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Vacationing with Kids: What’s in Your Bag of Tricks?

I just got back from a five-day “vacation” down in Florida. I put vacation in quotations because the trip was with five kids under the age of five. And no husbands. Or babysitters. Alex, Nora, my mother and I went to my parents’ place with my friend Amanda, her mom and Amanda’s three kids (two boys ages 5 and almost 4 and a nine-month-old baby girl). Amanda and I have been close friends since elementary school and our moms have too, but we haven’t lived in the same city since high school. So this was a reunion of sorts. And it was awesome. Of course the kids were in heaven but even Amanda and I had a blast. I’d had fairly low expectations in terms of the mom-fun (see five children under the age of five), but I was pleasantly surprised.

Quality time with my little man at the beach. Awesome. 



 My beach baby!

There is something to be said for embracing craziness and just going with it. I didn’t have time to check a single email or read a page of my book or unpack the suitcases or talk to anyone but Nick (and that was mostly via text late at night). And in five days I only sat down for one meal beginning to end. But not using my brain for anything but parenting was truly refreshing. It was about 90 degrees and cloudless the entire time we were there so much of the trip was spent in the pool or the ocean. Except the day we went to SeaWorld, which was spent in a pool of sweat. The whole trip was really fun. And really intense. The girls were perfect angels but the boys were…boys. There was always someone in time out—literally, the boys just took turns in the timeout chair (or the timeout corner by the pool or the timeout sand dune at the beach). Alex got right in the mix with the other  boys--at least half of the fights were started by Al, who, I’ve realized, is not afraid of bigger kids.

At the Shamu show! (Which was kind of creepy given the recent trainer tragedy)

With all the driving and flying and transporting and sharing of space, the real trick was staying one step ahead of the children. Being prepared with distractions (“Who can spot the first Shamu sign?!” or bribes (“first one to fall asleep gets the first ride in the golf cart tomorrow!”) or snacks or, when needed, timeouts. We wouldn’t have made it through the trip without certain “tools”—the bag of dum dums in Alex’s diaper bag, for example, and Amanda’s kids’ leapsters, which, fortunately, they didn’t mind sharing with Alex during the hour plus ride to SeaWorld. I will probably be talking to Santa and having him bring one for Al next Christmas.

This picture pretty much sums up the vacation--chaos, but a freakin blast!

Now that I’m on my second kid there are definitely tricks I have up my sleeve but I am also always wanting to learn more, to hear other moms’ secrets, to see what else could work to keep my kids happy and entertained and educated and, most important, sleeping through the night. Apart from the obvious (food, diapers, clothes, wine), here’s what’s on my mom must-have list (I hope you’ll share yours too!):


White noise—for both kids. When I had Alex ,my friend, Molly, burned me a CD of white noise and we haven’t looked back since. In our house we currently have both of our iPods in docking stations in each of the kids rooms—not ideal since we can never listen to music after 8 p.m. but it works.


Aquafor—Al has pretty bad eczema so he has a slew of prescription creams and lotions but for every day cuts and scrapes and rough cheeks, aquafor works wonders. I have a little tube in every bag we own.


Dum Dum lollipops—see bribery, above. Also works for haircuts, trips to CVS or the bank and potty training, which, as of last week, is complete! Alex will go weeks without needing or asking for one, but when the mood strikes and I need him to behave, I always know they’re there.


Portable DVD player for the airplane (with Cars, Monsters, Inc. and Alvin and the Chipmunks—the only movies he’s ever watched because he’s afraid of everything else). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of letting my kid tube it out but there is a time and place for everything and when we’re on an airplane and he’s antsy (and can’t get down because of his peanut allergy) he gets plugged in.


Playdoh—I keep those little containers of it in Alex's diaper bag so when we need to kill time or distract him (the portable DVD player is strictly for airplane use) we can makes some snakes or meatballs. And as long as we have the spaghetti-making tool and his scissors, he will play for about an hour straight at home. 


A constant supply of new books for Alex. As long as he’s not bored, Alex will sit and read books for half an hour before bed. But if we’ve read the book too many times (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day, Hooper Humperdink), he starts bouncing off the walls. Thank God for the library.


Swaddle Me swaddle blankets. This is perhaps the most important parenting tool I have ever used. When Nora starts to fuss a little, I wrap her up and before I’m even finished, she’s asleep. Alex was the same way. Though I’m thinking of switching to the miracle blanket since Nora breaks out of the swaddle too often lately. Thoughts?


Last but not least, wine. After our 10-hour day at SeaWorld, Amanda and I came home and put the boys in bed (the moms and babies had stayed home) and even though by the time we showered it was 9:30, we went out for a quick bite. Crab legs, fish tacos and wine on the beach. So well deserved and one of the highlights of the trip. I am a firm believer in a well-timed glass of wine.

Can you tell how tired I am in this picture? VERY. 

OK, what’s always in your diaper bag? What are your must-have mommy tricks for getting kids through tricky times of day/night/etc. What couldn’t you live without as a mom? I can always use new ideas!