I’m not taking a family vacation this summer, and I’m OK with that

I’m not taking a family vacation this summer, and I’m OK with that

I foresee many summer days and evenings on our patio, which isn’t quite this fancy but it’s close!

A staycation isn’t my first choice, but in a year when we took a big spring trip as a family, are trying to furnish a new home, and got slammed with medical and dental bills in the second quarter, it turns out that it’s the right one for us this summer.

And even though I’ve been a little disappointed, I realize I am also relieved.

I actually LOVE family vacations. Most of ours take place in our native New England, and there is plenty to do here. We love Cape Cod above all, but we’ve done our share of lake and mountain vacations too. We generally take a week every summer to rent a house either at the Cape where I spent most of my childhood summers, or in Northern Vermont where I spent a small stint of my childhood.

The recurring theme here is my childhood, it’s true. My parents were very good at getting away and passed that knack on to me, and it turns out that my husband is eager to come along for the ride and mostly lets me pick and plan our trips. Everyone is happy.

So this year, I have some anxiety about not booking a weekly summer retreat. I hate to miss out on something we enjoy and my kids have been vocal about feeling let down too. My five-year-old was pining for a ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard, and a stay at a small cottage on the Cape the other day. Ouch!

But there are some upsides here, too.

I think most parents of young children agree that vacations are a ton of work. The packing, the logistics of pet care, the finding of provisions upon arrival, and the settling in. The first night is always a total loss in terms of restful sleep. No one stays where they’re supposed to; we can never get the air conditioning or fan situation just right, and children are up at dawn demanding to go to the beach. If we’re lucky, subsequent nights are better for sleeping, but learning the way around a home, especially a kitchen, is harder when you’re wrangling your children. The game of musical bedrooms generally continues until the middle of the week. Maybe by the fifth night, you’re comfortable, and by then, the trip is winding down.

What I’m saying is, I like vacations but they’re a huge pain and maybe taking a summer off will make me appreciate them more.

I know I will want to get back to our summer retreat next year, but for now, I am actually looking forward to not packing a family of six for a week away. This will be our first full summer in a new house and it has ample outdoor living spaces and a sunroom that spills onto the beautifully landscaped stone patio area. There is a wooded area set back on a hill on the rear of the property with a hammock and picnic table — it feels like a campsite. And we have a large, screened-in gazebo perfect for evening lounging.

Our kids also have a few camps they’ll attend, and their beloved grandma is presently moving to the next town over, so they’re thrilled to spend time at her new home.

There are plenty of reasons that summer won’t be so bad right in our own backyard.

Last year, we booked our summer beach vacation before we knew when we’d move to our new house. As it turned out, we closed barely two weeks before our trip dates and we were unable to change them with the house booked solid through July and August. It wasn’t ideal to pack up after packing and moving our entire lives, but I figured there were worse things than having to take a vacation after a stressful move.

Things got a little dicier when a major family event was planned for the first day of our trip, but we decided that at least some of us would try to make that before we all descended on Cape Cod about 90 minutes southeast of our home.

My stress level grew.

Then on the morning of a departure, our oldest woke up with terrible stomach pain which turned out to be appendicitis. The diagnosis was confirmed during the family event, and I scrambled to get to the hospital and relieve my husband moments before surgery. I spent the first night of our vacation on a fold-out bed next to my recovering son.

Thankfully, he came through well and we were allowed to bring him to the Cape to recover. I tried to take it all in stride but by the middle of the week, when he was able to walk around, we made the mistake of taking the whole gang to a nearby island by ferry on the hottest day of the year. The kids have good memories but there were moments he was too fatigued to walk and by the time we were disembarking on the mainland, I had a hissy fit as I struggled to get our massive stroller onto an elevator — and now my older daughter is strangely terrified of ferries.

Vacations are stressful, there’s no doubt. That one may have been more fraught than average, but now I recall that two years earlier, when I was 7 months pregnant, the fridge in our rental kept breaking and there was also an issue with the upstairs shower flooding the bathroom. It feels like it’s always something.

