Long weekends with small children are not relaxing, and other truths about parenting

We just survived a 3-day weekend. While 3-day weekends imply relaxation, for our demographic it implies three days with no school or other such breaks. We were also trying to do a few summer things before summer was over, but so was everyone else on the East Coast, and the weather was not 100% cooperative either.

So...not relaxing. One major source of stress: deciding where to go each morning. In general, I try to plan weekends ahead of time so we don't have these morning showdowns. My reasoning: getting out the door already takes effort. Adding decision-making to the mix makes the whole enterprise even more fraught. We had planned to do Hershey Park on Saturday, but when we re-checked the weather forecast that morning, it had suddenly become rainy all day. That meant the entire universe of day trips was open again, or at least those involving some indoor component, and everyone had an opinion, and several children screamed that if they had to do what their brother/sister was requesting they would be furious for the rest of their lives (we have some dramatic sorts around here).

Eventually we decided to go to the Crayola Experience in Easton, which was fine, except it was mobbed, since everyone else thought "Hey, fun rainy day activity!" We spent two hours there, then I wanted to grab some food from the famous (and historic!) Easton Farmers Market nearby, but when we exited the Crayola place around 1:30 we discovered the market must have closed at 1 p.m. So we found a Mexican place nearby, which was pretty decent, and our kids were not bad. We have started taking the big kids out to eat every other Friday night (now that we have regular childcare then) and they are getting better at it. The 2-year-old was entertained by the chips for a while. Then less so. We escaped to go for a walk along the Delaware canal trail.

Alas, this was pretty much pure torture. The path runs between the canal and the Delaware river, and the 2-year-old kept running up to one edge or the other. He grabbed sticks and used them to dislodge rocks from the trail to throw at people. Meanwhile the other 3 children would drift far apart from each other, so there was a certain resemblance to herding cats. We made it 2.5 miles, but we're going to need to make significant progress if we plan to hike a lot out west during the summer of 2018 (our current vacation plan).

Sunday we avoided the morning planning/scream-fest, because we knew we wanted to go to Hershey. Again, unfortunately, so did everyone else in the state of Pennsylvania. We were in 45-minute lines for several rides, including the Cocoa Cruiser. On some level, the Cocoa Cruiser was fun, as it was my 2-year-old's first roller coaster. He's growing up! He was tall enough to be the "Hershey Kisses" height level so he could go on actual rides. But oh, the 45-minute line! I entertained myself by noting that I was being out-parented by an 11-year-old boy in front of me, whose adult had given him his 2-year-old sister, and then disappeared. He was so lovingly helping the little girl climb on the railing and look around, and then when he saw my 2-year-old start to fight with her over a chain they were both trying to grab on the fence, he deftly made sure he was always standing between her and my kid. Ah... A few Hershey highlights: the big kids and I won our round of the Reese's Extreme Cup Challenge, because I have a secret talent for arcade style games. We went on the lazy river, which was cold, but nice, at least until the 7-year-old fell off his tube and got completely wet, at which point the fact that we were in 72 degree water and in 69 degree air caught up with him. He was shaking by the time I got him to his towel. We got home at 9 p.m., and with the little kids in bed, proceeded to watch the Texas A&M football game. I went to bed at the (DVR'd) halftime, thinking all was great since the Aggies were up 38-10. In the morning my husband informed me they'd actually managed to lose. He was agitated, but at least I enjoyed the half of the game I watched (and the nachos and chicken wings we made).

Monday we had talked about going to the beach, because it was finally going to be a nice day: 80-plus degrees and sunny. But we also realized that if the crowds were bad at Hershey on Sunday they might be even worse on the Jersey shore on the last day of summer. We also knew that the kids weren't too big on going to the beach. So at breakfast we had the kids all calmly (or as calmly as possible) say what they wanted to do. The 10-year-old requested Dutch Wonderland, but I told him after Hershey that was right out. They settled on going to the local park and playing and then having a picnic. This was mostly nice -- beautiful weather, happy kids -- until we spread the picnic blanket and the food. The 2-year-old started throwing everyone's shoes and water bottles. We kind of let him wander off, and then as we were sitting there eating our sandwiches he reappeared, and threw something on the blanket. I looked. It was dried up dog poop. I kid you not. I feel like this is kind of a metaphor for what he sometimes does with family activities.

After the dog poop incident, when he finally went down for a nap, I decided not to wake him up, even if he slept long (meaning if might be hard for him to go down at night). I took an hour-long nap, I finished Out of Africa (the book I was reading - mixed feelings on that one), and then we went for a swim in the pool with the big kids. The last felt a little sneaky, as I know the 2-year-old would have liked to swim but oh well. He got up when we got out of the pool, and I played a lot with him during the evening while the big kids made s'mores in the fire pit with my husband. When I had my full attention on him (not sharing it with the other 3 kids), he was very sweet. Maybe in his mind he's an only child. He was throwing dog poop on the picnic blanket to get rid of the interlopers.

