Welcome to the July 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Vacation
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their family-travel tips, challenges, and delights. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
By the time I’m planning our summer 2015 trip, I hope I’m up for the tips and cheery ideas I expect people will share in today’s carnival. This year, I read the call for posts while on the Ohio Turnpike, just over halfway between our home outside of Washington, DC and the homes of our families in Michigan and had to stifle a giggle as my children made their way through all the packaged not-real-food items that had been half-eaten in our pantry for months and so got stuffed into the travel bag.
Normally, I cook a ton before we leave the house and have full meals at least for me (the most food-sensitive of the bunch) and usually also for the kids. I also usually leave the house in a state of utter chaos, just washed-dishes strewn all around. Things have been different this year, and I’m reflecting on what I would really like for family vacations.
What actually happens:
- We drive to Michigan once a summer and sometimes in December to visit family. Usually we have three different pods of people to see, so driving is necessary even if flying were free (which it’s not). Usually we feel like there are a lot of balls in the air.
Sometimes my husband flies back to work a week and then flies back to drive home with us. Last summer I drove the kids home by myself and stopped in Pittsburgh where taking a nearly 3-year-old and a 7-year-old to the Children’s Museum and a Pirates baseball game was fun but tiring. During the visits, little time is planned out in advance except for whose house we’ll be at when. A notable exception this year was a trip to a Tigers baseball game. If we don’t go to Michigan for Christmas, we host or go to one of my sisters’ homes in Indiana or New Jersey
- We occasionally make a conference a trip destination:
– the 2011 Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions conference in Dallas (where we all visited my father-in-law)
– the 2013 Holistic Moms Network conference (where my brother drove up with me and took my kids on outings while I attended the conference, and after it was over, we met up on the Jersey shore with my sister and two of her kids) and the 2008 Holistic Moms Network conference, when my son spent the day with my other sister and her kids nearby.
– the 2011 Wanderlust yoga festival in Stratton, Vermont, where we met up with the family of my husband’s brother and sister-in-law, who was teaching at the huge event and where I got to attend as “press”
- Once or twice a year, I drive the kids up to visit my sister and her kids in New Jersey and we pair with a trip to the shore or another destination, like the Crayola Experience in Easton, Pennsylvania
- Twice we have gone somewhere just for fun with no connection to a family visit: to Chincoteague Island in October 2009 and to Polyface Farm in 2012 (and I took my son solo to the farm when I was 8 months pregnant)
- This summer, I might take the kids by myself to visit some friends in North Carolina and see the ocean
- My husband took the kids on an overnight last year to National Harbor, a resort complex across the Potomac from our home in Northern Virginia
What I would like to be reality
- Take a really long time to do the DC-Michigan drive and enjoy a lot of spots on the way to make it a vacation not just about visiting extended family but also about our family
- Plan a trip to go somewhere — anywhere! — just as a family without an extended family tie-in. I’d like to really plan and look forward to this.
- Do some kind of journaling with the kids and involve them more in some actual planning!
- Send my children on an excursion with their dad that lasts more than 26 hours so I could be in the house by myself without needing to cook for anyone! Grandparent camp isn’t an option for us due to the ages and health of our parents, but I fantasize about a traditional foodist Mary Poppins taking them for a week !
How I approach travel & family visits
When you’ve got a lot of people — sometimes as many as 17 — under one roof, you have to pick your battles. The same is true when you’re making a trip of many hours in the car (or really any vehicle).
There are some convictions I think it’s important to stick to because I fear exceptions on vacation will spill over into expectations for normal life. And then, there are several areas where I’m happy to make compromises on vacation, because it’s vacation!
My primary goal with most of my decisions is to ensure that my kids stay healthy in the near-term and that they don’t indulge in activities that are going to make them feel bad and, as a result, act nutso for me. But I also want to make sure that they don’t feel restricted or that they develop a line of thinking that we are making good decisions and other people aren’t. It’s tough sometimes to figure out how to stick to your guns, especially when you want your children to respect your reasons, but at the same time be respectful and tolerant of everyone’s choices so no one feels demonized.
- My sensitive gut doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room, so this is a challenging area. My kids also need to keep up a healthy diet that is gluten-free, and they will do better if they stay dairy-free. But when a place like Zingerman’s Roadhouse offers really good gluten-free bread (with olive oil for dipping!) and for a grilled cheese with high quality cheese and a beautiful side of fresh fruit, it’s nice to indulge. But nothing will make me get fast food. Even if we haven’t packed well or the car trip drags on in traffic or weather, there are enough healthy-ish choices even at Starbucks (think non-GMO Evolution snacks). And you can get a salad with only olive oil for dressing at Panera or at Greens on the Ohio turnpike. Heck, you can even bring a cooler full of food into a Detroit Tigers game!
- Lentil chips, popcorn, crackers and veggie chips are rarities in our house but come along for the drive
- I try to roast a chicken the first night I’m in a relative’s house so that I can make fresh broth which I have at every home meal and my son has at most every breakfast. My daughter is more of a challenge and might only eat some frozen peas cooked in broth, but I still try most mornings.
- The Ann Arbor-based fermented foods company The Brinery is one of the best things about eating in Michigan. Homemade fermented foods are just too precious, too full of my own energy, to risk bringing them along to possibly go to waste or spoil on the road. Eventually I’d like to start making fermented fruit leather or something else we could take on the go for probiotics.
- We will do things like get gluten-free pizza if the rest of the cousins are getting pizza, and we will do GF buns with hamburgers if buns are on everyone else’s menu. If there is going to be cake, I make a GF version from scratch.