Home is much less a mystery, and being a parent is already mysterious enough. The kids will surely do and experience a range of things that won’t always be pleasant this summer, but I know the bed is comfortable and the major appliances seem to work. I know where the forks are and the pantry is well stocked, and Grandma is just a few miles down the road.

I need stability and rest after last summer’s move, not to mention the COVID baby and pandemic lifestyle preceding that.

Perhaps a summer staycation will be my very own luxury retreat this year.

Getting a family dog: An honest review

Getting a family dog: An honest review

My husband and I talked about getting a puppy pretty much right out of the gate — like before kids, just after we got home from our honeymoon. With two full-time jobs and remote work a rarity twelve years ago, we didn’t think we could swing taking care of an active young canine so we tabled it.

We both liked the idea of owning a family dog eventually, but since we spent much of the next 10 years producing our own puppies, we continued to put it off.

But seeing our oldest child with his uncle’s dog, and noticing the calming effect it had, our interest grew when our oldest approached double digits. We figured he was now old enough to help, and we were moving into a bigger house. Perhaps adding a puppy shortly after our move made sense — rip that Band-Aid off!

We brought our 9-week-old golden retriever, Apollo, home about a month after we moved, in August of 2022.

Getting a puppy is not like having another child -- but it's definitely work!

The Verdict: Not a disaster, Not a triumph

Nothing went drastically wrong. Our dog, true to his breed, was quite easy to train, especially to housebreak. He only had a handful of accidents indoors and it was totally on us for not getting him out quickly enough. Thanks to crate training, there has been minimal damage to our home and furniture (golden retrievers are NOTORIOUS chewers).

We knew this dog would shed, and he does, but it’s nothing our new Dyson Ball Animal can’t handle! And as long as I stay on top of cleaning, the house doesn’t smell too badly like a dog.

Essentially, my worst fears about dog ownership did not come true.

Still, adding a puppy to a household when you have four children –one a toddler — is not nothing. The greatest challenge is really just managing his energy level amidst the competing energy coming at me from the kids. He is rambunctious in the morning, I’m grouchy in the morning, and my kids usually are too. It’s not my favorite time of day. Also, our oldest, now 10, took a while to figure out how to handle our active young pup, and he was bitten a lot during the first six months while the dog was teething. Because our Apollo is also large for his breed, he is tough to wrangle, so there are limits to how much our son can help take care of him. These were all things we didn’t foresee — which was really just due to our own ignorance. You read a lot about how great goldens are with kids, and how they have a soft mouth, but I think that really starts to apply when the dog is older and more settled!

A related, and unforeseen, challenge is that the kids find him to be too much to handle in these moments. My 7-year-old hates it when he follows her around licking her first thing in the morning. My oldest sometimes just wants to be left alone after school while the dog thinks it’s playtime. I tend to get annoyed as a result. I thought these kids would love having a dog, making the extra work worth it!

If you have a young family and are considering adding a dog, I would say definitely don’t do it when you have an infant. A puppy plus a toddler is borderline manageable. Adding a puppy during a major life transition, such as a move, plus a toddler and three other kids, often felt like too much. Perhaps the Band-Aid should have been removed slowly.

But then again, we seem to be past the most painful training months, and we are beginning to get the hang of it as Apollo approaches his first birthday. I catch the kids admiring him more and more.

Maybe I’ll write an update in a few years, with a long-view perspective on owning a family dog.

Why is summer so stressful with kids?

Why is summer so stressful with kids?

Here’s what I plan to do to cope

Summer can be tough but so are you!
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Summer vacation is within sight on my calendar here in New England, and I’m doing my usual, disorganized, panicked-planning thing. I’m putting camps on a credit card, trying to strike a balance between overscheduling and being stuck at home with four bored children who do nothing but argue.

It seems that every year, when spring rolls around I start telling myself the same story: This summer will be different! They don’t need to go to camp or take classes, they need downtime! Spend less money and more time on your kids!

But when late spring arrives, I can’t seem to shake the image of my children gone rogue: Toys litter the yard, half-empty glasses of lemonade invade every surface, kids whine for snacks every 30 minutes.

