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When Toddlers Take Vacations

As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my second child, I begged my husband for a vacation. I knew we would need it. With a toddler and a little one on the way, I wanted a chance to take a break and regroup before starting a whole new ball game with man-on-man defense. My husband agreed on one condition: We bring our toddler.

I love my daughter. I feel like I need to clarify that for what I'm about to write next. The idea of a week in a hotel room with a precocious 2-year-old doesn't make my heart leap with joy. Also, she's started into the body flinging stage, that wonderful time in a child's life when if you suggest that perhaps she shouldn't touch bleach because it might kill her, she launches herself face-forward onto the ground screaming. That would be really fun at a restaurant.

But we booked three tickets, packed Tylenol and headed off to Florida.

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The first day of vacation, our airplane was delayed due to a blizzard and it was past midnight when we arrived at the hotel. Like me, my daughter is anxious. She didn't fall asleep on the plane or in the airport and cried for 20 minutes in the rental car before sleeping 5 miles from the hotel. I sat in the car while my husband checked us in, a process that was delayed because the first room they gave us was leaking water from the ceiling. The signs didn't portend well for our trip.

In the morning, we woke to a breakfast of doughnuts and sugary juice provided by the hotel.

"Why isn't there fruit?" I whispered to my husband. "Or milk? Where is the milk?"

He grimaced and promised we’d find a grocery store, and I felt like the world's worst mom as my daughter, face full of chocolate, said, "More doughnut, please!"

When we hit the beach, I fussed over the sand in my daughter's mouth and hair. I fretted over the circling flock of seagulls and worried that the kids nearby would throw their football into my daughter's head. At naptime, I paced the hotel room, wondering if my child would sleep and wishing that she hadn't only eaten French fries for lunch.

I realized my child and my husband weren't miserable and worried. I was.

My husband stopped me. "Lyz," he said, "I love you. Go take a walk on the beach."

"But what if she doesn't nap?" I asked. We could both hear her singing "The Wheels on the Bus" through the room divider.

"It's vacation," he said. "We will figure it out."

I reluctantly left the hotel room and headed toward the beach. The sun was shining, and a host of un-napped toddlers played happily in the sand with popsicle-stained faces. And I realized that my child and my husband weren't miserable and worried. I was. There were worse things than a week of doughnuts, juice and sand on your tongue.

As a mother I want what is best for my child, and most often that means full sleep, healthy food choices and not licking sand shovels. But sometimes, even toddlers need a break. This vacation wasn’t just about me and my husband, it was about her. As little as she is, I wanted her to have a week of freedom just as much as I wanted it for myself. I fell asleep on the beach and woke up with a ridiculous sunburn and an intense craving for a hamburger. That night I let her have chocolate milk with her dinner, and we watched the iPad until bedtime. It felt wild, it felt risky and it felt great.

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For the rest of the week, we ate doughnuts and drank juice, and sometimes there were naps and sometimes there weren’t, and sometimes there was Mickey Mouse Club at 6 in the morning, while mom and dad lied in bed just a little bit longer. We had ice cream before lunch and paid a silly amount of money just to go see alligators swim in a kiddie pool. Sure, there was a temper tantrum in the Manatee gift store, but we didn’t sweat it. We just picked her up, walked out and let her cool down in the car. Then, we got out and tried again. In sum, we had a wonderful time.

Just as often as children need guidance and rules, they also need to see their parents know when to let go, when to breathe, and when to eat nothing but juice and doughnuts And I'm glad I learned that, because I think it’s a lesson I will need when this next child joins our family and we try to vacation as four.

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