Monday, August 16, 2010

"Vacation" Is a Misnomer When Travelling with Small Children

DH and I love Colorado. When I graduated from CSU (go Rams!), I tried to find a job so I could stay out West, but fate brought me back to KC (and my future hubby). He had visited Colorado with his best friend, and that's when he fell in love with the mountains. He is also a fan of familiarity. We never actually discussed where to vacation this year, we just started talking about going to Estes Park again. He said he wanted to stay in the same cabins we were in the last time we were there two years ago. Seriously? The one-room cabin I had to sit in the kitchenette with the lights out, and a flashlight so I could at least do some reading after our 1-year-old went to bed at 7:30pm? The one that had the shower that was so small I was bumping the walls with my elbows when I washed my hair which grossed me out because it didn't look very clean? I don't think so. Anyway, because of his desire to take repeat vacations, and my deep adoration for what I consider to be my second-home state, we have been to Colorado many times. We also tend to make this trip with another couple we are friends with. (Thank you, RB, for finding a MUCH nicer cabin for us to stay in!)

The plan this year, as most years, was to visit some of my friends from school, enjoy some hiking/sightseeing at Rocky Mountain National Park, and DH would get in a round of golf. This year we also had horseback riding and a trip in the gondola to the top of the mountain on our list. We decided to break up the drive out there to make it easier for the girls. I thought S would be ok with the long ride, but poor Baby R is still too young to face forward, but too old to sleep all day, so I envisioned lots of frustration for her. So we took off Monday night after dinner, thinking the girls would be up for a couple of hours, then fall asleep. We'd stop in Hays around 11pm so we could get a decent night's rest, drive to my friend's house just south of Denver on Tuesday, then go the last couple of hours to Estes on Wednesday. Piece of cake!

It was a great plan in theory. We loaded up the car and headed out with high hopes like all vacationers do. Unfortunately, the DVD player broke when we pulled out of our driveway, so we stopped at Best Buy on the way out of town to get a new one. (Personally I, having grown up taking insane road trips - one that encompassed 3,000 miles in 3 weeks - thought we could survive without it, but DH believed it to be a traveling staple.) Then we finally pulled onto the highway, and S said, "Are we there yet?" I had to laugh. Didn't expect her to know that phrase yet, nor did I think it would be uttered at an intersection she sees almost every day. She was having a tough time grasping what a different state of the union was. Still, things were going well for a couple of hours. She had told me the day before that she wanted us to have another baby. I told DH that, and he asked her if she wanted a little brother or a little sister. She said she wanted a "Kiefer". That's her friend's little brother's name. So she wants a brother. Which of course, made DH smile. Then she said three was enough. She likes three. Four is not good. LOL. That way her little sister could play with her little brother. And then around 9pm, she said she wanted to go home. I was completely unprepared for this. I knew it was because she was tired and wanted her bed, but I had no idea what to say. I muttered something about you'll have fun when we get there or something, clearly flailing.

Monday night, S didn't fall asleep until we were 30 minutes from our hotel in Hays, and Baby R never did fall asleep, but screamed the last 45 minutes we were in the car. Once in the hotel, S woke back up. Both kids were crying and fussing and couldn't get to sleep. We were all in one room and they are usually in separate rooms at home. One would settle down to sleep, and the other would start crying. Then that one would start to settle down, and the other one would cry. I wanted to cry myself. It was 12:30am before we all got to sleep.

We woke up the next morning around 7:15am which is a little later than usual, but not late enough given our time line the night before. I noticed that Baby R had had another tooth poke through; now she has both bottom front teeth. We hit the road but had to stop for gas and oil, so didn't leave Hays until around 9am. We went back through Hays around 9:20am. DH had gotten on I-70 going East. I will blame the GPS and thank my limited internal compass combined with knowledge regarding the direction of the sunrise.

The drive to my friend's house in Castle Rock actually went much more smoothly than I expected. Mapquest and the GPS said to take CO-86 through Kiowa, but my friend said it's really rural. I let DH decide, even though I was driving at this point. We took the smaller highway, and it turned out to be a fine choice.

We got to my friend's house around 3pm. It was great to see her and her family. Apparently her husband is into Coke caps as well. :) She has a daughter who is 2.5 so S had fun playing with her. That evening, DH went to Colorado Springs to watch their minor league team, the Sky Sox, play. He even got a game ball that was hit out of the park and landed right in front of him in the parking lot when he went out to the car to get his jacket. Bedtime was rough for S. It was too bright in the spare bedroom, so she couldn't fall asleep. She said she wanted to go home again. Sigh.