I’m not that good at being home all summer with my kids, OK?

But though I like to strategically schedule camps and other fun activities, I am pretty committed to not overdoing it. While being home with nothing to do is my idea of a disaster, I have to remember that my kids like it! They may enjoy being with peers and trying new things at camp, but being home with unstructured time is something they crave. It’s also what I did during the majority of my childhood summers, and I remember the bliss of playing in the neighborhood with nowhere to be.

Like I said, strategy is the key here. Here are some of the principles I use in planning our 7 to 8 weeks of summer vacation. (Recognizing that not everyone can let their kids lounge at home a lot, this post is admittedly more helpful for parents who either stay home, or work from home and have flexible schedules.)

1. Start with downtime.

I’m kind of breaking this rule this year for reasons a little outside my control, but in general, I believe in letting the first couple of weeks of summer be quiet ones. I try not to plan on summer camp, and make room for school debriefing.

2. Prioritize

Take stock of each child and what his or her needs are. For example, I currently have a rising kindergartner who none of us is especially excited to be stuck at home with all summer. He has ENDLESS energy, he is loud, he never sleeps during the day. While I adore him and think he is a wonderful person, a majority of the camp budget will be directed at him. I know he will thrive on the constant action. The rest of us can stay home during his camp weeks and read books in peace.

3. Stagger

Put one child in a camp at a time for part of the summer. Enjoy the extra downtime with your other child or children, and the relative quiet that comes from having one less voice in the mix.

4. Space

I’ve noticed that, as much as I like a quiet house while kids are at camp or other activities, driving to and from these things gets to be exhausting. I try to have down weeks between camps, for this reason and also because I notice my kids enjoy camp more this way.

5. Stack

Camp is definitely pricey and young kids can’t often go, but if you are able, try to pick a week when all of your kids are in camp. I have grand plans of doing this someday, when all of my kids are camp age, and taking time to organize closets, go to lunch with my husband, or hit the beach. Will I ever get there? I don’t know, but it’s important to have a reach goal!

6. Plan outings

Summer is a great time to tackle the things on your bucket list you never seem to get to with the kids. With my mom newly retired, and no babies in tow, I plan to do some serious day-tripping to regional attractions or just some of my favorite childhood summertime haunts.

I am convinced there is no way to avoid hitting that late-summer wall when you’re the parent of a bunch of kids, but hopefully some carefully placed camp, outings and sports (anyone have a gymnastics kid tethered to a gym?!) you can keep that at bay for as long as possible.

And who knows, maybe this will be the first summer as a mom I didn’t want to end.

Saturday idea: Ban birthday goody bags

Saturday idea: Ban birthday goody bags

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

At the risk of scandalizing my children, should they ever read this post, I would like to make the case for banning goody bags at kids’ birthday parties.

I do remember the glee with which I received goody bags as a child, but I also believe my childhood was infused with a fraction of the cheap plastic paraphernalia that seems to pile up continuously in car cupholders and kitchen drawers around here. We didn’t have as much crap thrown our way every time we visited the dentist/doctor/library, so when we did get a goody bag, the odd bouncy ball or slap bracelet was likely tolerable for our parents.

Listen, I don’t think kids need to chomp generic taffy and hard tootsie rolls after cake and ice cream at the indoor adventure park party their friend just had. They’re good. The toys are going to get lost in the car on the way home, and their siblings are going to want to steal everything. Also, they’re choking hazards!

This is top of mind because I’m planning my son’s fifth birthday party next weekend. I’m skipping the goody bags, Yes indeed.

Here’s what I’ve started doing instead.

Useful birthday party favors!

Not that they’re anything special, but I think they’re a darn sight better than a little bag of cheap koosh balls and whistles. For example, for my daughter’s last birthday, we learned to make soaps and put together little baggies of those for her friends. Who doesn’t want their kids to wash their hands? Sparkly soap is so enticing! Next time, we may use the same molds to make chocolates.

For my son’s birthday upcoming (which has a loose kite theme, because he is awesome and thought of that unique idea by himself), I found cheap DIY kites on Amazon and will send one home with each child, or let them decorate them during the party if there is a lull.

