsa edges Clio out. But this time, Clio was AIC. (Asshole in chief.) (I really shouldn’t talk about my children this way, should I. But I am.) (And I don’t care if they read this someday. Girls: I love you, but on this particular occasion YOU WERE BEING TOTAL ASSHOLES. Especially given the fact that the whole point of this little spontaneous vacation jaunt was to do something nice for you. Not that you’re really developmentally capable of grasping that and adjusting your behavior accordingly. So, you’re forgiven on that front. But not on EVERY OTHER FRONT.)

No, Miss Clio was clearly done with being away from home. She was silly and punchy one minute, OCD and stubborn the next. Demanding and whiny. Finicky and fragile. She stomped around and yelled “I won’t!” when we asked her to get dressed or put on her shoes or [insert entirely reasonable request of your choice here]. She pushed / hit her sister for no reason. And our first evening, when we were at this family-friendly restaurant (so family-friendly they had face painting and a toy room, but all the ambiance of a low-rent banquet hall and so-so food) she was actually rolling around on the floor at one point, giggling like a lunatic. Elsa, naturally, joined her.

It probably didn’t help that Clio was hungry half the time: She refused to eat one entire breakfast of foods that she normally loves (waffles and/or bacon, eggs and toast), and another night she refused dinner. (To be fair, it was a pretty so-so quesadilla from the restaurant/pub across from Attitash, yet another so-so restaurant whose raison d’etre six months out of the year is to cater to very hungry and/or stoned skiiers and ski mountain employees, who will eat pretty much anything.) (Do I used parentheses too much?)

I felt for her; I really did. Several times she asked when we were going home, and she said that she didn’t like the food because it didn’t taste like the food I made. (Aw.) I talked with her about all this, e.g. “It seems like you’re really missing home, huh?” Which she affirmed. And I told her that it was hard to be away from home for a long time, and I was looking forward to getting home, too. But my empathy didn’t do anything to change her behavior. Or maybe it did. Maybe she would have been even more difficult if she felt like we didn’t understand how she was feeling.

I think the whole lodging situation kind of threw the the girls, too. They had never stayed at a hotel before, let alone a bed and breakfast. It was very cozy and homey — it was a house, after all, with a yard (complete with swing set), living room with toys and games, and a dining room.

But it wasn’t our home, and this was a matter of some confusion. The girls didn’t understand why we couldn’t eat dinner there, or why they had to be quiet first thing in the morning. They weren’t too keen on the whole sharing a bed concept, either. (The second night, Elsa slept on the floor.) Further complicating the matter was the fact that they’d just come from a place where we stayed in our own cabin but used a central bathroom and ate in a dining hall three times a day.

I’d be confused, too.

Nevertheless, we did have some pleasant moments. Storyland was — fine. As theme parks go, it was well done and easy to navigate. I appreciated the no-licensed-characters aspect. (More to the point, I was glad we weren’t at Disney World.) And spite of it being Labor Day weekend, we never waited longer than 10 minutes for any ride.

But Elsa was doing her best Veruca Salt (I want ice cream now, Daddy!), Clio was being needy, and it was hot as hell. But there was some consolation in the fact that at any given time, we could spot some other parent dealing with a crying baby or tantruming toddler or disobedient kid. And you knew that they were having the same thoughts we were: why did we come here, again? And more to the point, why did we breed?

The Story Land experience was markedly improved the next morning when I had the — quite excellent, if I do say so myself — idea of splitting up: me with Clio, Alastair with Elsa. Clio was an absolute angel, if slightly remote.

On Sunday afternoon, we also had a nice little hike to a waterfall, which the girls seemed to dig, in spite of whining like teenagers on the way there about how boring it was going to be. When we got to the waterfall, in its 60-foot, white-watered splendor, Elsa exclaimed “yes!”

And I had the comforting vision of taking her — or maybe both of the girls — on some real hikes in the Whites when they’re a little bit older, like the ones I used to take with my family.

In the meantime — God, it’s good to be home.


Elsa at work on some ice cream
It was the first dessert ever to defeat Elsa. We had to document it for posterity.
Clio actually *asked* me to take this picture of her with Cinderella on our morning alone at Story Land.



Clio took this picture of me, doing my best mischievous leprechaun. You're welcome.
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