Katie Katie Parsons is the creator of Mumbling Mommy and is a freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. She works from her home office on the east coast of Florida. Most often she writes about life in a combined family of five children and what it's like being a full time work-from-home parent. Feel free to pitch guest post ideas or just drop her a line at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

A sweet quote I thought was appropriate to remember our first family vacation:

“Children love vacations. Not because they get to go to Disney World or some other place they’ve idealized in their minds, but because of a much richer treasure. Usually, parents are more relaxed, more fun, and more emotionally available. It’s common for kids to say that their favorite summer memory is something free and simple, like lying on a blanket looking at the stars with the family. These sweet pleasures are the golden experiences that shape rich childhood memories.” ~ Dr. Laura Markham

On grandma’s front porch

There are a lot of places I’d love to visit. London. Hawaii. A cruise to someplace — maybe the Caribbean, though I hear the Alaskan ones are really a better time. I’d like to take my kids to the Grand Canyon and Washington D.C., and maybe New York City when they are old enough to enjoy a Broadway show with me.

I have a long list of vacations I’d like to take with my spouse and kids but when it came time to plan our first family vacation as a combined family of six, there was only one place that came to mind: my hometown. My husband and I had not visited there together since our wedding two years ago, and the five oldest members of our family had never been there with the baby. It would be the first time we had all flown together — the first time my husband and I had been on an airplane together after many solo flights when we dated long distance.

We knew we wanted to make the most of the first family vacation and 11-day journey away from home so we packed in as many play dates and family get-togethers as humanly possible. We coordinated with my cousin, and blogger Rachael too, so that our families would be in town at the same time. We spent some time with my husband’s family in Chicago too and our kids were blessed to meet two of their baby cousins for the first time on the trip.

It was a sweet adventure from start to finish. My kids learned a lot about places outside of Florida and members of their extended family. My husband (an avid Ohio State fan) set foot in Michigan for the first time on a long run along Lake Michigan. Even I learned a few things about the places I’ve lived and family I’ve known so long. Some of the stand-out lessons for me came from my own kids and husband, though. Here’s a look at what I learned on my first family vacation:

Our First Family Vacation

Ferris takes a break at the Crown Fountains

Sometimes kids will surprise you. When my husband and I started to pack for the trip, and plan our agendas, we tried to set ourselves up for success. We had a lot that we wanted to do, but knew that over-tired, homesick kids could prove a downer. The two days that we picked to walk all over Chicago were considered borderline dangerous heat-wise, with temperatures inching close to 100 degrees. We went inside when we could, downed water and found some cool outdoor activities, but kept pushing forward with our busy itinerary. A few times I wondered aloud to my husband when it was all going to fall apart. Who would be the first to melt down? Would we be on Michigan Avenue, or under the city on a subway? What friend or relative would our kids offend by kicking, screaming or throwing?

Getting ready to board the train for our Chicago adventure

The heat was getting under my skin… so I knew my kids couldn’t be far off. I worried for about half of the first day before I finally decided to just enjoy. I was in my favorite city with my favorite people in the whole world, sharing some of my own childhood experiences with my own kids. Maybe there was a meltdown on the horizon but at least I could savor the perfect, present moment. The kids were troopers, sweating and trudging to the next spot — just as excited when we got there as they were the time before. The baby seemed to pick up on the enthusiastic vibe, cooing and pointing from her spot in the stroller.

We nearly missed our train back to Indiana and did not have time to grab dinner. “Ah, okay,” I thought. “So THIS is where it is all going to go downhill.” But it didn’t. We explained that grandpa would bring some boxed fast food (a very special treat) to the station when he picked us up, and that was the end of it. The kids looked out the window and talked to each other about the trip for the nearly two-hour ride back. The baby even seemed rejuvenated to be out of her stroller and in air conditioning. My kids surprised me, and I surprised myself at how much fun I actually had watching them get excited about a place I love so much.

Who doesn’t love a huge noodle sculpture?

Little things are fun too. I knew my kids would love the airplane ride, and the Crown Fountains at Millennium Park, and going to Lake Michigan’s shore by my parents’ house. They did love those things, and other obvious attractions like going to the Lincoln Park Zoo. What I didn’t expect was all the little things they ended up loving too. Like a giant Kraft macaroni and cheese noodle sculpture outside Wrigley Field. Or the fact that my parents have a basement, and stairs. Or how cute they think their baby cousin is because he has a bald head that they like to pat.  And the sofa bed? Oh.My.Word. Coolest, greatest invention of all time.

I stopped to appreciate a few things off the agenda at my kids’ urging. I saw familiar places from totally new perspectives because I saw them through my kids’ eyes. My happiest moments on the trip were sitting on the front porch at my parents’ house, watching the kids (baby too) color with chalk or seeing grandma dote on her usually-long-distance little ones. What I predicted would be the highlights of the trip were actually background noise next to the simple, family moments together.


Ellen and I — slight family resemblance, yes?

Friends are best enjoyed in person. No offense to social media (which I love), but there is really nothing that compares to seeing your favorite people up close, in person. A hug or handshake (who am I kidding? give me a hug!) sure beats an electronic “thumbs up.” Not only did we get to see friends and family members, but we saw a lot of their offspring too. Seeing my brother with his two little girls, outside of text message pics, warms my heart in a way I never knew possible until I became an aunt and a mom. Getting together with bloggers Rachael, and Tricia, and Ginny, and my sister-in-law Maura, and seeing the way these super moms are bringing up their little ones inspires me to keep working hard in my own parenting pursuits too.

Rachael and kids… where are Katie’s?

I got to see my sweet, lovely cousin Ellen and her three little ones several times throughout the week, and my Aunt Laura, and cousin Steven, and other cousin Heather (and her precious Corinne). Maura was kind enough to invite two friends of ours to her cookout so we could say hi and meet their TWINS in person, after seeing hundreds of pictures on Facebook. We met up with a family that Emilia and I hung out with almost daily when we lived in Chicago. When my husband ran a 5K, I saw two friends from high school and got to chat with them. I met two of my best friends from college (and today!) for dinner and I felt like we could have talked for a week. My friend Cathy helped us plan our cookout and brought us food throughout the week too. We didn’t get to see everyone but made a pretty good effort. At the start of the trip, my husband was talking about a family trip to Key West next time. By the end of it, he was telling friends and family that we would see them “next summer.” Time goes by so quickly, even faster with kids it seems. The human connection is so very important and we got a good dose of it on the trip.

There were other lessons that stood out too on this first family vacation — like reminders of how much I value my parents, and what an amazing father my husband is to our kids. I cried packing our suitcases. Not because I did  not want to come home but because the vacation I had planned for my kids had been so very special for me too. I was thankful to have a life and routine I looked forward to rejoining, but sad that our first family vacation together was coming to an end. I was comforted though by the promise of “next summer” and so many things to look forward to until then.

What did you learn from your first family vacation?


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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: family vacation