I am going to keep at this strategy because, while I don’t want to send anyone home empty-handed, I think we could all use less stuff in our homes. One item, or a small set of things, is more than enough.

Family road trips: Are they worth it?

Family road trips: Are they worth it?

For me, it’s a resounding, ‘Yes!’

Last night, I returned from my first major road trip as a mother.

I feel so accomplished!

I’m also struck that it’s taken me a decade to get here. Yes, I’ve been afraid of long car rides with kids. I admit it! But after nearly 700 miles each way to and from the North Carolina coast, I am here to say, it was alright.

I am not here to knock flying with kids. I have done that and it is definitely easier. But with a larger-than-average brood, and sky-high air travel prices, we have to save flights for trips that can’t be done by car (i.e., transatlantic and transcontinental flights).

And since we survived our first big car excursion, I’m definitely excited to plan a lot of vacations on the road. We live in the northeast, and in this region, you can get to a huge variety of destinations by car in a day or two. That is definitely a plus.

Here are some things that worked well:

1. The T.V. in the backseat

We drive a Toyota Sienna, and I adore it. But we opted not to get one with screens because I was afraid my kids would end up watching a show or movie every time we ran an errand. Instead, my husband rigged up a T.V. using an old DVD player and computer monitor.

I wanted to believe we could do our ride without screens. I used to take long car rides without one, why should my kids be any different?! But in reality, screens dominate our lives now. When was the last time my kids spent an entire day without a screen? A long car ride of constriction hardly seems like the place to begin.

They watched their favorite movies much of the way. They were mostly content. So was I.

2. Lollipops and gum

Because a little novelty in the form of a long-lasting treat goes a long way.

3. Drawing paper and clipboards

My children are pretty good at drawing – heaven knows that’s not from me – and they can get pretty engrossed with that activity. During non-screen times, my older kids got creative on clipboards and my younger kids used mess-free markers and coloring pages. Probably bought us an hour of peace at a time.

4. Hotel stops

Oh my goodness, I have actual friends who have driven the length of the east coast with young kids and not stopped overnight. That is heroic. I admired them. I am jealous of the savings on the hotel rooms.

I am never doing it. Stopping overnight was essential. A hotel with a swimming pool and Fruitloops for breakfast is the best incentive for kids to stick it out in the backseat.

What I would do differently

1. More homemade food

I did pack a lot of snacks, and lunches for the first day on the road, but I kind of dropped the ball outside of that. We paid for it mightily at all the fast-food joints up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It was a waste of time and money, it was unhealthy, and we will probably save a couple hundred dollars on the next trip through better meal prep.

2. More rules

My kids need CLEAR boundaries. I need to spell out expectations in every situation BEFORE we get to it, because some of them are experts at finding opportunities to maximize their enjoyment, at their and my expense.

Vending machine trips? No.

Souvenirs at the rest area? Also no.

Nintendo Switch for 6 hours straight? Not happening.

Next time, there will be clearer ground rules, and hopefully far less discussion with the short people in back seat about the aforementioned items.

3. Less yelling

Thankfully it only happened a few times, but there were a few yelling matches between the front and back seats. Those memories are the ones I hope won’t stick. With clearer ground rules and healthier food (fewer blood sugar crashes) we might be able to make it happen.

I am eager to learn more roadtripping hacks, and I would love to hear what works for other people. Drop me a line if you have something to share!

Why you should definitely have three kids!

Why you should definitely have three kids!

Photo by Luana Freitas on Pexels.com

I never considered NOT having three kids, so I am most definitely not a neutral party in the discussion, but I am here today to tell you why having three is a wonderful idea anyway!

I’d like to start by pushing back on some of the fodder in the blogosphere around why having three kids is too hard. Here are some of my favorites.

1. If you have three, one child will always be the odd-man out

I actually have four children, and I can tell you that odd-man-out happened when I had two, and now that I have four, but not when I had three. If you have two, there are going to be many times when you, as a mother, want to (or need to) do something with just one of your children. Your other child is left out — assuming your spouse works outside the home and is away from the family for many waking hours.