My husband and I finished the weekend with a long planning session, looking at all the upcoming dates with school, travel, etc. This is sometimes stressful, but as it was our actual anniversary we were both perhaps a bit more generous. It was good we did it. We saw plenty of things that could be issues. Since I know I'm traveling on my daughter's birthday, he blocked the afternoon so he can go visit her class and read the story (and maybe lead the activity! I look forward to seeing what craft he will choose!). I didn't go to bed until midnight. That made the 5:45 a.m. screams of "Mommy! Open my door!" a bit hard to take, but I'm mostly functional (I think). I got the two older boys on the bus for the first day of school! The 2-year-old was out to wave goodbye. Then he decided to run down the driveway and sure enough, took a face plant that left his lip swollen. When I told him that it really didn't work to have a Band-aid on his lip, this just left him even madder. Sigh.

How was your Labor Day weekend?

In other news: Episode 5 of the Best of Both Worlds podcast is live! I'll start a thread later this week to discuss the topic, which is the mental load of parenting.

Photo: Delaware river, from the tow path. Looks peaceful, but wasn't.

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21 Responses to Long weekends with small children are not relaxing, and other truths about parenting


  1. Jenny says:

    So true. Everyone in my world is bemoaning the end of the long weekend today and I’m just like pfffffffft. I’m zeroed in on my ACTUAL vacation two weeks from now where I’ll be lying beside a pool with a book and no children, no work, and no responsibilities in sight.

    • @Jenny- ha ha, yes. I was, at a low point on Monday, thinking hey, at least I’ll be back at work tomorrow!

  2. Marjorie says:

    Oh, Laura, I know this must have been a terribly maddening weekend for you, but I have to admit, I laughed throughout. Your kids are adorable to this child-free woman who didn’t have to go through what you did this weekend! Well, at least you got a hilarious blog post out of it. Bravo for getting through that without needing the use of illegal narcotics.

    I’d love to hear what you thought of “Out of Africa,’ by the way. I read it a long time ago and remember loving it, but it’s been a couple of decades. I read Judith Thurman’s excellent biography of Isak Dinesen, which helped fill in a lot of the blanks the author left in the book.

    • @Marjorie – I will admit that the dog poop incident could have been an element in a slapstick movie scene.

      I’ll write about the book when I do my “Books read in…” post later this month, but I loved parts, especially the description of the African scenery. I got bogged down in the long “oh those crazy natives” type narratives, though.

  3. Alexicographer says:

    Oh yes. I have just 1 kid, and he’s the age (I think) of your oldest, and we had a pretty event-free weekend (which suits us), and flawless weather and — still! Very glad to be back at work. If you’re considering hiking next summer, would one of those really sturdy, weight-shifting (I like Kelty) kid-carrying backpacks be an option for the littlest? I am not a fan of trying to do real hiking with kids. Oh, come to think of it, actually when he was 3 my son saw the hills of Italy astride my hip in a Peanut Shell sling, so that might be another (smaller, lighter, and much cheaper option) — the point not being that you have to carry them every step of the way, of course, but that it’s an option.

  4. Omdg says:

    I had a comparatively awesome weekend, which I spent in the hospital on call (for 24h starting Saturday morning) and then sleeping (most of Sunday). Haha. No really, I mean it.

  5. Marie says:

    Our weekend was similar to yours, but the big-kid version: they bickered for three days straight. My husband took the three of them for the day on Saturday, and I tied up a ton of loose ends, including setting up Gqueues in a GTD-friendly format and resorting all my tasks. That’s already having a big impact on my productivity. But–I didn’t take any time to relax, and I have mixed feelings about that. It’s my constant quandry when faced with free time, and I know you write about it often as well.

    • @Marie – oh yes, the “all the things I could be doing” quandary with limited free time. My Sunday trio of the nap, reading on the porch, and swimming was pretty good on that front. It meant I spent another hour doing email at night though, thus pushing the calendar meeting to late… Trade offs.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Always love to read your story with little kids. I have 2 kids (age 10 and 6). My first one just entered middle school (5th gr), I promised her to 3 things (ear-pierced, her room painted in the color what she wants (Grey), and Email/Fitbit). We spent whole labor day doing literally Labor works for the whole family. In the past 3 months, kids have sleepover camps, traveled to California, and my hus and me for 2 weekend trips (Vermont, and Minnesota) to run half marathons. Simply, we have done enough fun and need to get back to work & school mode. We could hire a painter but when we contact local painter, no one available after the labor day weekend (even to get a quote), then I thought it will be fun for girls to paint with dad. For my girls, painting project was a more exciting experience than traveling to amusement park or beach. Still not finished and my first daughter is camping at her younger sis’ room. We had to have multiple trips to Home Depot and Lowes and no BBQ over the weekend but in retrospect, kids will remember “we have painted Claire’s room”. While dad and kids were painting, I finally organized basement and we have sorted out donations with 6 car seats.

