With Little Kids,You Take Trips, not Vacations

August 19, 2013 — 46 Comments


I’m told that when you spend 48 hours cramming suitcases and food and toys and blankets into your minivan, and then head out of town with your kids, it’s not a vacation. It’s a trip.

A vacation is for sipping drinks at 10am and taking those obnoxious pictures of the lower half of your legs, while looking out onto palm trees. A vacation is for getting massages and eating nachos and overusing phrases like “beer-thirty.” A vacation is for pools and sun and servants, lots and lots of servants.

Trips are just like that, except for everything.

We just spent a week at the cabin with Mary’s siblings, spouses and their kids. That’s six adults and seven kids, ages 13 and under.

There were some magical moments, like each time we crawled into bed at night, and the unexpected seven-minute nap on Thursday. And the time the log jumped out of the fire and almost landed on the seven year old. Or the thousand times that the four year old used the red and white plastic boat to mercilessly bludgeon his cousins. Or the time(s) the ten year old locked herself in her room and texted her demands. Or when our three boys threw a box of tampons in the toilet. Or every meal.

Perhaps my favorite was when the other four year old punched me in the head while simultaneously kicking me in the wedding tackle, simply because we wouldn’t let him ride back from the beach in “Adam and Susie’s van.”

By far the best moment every day was when the kids were finally in bed, and the adults all gathered upstairs to laugh, moan about our sore, aging bodies, and relive every precious part of that day. Our defenses lowered, the smiles came out, and we did our best to stay awake until 10pm. These moments fooled us; they started to feel like vacation.

And then it happened.


The six year old had somehow broken out of his basement prison, and was now standing in the middle of vacation.

“Um, what are you doing out of your room?” My question was curt and demanding, devoid of any fatherly kindness or compassion.

“Ligey crawled into Ben’s bed and started punching him, and now Ben is really crying.”

That would never happen on vacation. But on a trip, it’s on the printed out daily agenda that your kids give you upon arrival.

So I took the six-year-old back down into his basement prison/bedroom, and began asking questions.

“Ligey, did you crawl into Ben’s bed and beat him senseless?”

“No, Isaac did.”

“I did not! I did not!”

After my riveting lecture on how we don’t use our hands for hitting, I decided I needed to lay the smack down, but my mouth moved faster than my mind.

Guys,” I barked, “if any one of you gets out of your bed for anything other than going to the bathroom, then… there is going to be a terrible consequence.”

“What consequence, dad?” The six year old adroitly wondered.

But I didn’t have a consequence. Damn you, Love and Logic, you always make so much sense when the kids are nowhere in sight. Don’t think I can’t feel you shaking your head at me, shaming me with your quiver full of appropriate consequences. But I say consequences are hard to come by after you have been kidnapped from vacation and transported back into trip hell.

“Something really, really, bad” is what I actually said, as I walked out of their room, shutting the door a little too firmly.

On the way home, both four year olds fell asleep, but woke up about an hour into the trip because I broke the cardinal rule of road trips when your children are asleep: I stopped for gas. For a while I wondered how bad it would be to simply run out of gas and sleep by the side of the road until the police tapped on the window with their oversized flashlights. But Mary wasn’t into that, so we stopped.

Four year-old number one immediately launched into a blood curdling scream, as if someone was jabbing his kidneys with a sharp metal object. The other one quickly joined, and our minivan became a concert of ugly. When combined with our razor thin patience, we feared that someone might be going home in a body bag.

I took a long time filling up that mini van before I got back in. The sun may have set and risen again. But after we started rolling, and the screaming intensified, the first really magical thing of the whole trip happened: I actually started laughing. I looked over at Mary, my wife of 17 years and the most amazing person on planet earth, and she was laughing, too. Suddenly the whole week felt hilarious, and we remembered that we loved each other and we loved our kids and we loved our life.