Wednesday morning, my friend's husband didn't have to work, so he finally got to meet DH. He had been teasing me that DH didn't exist - in all the years I've known him - since college - they've missed seeing each other. We left their home around 10am and stopped in Denver for a picnic with some of my friends from the dorm (see pic of us on the bench). The girls had fun playing with the kids and DH was wonderful and chatty, bless his heart! After lunch, we hit the road for nap time, though by now I knew it would be unlikely that they would actually sleep, and they didn't. We got to Estes and stopped at Safeway to get some groceries. DH had the LBS (Low Blood Sugar) and was grouchy, and it was about to rain, and the girls were tired and hungry, too, so we rushed and got some basics and headed to the cabin. As we were finishing up dinner, our friends we were vacationing with arrived. We unpacked and got the kiddos ready for bed.

Based on the photos of the cabin that I'd seen online, I had thought our family would take the upstairs bedroom and loft area so Baby R and S could sleep in separate areas, and leave the master bedroom on the main floor for our friends. After we arrived and I did a quick recon, I realized that wasn't the best option because the loft upstairs was completely open to the main floor, and Baby R would not be able to sleep without a wall to block some of the noise. That left the master bedroom. It was a little bigger, so I thought I could fit the Pack N Play by the bed, but was dreading it because I knew we'd be right back to the same problems we'd had when we were in the hotel. I did some creative thinking and ended up putting the Pack N Play in the closet. I sound like a terrible mother - How was your vacation? Lovely!! Our 9-month-old slept in the closet. But it was open to the master bath and there was a door between the bath and the bedroom, so it was like a separate room instead of a closet. Baby sleeping issue solved.

There was a king-size bed in the master, and all three of us could have slept in it, but I was afraid when I got up in the night to care for the baby, I would wake the preschooler. (Still adjusting to calling her that!) So I slept on the couch in the living room. At home, we have room-darkening curtains because S will wake up with the sun. We knew it was unlikely there would be any such thing at the cabin, but planned to throw a blanket over the windows there. Unfortunately, the windows were almost the size of the wall - there was no way we were going to be able to cover them. So we were up at 5:30am almost every morning, and she didn't go to sleep until after 8:30 every night because there was still light out. So....exhausting.... Websters defines a vacation as a "time of respite". Clearly, this was not going to be a vacation.

Anyway, Thursday morning, the boys went golfing. When they came back, all of us went on the gondola ride up the mountain. I was surprised DH wanted to go, because he has a pretty intense fear of heights. As do I, though I have a weird thing where if there's a barrier of some type that is at least waist high, I'm ok with it. Not thrilled mind you, but ok. We both did well on the way up until we were almost at the top and a gust of wind rocked the gondola. DH gripped the hand-holds for dear life, but we both put on a tough act for our kids. I was proud of us. Once there, we walked around a bit, looked through the viewfinder down at the town below, fed some chipmunks and got S her souvenir from the trip - a rock necklace.

That evening while we were outside on the deck, we saw some elk on the golf course behind our cabin. Even though the elk are practically domesticated there and walk right up to people, it's still amazing to see.

Friday morning our family went to RMNP and our friends went on a hike with a guy the boys had met while golfing. When we got to the parking lot for Bear Lake, Baby R was asleep. We decided I would stay in the car with her while DH took S for a little hike. About 100 yards in, she decided she was done. That's not her normal adventurous spirit, but I think she was physically and emotionally drained and didn't have it in her. She continued to say every day that she wanted to go home. I was really surprised. I kept saying, "But aren't you having fun (fill in the blank) playing with the kids/seeing the mountains/hanging out with the family?" And she knew about the hike that day - she kept asking when she was going to get to climb the mountain, so I would tell her she had that to look forward to and the horseback ride. I couldn't believe she didn't want to do the hike. So DH brought her back to the car and returned to the trail alone, and I took the girls for a drive with the plan to meet him back at the trail head in half an hour.

Plans are a funny thing. DH planned to hike for about thirty minutes, so I planned to drive down to the bottom of the mountain and back up again. We got about five minutes away and S said she wanted Daddy. I told her he was hiking and we'd be back. But she was afraid to leave him there. I could sense an imminent tantrum, intuitive mom that I am, so I turned around and went back. Unfortunately, when we got there, a line of cars had formed behind the ranger at the entrance with cones. When we approached, I rolled down my window, and the ranger let me know that the lot was full and I couldn't park there. Hmmmm. I told him I was actually just there to pick up my husband, not to park; I just needed to drive through to see if he was there. I knew full well he wasn't going to be back yet, but I also knew that if we didn't get him, S was potentially going to have a meltdown. What to do? I SLOWLY circled the parking lot and left.

