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.

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.

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!