We turned on some music to drown out the crazies in the back, and said a silent prayer of thanks for our life (not really, but refraining from losing it at your screaming kids while on road trips counts as prayer). There will be seasons for vacations, sometime in the future. But the season in which we live right now involves trips. And we will take more of them, to God be the glory, great things he has done.

So let’s raise a glass to ourselves, you brave warriors who made it through another summer trip with your young ones without eating them. You did it!

Stay classy, parents of small children. In it together.

P.S. Have you read about my unreasonable caper that involves the Grand Canyon, a pair of Depends, and lots and lots of hope? A few friends and I are trying to end sex trafficking, at least for 50 women in Ethiopia. It’s our attempt to Love God and Do Stuff. You can read about it here.

46 responses to With Little Kids,You Take Trips, not Vacations

  1. To me, a successful holiday is one where you don’t spend the first night wishing you had stayed at home. I think we have had some of those in the last 14 years, but not many!

    And I still love my kids and am in awe of my wife for not killing me as well as them, but I do still hanker after the occasional holiday when we can relax and read a book/stay in bed/stay in one place with a drink by my side.

  2. Perfect! I read this as I am starting the 48 hours of packing for my 5 boys and hubby and I. As we are off to camp for the weekend with 10 adults and 12 children, I am sure for those few minutes after everyone has settled at night, we will ponder in our “BK” (before kids) memories and cherish the new memories we are able to steal from our hectic trip :)

  3. Boy do they test us! Thanks for the laugh and the mirror.
    So You Think Parenting Is About The Children? recently posted…Deep In TransformationMy Profile

  4. My husband and I relate so well! Just finished a road trip today, so painful but yes, at the end my sister and I (my husband had to work) were laughing so hard, probably more to do with the fact that we were delerious, as my 4 year old son demanded that someone scratch his back and then he would stop whining. You said it, we take trips not vacations!

  5. Loved reading this! I can completely relate as my husband & I took a trip this summer driving 17hrs to Florida with our 8 yr old, 3yr old, & 1 yr old twins. It was definitely an experience we will remember for many reasons!

  6. I LOVE your posts! Some make me laugh, some make me cry….but they always make me think. Thank you for being just who you are, and I swear looking right into my life!

  7. Crying over here! I can so relate….we have 3 boys (3,6,9) and just got back from a “trip” that took us from Jersey to North Carolina & back in my husband’s what seemed to be very small car (thought we could save some money on gas….maybe our sanity was more important!?). Besides (what could be compared to a medieval torture device ride in the car) we had a wonderful trip filled with many happy memories! One last thing…..I LOVE your posts. They always seem to be very timely to where I am on this journey called life! Butt prints was my favorite and so in line with how I’m trying to live this blessed life!

  8. Joanna Torkelson August 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Very, very, VERY cool! You nailed it on the head!!!!!

  9. I laughed and laughed and laughed at this! We just got back from the beach. As soon as the car started to LEAVE for vacation, the bickering began and it teeter-tottered back and forth between absolute love for each other and then shoving and pushing and the yelling of “STOP TOUCHING ME!” They shared a room with twin beds, but one or the other of them would never let his brother sleep past 6:30 am. I was informed by the six year old he was NEVER EVER EVER EVER going back to the beach again and the 3 year old fell over his own feet into a wall and came out with a huge bruise on his head. We were serenaded every time we got in the car to go somewhere and the mini-golf was more like wrestling. But we did the same thing!!! Turned up the music and laughed at the absolute hilariousness that our children create. MOST certainly a trip! I hope to have many more…they are the most memorable thing of my own childhood…and I’m glad my parents set the standard for doing stuff with us. I want to do the same for my kids – crazy and all!!!!!

  10. We had many trips (pre-electronics!) with our young sons where I read books to them, we memorized the U.S. mints where dollar bills were printed (did I say desperate?) and watched for out of state license plates. But the reward comes now when my 38-year-old son asks about renting an RV so he can take them on the same trips we took them on when they were little. It may take a long time for those rewards, but they are all the sweeter when they do come.