S was watching "Shrek" for the umpteenth time (I cannot tell you how relieved I was that this was the movie she chose when we were at Target before we left town. I told her she could pick out a new movie for the trip, and almost didn't let her get it because I thought it might be too big for her, and suggested Elmo or one of the other more pre-school appropriate options. THANK YOU, GOD, that I did not do that. I actually really like "Shrek". And surprisingly, still do, now that I can recite it verbatim.) Anyway, she was watching the DVD player, but when we drove out of the parking lot without Daddy, she asked concernedly where he was. I braced myself for the fit that was coming when I explained that he was still hiking and we could not wait in the parking lot like I had told her we would. She was a little upset, but I assured her I was going to turn around and go back as soon as I could, just like I had done before, and managed to avoid a complete meltdown that surely would have woken the baby. I drove as slowly as possible. We reached the lot, and joined the queue of cars again. Rolled down my window. "Still looking for my husband," I said to the ranger, sheepishly. It took him a second, and then he remembered me, and waved me through. This third time down the mountain, S fell asleep. Whew! I could finally continue down and head back when it was time. Oh, wait, it's time. So I turned around in the same spot again, and went back up. This time, there was a bus stopped in front of the trail, so I went as slowly as I could by and tried to see around it, but was unable to. I realized how poor an idea this was. What if he came out and couldn't find us and we kept missing each other? Luckily before I started to panic, a ranger flagged me down and gestured that a car was going to be leaving. Sweet! I was relieved to be able to stop circling. As I parked, the girls both woke up. Perfect timing. I decided to get out the stroller and walk up to the trail head to wait for DH. As I was buckling Baby R in, DH walked up. I had to use the restroom, so we put S in the other stroller and headed that way before leaving. It was the most disappointing trip I've ever had at RMNP, but thankfully, I've been there before, and we'll go again when the girls are bigger.

We got back to the cabin and had lunch before nap time, and then it was time for the horseback ride. I stayed at the cabin with Baby R while DH, S, and our friends went. I was looking forward to napping and spending some one-on-one time with my baby. Alas, she woke up about five minutes after they left, so no nap. And after about an hour of bonding, I was ready for a break. Not that she's not infinitely entertaining, but I was so tired from the increased lack of sleep on this trip, I needed some help. I had hoped this "vacation" would result in getting extra rest, but as I've mentioned, that didn't happen.

We had decided to eat dinner out that night (I was very proud of us for making all the rest of our meals), so headed downtown when they returned from the ride. This was a terrible idea. First, because it was late, so everyone was hungry and grouchy, and all the restaurants were busy, even the pizza place we went to where we had to wait half an hour for our food. Second, because we were so late eating, it was past bedtime when we got done, and we weren't at the cabin. We had planned to walk around downtown for a bit after dinner. Third, because S had had a horrific tantrum at the stables and DH had actually asked if he could bring her back another time since he'd already paid and buckled her in her seat belt before giving her one last chance to settle down and being able to go back and ride Bubba Gump. So the emotions were running high. We went to leave the restaurant and S had a meltdown. I was too tired for it, snapped at her, took the keys from DH and took the girls back to the cabin, leaving DH with our friends for a night off. He said he'd take them, but I was worn out, so wanted to go back, put them to bed and have a glass of wine and read my book, "The Strong-Willed Child". Which is what I did. Though I burst into tears when he came back later that night, because I was at my wits end with what to do with her. And then, sweet man that he is, he gave me a chocolate chip cookie he'd bought for me while they were out. God bless him.

Saturday we were scheduled to meet a couple of my sorority sisters for a picnic in Longmont. Our friends we were traveling with had planned to go to RMNP, and since our foray there hadn't really panned out, and DH had been so fabulous about the other picnic I'd dragged him to, I let him off the hook for this one and he went back to the park with our friends. The girls and I left Estes a little early because I had promised S I would take her to Chick Fil A while we were in CO. She loves Chick Fil A. I don't even remember how our conversation about it went, but Monday before we left town, mention was made of it, and since I'd been trying to talk up all the fun things we'd be doing on our trip (she had told me she wanted to stay home by herself while we all went on vacation), I said something about how Chick Fil A was in Colorado. She was so excited that was the first thing she'd told the sitter when we got there that morning. So I set off armed with my Mapquest directions and trusty atlas, and not only found Chick Fil A, but also a poorly marked entrance to the park we were meeting at WITHOUT THE GPS. I realize to my DH that seems like a modern miracle, as he no longer can go to the grocery store down the street without turning it on in case it somehow moved through space to a different location. I jest, but I really don't understand the dependence upon it.

The get together was kind of a mess. Only two of the girls were able to make it, and we weren't the only ones who had a tough time finding the park. But it was still fun to see them. S was excited there were swings at this park. She did have a small tantrum as we were leaving, but overall, she was really good.

That night we just hung out and packed up. Sunday morning as we were loading up the car, a doe and two fawns walked by our drive. S was excited to see them. And as we were driving away, she said, "Mommy, I want to stay in Colorado." I do, too, sweetie.

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