With four, I have noticed that two will pair up if I am spending time with one child, but another child tends to be left out.

With three, I could spend time with one child, and the other two would pair up, or do their own thing.

I can’t think of one time this was a problem.

2. If you have three, the parents are outnumbered.

Obviously, this is true if you’re looking at this as a basic math equation. But let’s recall a few things. You and your spouse are bigger, stronger, smarter AND richer than your kids.

How much do you and your spouse weigh, combined? How much do your small children weigh, combined?

You have literally every advantage and they know that. If you’re afraid that three kids would overpower you and dominate your household for the rest of their youth, that’s a deeper issue.

I’m kind of kidding, but also not.

3. The world is made for families of four.

I have run into hotel and restaurant deals that do cater to families with two kids, i.e., learning on “Kids Eat Free” night that they cap it at two kids. But this has come up maybe three times. It’s not a major issue. Also, happy to report that I can still use one hotel room for my family of six without too much sleuthing or much of a difference in price. There’s no reason you can’t stay in a room with three kids, though I know it doesn’t sound like a ton of fun when you have a baby in the mix.

Why three is a magic number

Now I’ll share my insight about why three was a lot of fun, and I why I think those who desire another child should not be afraid!

I mean no offense to families with one or two children. I think those homes are delightful, too, and I sometimes wonder what I may be missing out on by having my attention divided. But for those who are broody but think three may be a disaster, I am here to tell you, it will not.

1. Three is a party

While two children may make for a more serene home, three children are more festive. There’s a quality that a sibling group takes on when it expands beyond a pair, a group mentality with more dimension. The personalities and the giggles collide, and it’s just a ton of fun to witness.

2. Three is manageable.

When my third child was a young baby, I definitely worked harder than I ever had and the days were long and grueling. But after a relatively short one or two years, routines were settled and I could handle the volume of work while also maintaining a regular exercise schedule and a part-time job. I was quite content and thought I was done having babies.

3. Siblings are everything

My one surviving sibling lives in Europe and though we touch base almost every day, I PINE for more brothers and sisters. Raising a family and not having siblings close by is one of the great sadnesses of my mostly-happy life. To think if I had just one more person to call, text, or hit the playground with, just makes me feel all the more grateful that I went for three, and then four kids.

Finally …

I know that family size isn’t a choice for everyone, but if you are blessed with the option, and you’re wondering if your life will turn to chaos if you take the triple plunge, please be assured, you won’t regret it. People used to have 6, 7, 8, or more children. The added stress and labor of three are well within the limits of the average interested mother. You got this!

Raising a family in New England

Raising a family in New England

Today I felt the need to share why I love raising my family in New England. This was prompted by a trip to the Pumpkin Patch on the town common near our house. Exhibit A:

I realize that I have never lived outside of New England but it’s just true that I’m essentially raising kids inside a postcard image. The natural surroundings, the Puritan downtown architecture just about everywhere you go. This is SO good for my mood many days.

I know I don’t have much to compare it to since I’ve spent 99 percent of my time here in life, but look:

Honestly, there are plenty of places that have fallen on hard times in the post-mill era in New England and I’ve lived around that. But even the old mill towns retain a lot of charm. And what can be done to quell the foliage, the crisp air that smells like pine trees, and the forest trails that are otherworldy when it snows?


New England may not be the most affordable place to raise a family, and the cost of housing in some parts is prohibitive. But if you’re savvy, there are plenty of places feasible for middle-class families to be found.

My husband and I considered moving down south at one point, for affordability and warmer weather, but our roots here were too deep. Since then, I’ve really grown to appreciate the climate, in spite of its extremes. But more so, I love that New England offers seemingly endless family vacation options that are within a few hours drive. This is especially helpful when you have new babies or toddlers who need to settle into bed early when you’re on the road. I also love that we don’t have to fly to have a good time, and as a family of six, that is VERY important. There are so many places in America, and the world, where you would have to drive for days to get to the ocean, if not fly. We can drive from the mountains to the ocean in three hours. I love that so much!