  11. After many such “vacations” (camping!) with my four kids I can really relate! But those “vacations” have morphed into something awesome!!! You can look forward to eventually sitting around the dinner table/campfire with your civilized kids sharing meaningful conversation and perhaps a glass of wine! Thanks for sharing your real life with all of us!

  12. This blog’s timing was spot on. We just returned from our first trip to the North Shore with our 3 and 4 year old. The 7 hour drive home nearly did me in. We are planners but went with the flow and things went better than anticipated. Now we need a vacation after the work that our trip was. Good memories for the kiddos, I hope.

  13. My husband and I have a 4.5 year old and a 2 year old. We recently traveled 3,512.1 miles over a two week period. In the hotels during the last few nights when the kids were acting like they just got fed a Red Bull each and my husband was losing his patience (which he rarely ever does) I started to giggle. Because that was how I survived it! And I still giggle when I think of it.

  14. Hahaha – so true, I remember a friend saying ‘It’s not a vacation, rather just a change of location’ when you have small children! SO true, we have a 3 year old and the younger one is 16 months!

    Oh for just one sleep-in :-)!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Urghh – the head…My Profile

  15. I’ve just seen your post ” To Parents of Small Children: Let Me Be the One Who Says It Out Loud” & thought it was fantastic so decided to read more & im glad I did…it’s like you’ve written down my life. We also have 3 boys aged 5; 2 & 7 months & yes it is the most rewarding gift to have them but wow is it hard work! I’ll be sure to be glued to your posts from now on. In it together :-)

  16. Another great post! I just got back from Jamaica … with a four year old (and his equally stressful father). Although the country was lovely and we did and saw some amazing things, it was not exactly a vacation. In fact, I scheduled a massage early the following week as my vacation from “vacationing”.

    And not that I enjoy your pain, but it is nice to hear that someone else also gets beat up by their 4 year old. I feel slightly less bad about my parenting skills.

  17. What a great reminder for those of us that are nearing the end of those “TRIPS” days heading towards VACATIONS! We just hosted some family from out west that flew 2 adults, 4 children (a pair of 5 year old twins, a 3 year old and a 12 year old) here to stay with us for 12 days. So fun but I can so relate to your blog in witnessing their “TRIP” and reminissing the days of having young children while on “vacation”. What a riot! Thanks as always for being real Steve. Your authenticity along with humor is truly a gift from GOD and we appreciate it!

  18. Do you torture your children or something Stevo? For the car ride, get ’em some mad libs, gameboys, pokemon cards, magazines, coloring books, random entertaining doo-thingamajigs, sleeping pills, etc… or throw some Happy Meals at ’em–fast food comas always worked wonders in our family!!

    Though everything you do has a caveat at that age…I remember well…Even the happy meals weren’t easy..I was a picky eater, like really picky. I think I just didn’t eat for…years on end. So mine had to be specially made with no lettuce…Multiply those adjustments/special requests for 3 kids, for every facet of life, and it adds up. It’s like you have to do everything for them…gosh darnit, its practically like they’re your own damn kids!!……oh wait…. 😉

    It gets better, Steve–at least with boys–females never change-they’re always needy/whiny (Yea I said it!!) Kidding aside, I went up to my grandmother’s cabin this weekend. My two brothers, dad and I, snuck away from the females at 7am Friday morning to play a quick 9 holes at the local poorly kempt and half dirt golf course (the tee boxes always remind me of a dry lakebed). Just us 3 “boys” and Dad. It was great.

    If you play it right, you’ll eventually be able to spend more of your time bonding over activities, rather than refereeing WWE matches and investigating crime scenes.

    But for now…get your zebra striped shirt back on, and step back into the ring!!! You’re doin’ great!!