  7. Alissa says:

    I just returned from taking my 7 year old to New York City for the long weekend (we actually arrived on Thursday) as part of a small family reunion (all adults). Traveling with one child was easier than I expected. She did pretty well – eating late (7pm) was a challenge and she got bored with all the dinner conversation. She was great walking around the city and staying close or insisting on holding my hand. I was encouraged by your mommy days posts earlier this summer and the trip really did turn out better than I anticipated!

    • @Alissa – so glad your weekend turned out well! If you think about it, a lot of adult dinner conversation is objectively pretty boring. Adults find it fascinating because we’re talking about ourselves, but if the kid isn’t really able to participate in that way, well, no wonder mom’s iPhone is more interesting!

  8. Christine says:

    I always like reading these kinds of posts. Your experiences are so similar to mine – you write about the reality of having young kids – but you seem to deal with it in such a healthier way than me (this happened, we dealt with it, we moved on – it won’t last forever). So it is good for me to read it. I feel I am too sensitive, with not enough emotional stamina or resolve to handle all the kid issues well.

    • @Christine- thank you, but you’re reading my version of the event, written after the fact, for an audience. A neutral third party might note that I lost my *#$& several times. I would not assume I dealt with it any better than anyone else would have.

  9. EB says:

    We were part of the “everyone else in Pennsylvania” deciding to go to Hersheypark on Sunday! It was cold and raining in the morning so I thought no one would be there and at least we’d have little lines. Ha! Usually, I try to be very strategic in my Hersheypark ride route, but I quickly realized there was no strategy for this expletive-show and there would just be a lot of waiting no matter what. After our first wait, we joked this is going to be a very expensive day if you divide number of rides per admission entry. My husband was like, let’s just throw more money at this and pay to do the games because at least there is no wait for them! Thankfully, we left our 18-month-old at home with the grandparents so we were with our 4 and 7 year olds, who still were not the most appreciative as they could have been. We made the empty threat of “it will be a long time before we go to another amusement park with this behavior” (knowing full well, it would be a long time before we went to another amusement park because it was the end of the summer!)

    • @EB – we were probably in those lines together! I mean seriously, what on earth inspired 2 zillion people to show up at that park on Sunday? I have never seen it so bad. The only real strategy we employed was doing the water rides (which most people didn’t, because it was below 70 degrees). Oh, and I had my 10-year-old wait in the funnel cake line while I took the 5- and 2-year-olds on the kiddie swings. Other than that, a simple feat of endurance.

  10. Calee says:

    I want to know how your kids are just now going back to school. California schools have been pushing us earlier and earlier into August saying “we need to line up with the East Coast” and I say hmmm….

    We had planned to head up to the mountains for the weekend but the heatwave here left everyone just wanting to go to the pool. Which is what we did–every day! Monday we hosted an Irish whiskey tasting featuring our loot brought back from a summer in Ireland. It was fantastic to see our 10-year-old corralling our friends’ toddlers and to catch up with good friends.

    • @Calee – I look forward to this sort of thing with older kids. Honestly, without the 2-year-old, much of this weekend would have been far more chill. But anyway, the Sept start — we are in school until mid/late June. But we start after Labor Day. I prefer it, really.

  11. Jennie says:

    What is it with the youngest child being a heathen? My youngest, now 9, still is more of a pain than his brother and sister were at that age. Long weekends will get better, but also a little sadder. The older children will make plans with friends and a day with all your kids will be harder to come by. We took a week long trip to DC this summer–just family, no tag a longs–and it was bittersweet. The ease of getting around with older children is amazing. It is so much easier navigating mass transportation and using Lyft when everyone can sit in a regular seat! But knowing that these trips will be fewer as they get older is a bit sad. The oldest spent a great deal of time immersed in conversations on his phone to the girlfriend. (Cue massive eye roll.) Sleep gets better, although, now I have one who comes in late and I’m up waiting or having to go pick up. Maybe with a little time, the dog poop story will be a funny story you retell. Like when he has his first girlfriend. 🙂

  12. Tom says:

    Laura, I had those exact same thoughts. We took our kids to a large lodge with my folks, my four siblings, and their children. My kids are 10, 8, almost 7, 5, and 3. We took 3 “trips” this year with our kids. I can’t say “vacation”, because that implies rest and relaxation. I’ve come up with definitions for traveling:
    If you’re taking dependent children or going to see family, it’s a trip. If both apply, it’s work. And if neither apply, it’s vacation. My vacations are mostly conferences for my job, but I don’t consider them “work” or “work trips” because I get some down time (i.e. vacation).

    • @Tom- it is the reality of parenting that a work trip can feel like a vacation, whereas a “vacation” with 5 small children (in your case!) can feel quite like work!

  13. Lou says:

    this post made me choke on my cup of tea laughing! Parenting small humans is far from idyllic, most of the time, and you write with good humour, patience, but most of all so much appreciated honesty about your experiences! Makes me feel I’m doing an ok job in an internet full of rosy pictures and amazing earth mothers!!

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