Ode to the minivan

Ode to the minivan

Since a lot of the traveling I do is in a car, comfort is paramount and I just have to say how much I actually LOVE driving a minivan. I drive a 2019 Toyota Sienna and when we were car shopping, it was my husband who was pushing for it. I didn’t want to be a minivan mom. But as the charming car salesman put it, I wasn’t out “trotting” anymore, whatever that means. I understood well enough to know that I was destined to be a minivan mom, whether I liked it or not.

A friend went the minivan route a few years before me and she commented that not having to open and close doors in parking lots made all the difference. I didn’t really see why this was a such a big deal until I had my three kids in the Sienna. So much aggravation and stress (Did I scratch that car? Does the owner even care?) melted away and I was free. Free to roam, free to drink lots of iced coffee and listen to Spotify while my kids slept, free to be me: someone who would rather not be at home but also has a lot of children to load and unload everywhere she goes.

Lately I have been wondering if a large SUV is in our future. I do think the trunk space would be better and as my kids get bigger, the interior more roomy. But I would miss the center aisle and those precious, beautiful sliding doors.

SUV people, enlighten me. Is there any reason to come back over to the dark side of opening doors and folding down seats for third row access? I’m open.

The best beach on Cape Cod …

The best beach on Cape Cod …

Old Silver Beach sunsets are killer.

I spent my childhood summers on Cape Cod, but because my grandparents had a beach house in the Upper Cape town of Mashpee, I didn’t get to know many other beaches until the last few years when the house was sold and my husband and I were forced into weekly rentals.

It still stings, but the obvious blessing is I finally got off my beach chair and saw some other parts of this beautiful region of Massachusetts, including stumbling upon the best beach on Cape Cod when I was 34 years old, with my husband and three kids in tow. The first time we visited Old Silver Beach in West Falmouth, I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing!

Old Silver Beach in Falmouth is one of those beaches that most Massachusetts natives know about, even if they never visit. I was in that category when we were renting a classic Cape-style house in East Falmouth, next to my native Mashpee.

Falmouth is a very popular Upper Cape beach town that is usually mobbed in the summer, especially on weekends and in neighborhoods like Woods Hole and Falmouth Heights. There are huge stretches of coastal roads with beautiful beaches , but West Falmouth, home to Old Silver Beach (AKA, the best one) is different. It has a bit of a coastal Maine vibe, with cliffside estates overlooking the ocean beaches below, and Old Silver is really the focal point on that side of town.

Located next to the Sea Crest Beach Hotel, the public side of Old Silver Beach always looks a bit ethereal to me. There’s a glow over the water, and I think it feels a bit like California with its brown rock ledges that descend into the water from the coastal road. Yes, Maine, California, — I am all over the map but that just supports my assertion that Old Silver Beach has it all.

Aside from aesthetics, Old Silver Beach is ideal for people of all ages. The water is shallow for a very long time so that you could walk a hundred yards into the water and it might just be up to your thighs. There are sandbars that take little ones by surprise. If you want to swim, though, you can find deep enough water as you wade toward the jetty, closer to the private beach in front of the neighboring resort. Adults will appreciate the matchless sunsets over Buzzard’s Bay. Parents (and all people who like being alive) will appreciate the fact that Great White Sharks don’t seem to congregate around Upper Cape waters in Falmouth as they do around the lower Cape beaches, especially in recent years when the Cape has become a Great White Shark worldwide hub. There are places on the Cape I don’t let my kids swim, but Old Silver definitely isn’t one of them.

Toddler friendly too!

In season, you will have to pay to park but it’s well worth it. Here, though, I’ll suggest a later-in-the-day trip, if you don’t mind skipping the sunniest hours of the afternoon. After 5 p.m., parking is free. You don’t have to worry much about the sun (great for parents like me who get tired of applying sunblock) and the crowds are smaller. We’ve done sunset trips to Old Silver and ordered pizza while there, spent a good three hours and watched the sun go down. It really is a great way to enjoy the beach. Sadly, bathroom and shower facilities are closed by the late afternoon, but there are many local eateries so while you’re ordering dinner, be sure to use a restroom!