  19. WOW! No matter what others imagine pastor’s family lives to be – – they’re REAL! I’m a ‘recovering PK’ along with my three siblings. All these things happened in our family (and more), as well! One thing my father always told our congregation . . . from the pulpit: ‘Our kids are not perfect, so don’t expect them to be!” You & Mary will survive, you’ll have normal adult children, and then you both will secretly giggle when they have their own children! Keep the faith!

  20. LOVE THIS! We just returned from a vacation, er… trip, to our mountain house with 5 kids and 5 adults. At least we weren’t outnumbered by kids, but we certainly had our share of ugly concerts. Thanks for the laughs and for the reminder that we are in it together.

  21. Stephanie McCallum August 19, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Our family just returned alive from a four week trip to England! We traveled with our 4 princesses ages, 12, 6, 6 and 5!!! We drove 20 hours in one day to the island of Uist in Scotland that was breathtakingly beautiful but certainly not a vacation either! We stayed there for 2 weeks and then proceeded to drive back to London and that took 22 hours! Staying with family that DON’T have children is even harder!! We had to endure jetlag – pure joy at it finest!
    We returned at MN airport and I (Mom) kissed the ground…..memories are what this crazy family made the summer of 2013. Next year, family comes to visit us in MN.

  22. Thank you so much for this post–it had me laughing out loud! My girls are 5 and nearly 4, and my son is still innocent and beautiful at 9 months (though I suspect he’ll join the ranks of crazy soon enough). I can definitely relate to the late night battles with bedtime during “vacation” and not necessarily handling it always with grace and patience, among other lively parts of the trip. Thanks for reminding me that other parents in ministry struggle despite loving the snot out of our kids (and let’s face it–that’s a lot of snot).

  23. Always nice to hear that I’m not the only one!! Thanks for the good laugh and encouragement.

  24. I so appreciate your daily blogs. Especially the ones about kids. I feel like you are video taping my life so you have material to write about. :)

  25. I love this one Steve! I’ve been telling my husband for years that I need for us to find a ‘trip’ that is actually restful for me. I guess what I really need is a ‘vacation’! We recently returned from 5 days in the WI Dells with 6 adults and 8 kids ages 3-15. I’m somewhat allergic to chlorine. So I swam in and smelled deeply the chlorine and lost it by the afternoon of day 4. Too congested and tired to trudge on anymore, I spent the afternoon in the hotel room watching B rate movies from the library. My nephew who’s three summed up for all the adults what his favorite part of the ‘trip’ was. “Going to sleep and waking up.” He must have been tired too. We did have moments of bliss, watching the kids conquer slides that scared us silly, spending a beautiful, cool day hiking and eating way too much ice cream, probably added to my congestion :). I find my perspective makes or breaks a trip for me. That’s what my kids keep teaching me, they seem to find the perspective I haven’t considered and it always brings me back to what’s most important, Being Together. I have delved out my share of consequence threats over the years, especially at bedtime, which my kids call me out on. Oh the deep, vulnerable, beautiful and ugly humanity in parenting. Thanks for sharing your stories!

  26. We just got back from a long weekend trip! 6 kids (ages. 8-1) all crammed into the minivan plus endless bags, blankets and pillows, not to mention books, blankets and pillows. We long for beach vacations some day, but for now we’ll suck every happy moment we can amongst the ones that steal the very life out of us!
    MandyP recently posted…Geeking Out At The Women Living Well ConferenceMy Profile

  27. Your blogs are often a refreshing drink of ice cold water while navigating through the beautiful, yet terrifying, land of parenthood. And this one proves to be no different. Thank you!

  28. LOL! We’re heading out on a trip soon, and I’m sure I’ll have some similar experiences!

  29. Laughed ’til I cried. Remembering giving “consequences” when my now thirty-something kids were little.

  30. Not as many kids, but oh I so know what you mean. And it’s only 6 years with my wife, but I know what you mean on that too. Thanks again.

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