But I do draw some lines. The kids do not eat candy. I have at least a few times successfully kept them out of outings to the local dairy farm where the sight of cows in barns all the time is something I don’t want them to think is normal and where the ice cream (though homemade) still has HFCS in most of the flavors. We don’t join in with Nutella for breakfast, even if it were on GF bread. Breakfast is always eggs (with veggies if possible) and sausage and broth and peas, or occasionally soaked oatmeal with nuts and raisins. It is a meal to sit down to. My son is sensitive enough to chocolate that it should really be only a very occasional food for him, and not the way to start the day.
On the road
My kids are nearly 4 and 8, and we’ve never used an DVD player or an iPad in the car. We don’t own either. My son has looked through photos and videos on our camera and now knows how to navigate his dad’s phone more than I’d like. We did play a few music videos and sang along, and we’ve have some periods of time when we play CDs, but most of the time the kids are expected to amuse themselves. This might include playing Mad Libs or the highway alphabet game or “Who Am I?” with grown ups. I love it when they just invent stories about the clouds or look up from their activity books enough to notice the scenery.
In the home-away-from-home
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my kids are watching their first non-sports TV of the trip to my in-laws so that I can write this post. My husband is headed out to play golf later today if it stops drizzling, and I asked for an hour to write and eat. (My digestion is so messed up I really can’t eat first thing with my kids, not before doing some yoga, which I didn’t wake early enough to do before they got up). So this is how I got that time!
We have also watched a lot of World Cup soccer this vacation, but much of that has been with family, which makes it a fun communal experience. Plus I love that they are learning about the world. When we’re around older cousins, they are on phones and iPads quite a lot. It’s tougher to avoid my kids getting sucked in if they are playing something on a desktop, and, having seen that, my son asked this year to play Lego Club. This time the cousins weren’t around, which meant there was less going on, so I said yes. These solstice-time days are super long! And if the screen time is balanced out by playing golf and going in the boat with their grandpa or uncle, it’s not so bad.
What I don’t let my kids do when cousins are there is stay up late to watch movies or to watch things that I think are really not age-appropriate for them. I spent way too many nights watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island and drinking Pepsi and then watching the minutes go by on the clock as I waited for sleep that took a long time to come. This, I think, is one of the foundations for the adrenal fatigue that keeps me from doing a lot of the things I’d like to do with my kids but can’t without help. It’s one thing to let their bedtime push to 9:00 when it’s still sunny outside here in a Michigan June, but I won’t combine it with sugar or scary screens.
The above was written on the road. Once we got home, getting back to a decent bedtime so the kids could enjoy their week of camp (and I could get some work done!) was nearly excruciating. I’ve gotten grumpy scrolling through Facebook posts of everyone else’s happy vacations to fun places or their contentment with just lazing around at home. I hope I can learn something from some of the other posts in today’s carnival more than I get jealous!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon July 8 with all the carnival links.)
- Favorite Family Vacation Recipe: Staying at Home — The best family vacation Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence could ever recommend requires minimal packing, no hotels, unrushed travel, easy meals to everyone’s taste without a bill, no schedules, everyone’s favorite interests, and three generations playing together.
- Scared of toilets and other travel stories — Tat at Mum in search is an expert at flying with kids. She shares some of her tips and travel stories.
- Staycation Retreat for Busy Mamas — Lydia’s Handmade Life gives Budget-friendly, eco-friendly staycation ideas for busy work-at-home moms.
- How We Leave It All Behind — At Life Breath Present, they don’t take traditional vacations — they go on forest adventures. Here are some tips in planning for an adventure, if you don’t just go spontaneously, as they have before. Plus, many pictures of their latest adventure!
- Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage — Lauren at Hobo Mama discusses the pros and cons of traveling during the different trimesters of pregnancy, and how to make it as comfortable as possible.
- Our Week in Rome: Inspiration and Craft Ideas for Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers — If anyone in your family is interested in learning about Ancient Rome, if you enjoy crafts, of if you’re a parent looking for a fun staycation idea, check out Erin Yuki’s post for a Roman-themed week of crafts, food, and fun at And Now, for Something Completely Different.
- The Real Deal: A behind the scenes look at our “Western Adventure” — Often Facebook and blog posts make vacations look “picture perfect” to outsiders. If you only looked at the pictures, Susan’s recent family vacation was no exception. In this post at Together Walking, she takes readers “behind the scenes” so they can see the normal challenges they faced and how they managed to enjoy their vacation in spite of them.
- Welcome to the Beach House! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is in love with her family’s new “beach house”!
- Road Trip to Niagara Falls — Erica at ChildOrganics writes about her first trip out of the country with just her and the kids.
- 5 Essential Things to Take on Vacation — Five things Nurtured Mamas should be packing in their suitcase for their next trip, in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
- The Many Benefits of Camping with Friends — Do you want to go camping, but the very thought of it seems daunting? Make your life easier – and your kids happier – and go camping with friends! Dionna at Code Name: Mama discusses how much better camping can be when you join forces with others.
- My Natural First Aid Kit for Camping, Travel, and Everyday Use — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama gives us an insiders looks at her natural first aid kit for camping, travel, and everyday use. These natural remedies have saved her hide and those of others many times! You might be surprised what made her list of must-haves!
- Traveling Solo and Outnumbered — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras shares lessons learned from a recent trip with two toddlers and no co-parent.
- Compromise and conviction on the road — Jessica of Crunchy-Chewy Mama shares the reality vs. the dream of travel and dishes on the compromises she makes or won’t make while traveling.
- Camping Trauma — Jorje of Momma Jorje offers why she loves camping and why she and her family are a little gun shy about it, too.
- First in our Books — Writing fresh from her first family vacation, Laura from Pug in the Kitchen has realized that helping pack her parents’ station wagon made for a smooth and pleasant trip that was more than she hoped for!