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Survival Mode: Summer Vacation with Small Kids

I woke up this morning wedged between my 3- and 4-year-old in bed. We—my husband, three children and I—are on our summer vacation. Despite our holiday home having three stories and three bedrooms, our children are naturally choosing to pile into our bed each night—with the exception of the youngest, nearly 2, who is held back only by the bars of her crib.

I remember vacation being a time during which you could shut off your mind, read a book, visit a museum, drink cocktails into the wee hours. Vacation with small children is a different animal: one we look forward to, but one that demands our full attention, strategic scheduling. The pleasure comes mainly from our children enjoying themselves. It's about spending time together as a family.

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You have to get into the right mental zone. Since our arrival, my husband and I have greeted the 10-to-12-hour days we have with our children with optimism and committment.

We are careful to anticipate and schedule activities around our children's needs, which are also our needs, because children who are hungry and tired are generally less of a good time than those who are not.

We are staying at a family park near the coast in Zeeland, the Netherlands, and we have participated in pretty much all the child-oriented events offered, including many (many, many) hours in a swimming pool.

I'm trying to not sound cynical. But you have to keep your expectations realistic in order to stay upbeat.

We have also engaged in lots of crafts: we've made pinwheels, "Frozen"-themed mobiles, and Dora and Diego "sand drawings." We have glue in our fingernails, and we have glitter like a dog might have fleas (everywhere).

But it is something to do.

Some of these activities are less exciting than others. There is a clown—or we think he's a clown—who is the park mascot, our emcee for the week. There was a parade, which was really just the children (and their parents) walking for 45 minutes around the area of the park, following the clown-person who sat comfortably in a small electric car.

You can pay to have him join you for dinner, but we are skipping that. We looked forward to the family food festival, but, in the end, it was just the children forming a train and beating together wooden spoons as they snaked around the tables of the buffet restaurant.

I'm trying to not sound cynical. But you have to keep your expectations realistic in order to stay upbeat. You must know in your heart of hearts that bingo does not become "crazy" just because they call it "Crazy Bingo."

That night, when a piece of glitter on my husband's cheek twinkled under the kiddy disco lights, catching my eye, I thought how there will come a time when I sorely miss these vacations ...

You have to keep a sense of humor. There's a brochure in our house that shows a well-rested, fresh-faced couple in bed wearing fluffy white robes and reading the paper while feeding each other croissants.

Just: ha!

And you can't be resentful. There's a spa here, which I accept I won't see the inside of. The only facials happening on this trip are face-paining sessions—schminken, as they call it in Holland. Our children love this and resist a good face wash at night to try and preserve the work. Yesterday, my son was painted as a Minion, and this morning he woke looking like a jaundiced Harry Potter. But he's happy.

There has not been much mingling among parents, although we did share a bonding moment the other evening when, after the park clown left the podium (after leading a disco for the children—the "Chicken Dance" is alive and well in the Netherlands!), my youngest climbed on stage and figured out which button on the sound system panel would put the music back on.

The stage was immediately crashed by 20 or so other toddlers, dancing wildly and to the delight of their parents who realized they had a few more minutes to finish their drinks. Unfortunately, this earned the scorn of the clown, who soon reappeared to scoot the children off the stage.

That night, when a piece of glitter on my husband's cheek twinkled under the kiddy disco lights, catching my eye, I thought how there will come a time when I sorely miss these vacations, when I look back and feel sad that our children no longer want to sleep in our bed, no longer feel satisfied to spend their time decorating paper plates with us.

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It has been a tiring week, but I wouldn't trade my little guys, nor my husband, for a life that was just about me. I've had lots of relaxing and adventurous vacations in my life, and we will have them again. For now, rather than enduring this time, I'm reminding myself to cherish it.

Image via Twenty20/hartsdesire

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