Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

More from this author »

Smart Mama: Summer vacation recap

Smart Mama

Early this summer, my husband Jon and I sat down and tried to figure out what we wanted to do with our vacation time. What would thrill 7-year-old Emma, who was so over princesses and fairies? What would be 3-year-old Benny’s best day ever? So far, his favorite things seemed to be sharing horrible made-up fart jokes and cutting paper into confetti with safety scissors.

And Jon and I figured that if we’re footing the bill, we should have some fun, too!

Eventually, we opted to try giving each family member a day. This day would be theirs to execute, from what we eat to where to go. Two rules applied: No one could complain and the day had to stay within a budget.

We thought about taking one week and knocking out each person’s day, but once the planning began, we knew that’d be one crazy week. Instead, we broke the vacations up during the course of the summer.

Here’s how things went:

* Mommy’s vacation. I went first. Of course. To celebrate my birthday, during which I turned 29 for the third year in a row, we invited a bunch of friends over for a barbecue. I played no part in the prep work for the party, just sat back and enjoyed as Jon made delicious treats. I did, however, muster the strength to make gin and tonics for myself and friends.
The next day, we packed up the kids and the car, dropped the puppy off at my sister’s, and drove to Ocean City! It was a magical day, filled with wave hopping, hotel pool swimming, moist breezy air, spicy hardshell crabs and double-chocolate-fudge apples.

The trickiest part was sticking to the no-complaining rule, especially when the children literally rolled in the sand and then jumped for joy, showering Jon and me with soggy clumps. And also when Benny reached his sand-covered hand into the shared bag of potato chips. Ew.

* Daddy’s vacation. And, OK, Mommy’s vacation, take two. The next vacation was Jon’s to plan. He and Emma went to the Chesapeake Bay to go camping with friends. I know what you’re thinking: Wasn’t this supposed to be a family vacation? And, yes, of course, you’re right. But we’re talking tent camping. At a beach. During a heat wave. Besides, we both were craving some one-on-one time with the children.

So Benny and I spent a grand lazy weekend together while Jon and Emma fished for dinner, swam in the bay, ate a mountain of pistachios and told stories by the campfire with a friend and his 7-year-old daughter.

* Emma’s vacation. Emma took a lot of time planning her perfect day. Eventually, she said she wanted to eat lots of delicious food and read all day, except while she was swimming. We knew just what to do, and that one day wouldn’t be enough.

We planned a long weekend at Jon’s parents’ house, where there is a gorgeous pool and hot tub, an expert griller (Grandpa) and baker (Grandma) eager to serve, and a raft just waiting for Emma. The weekend also included a second reading of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Unfortunately, this coincided with my recovery from a tonsillectomy, so I spent most of the time feeling sorry for myself. But I did manage the no-complaining rule, if only because I couldn’t speak.

* Benny’s vacation. Remember those back-to-back hazy days of 100-degrees-plus weather? The ones where just walking to the mailbox was enough to fog your sunglasses and flush your face?

It was during those days that Benny trudged from room to room, staring out windows and groaning. Why? There wasn’t any snow.

That’s right: Benny wanted snow for his special day. He wanted snow, and he wanted Santa.

“How many days until it snows again?” he asked.

“Months and months,” I told him. “First summer has to end. Then we have a few months of fall. Then it will be winter and time for snow.”


Grandma and Grandpa to the rescue. During our stay with them, we planned a trip to The Land of Make Believe in New Jersey. Here, Santa lives year-round, along with kid-sized roller coasters, a pirate-themed water park, dinosaur rides, a petting zoo, a real locomotive and pretty much every fantasy of a 3-year-old boy.

Summer’s almost over, and our vacation days are behind us, but the memories of being Queen — or King, Princess or Prince — for a day is sure to stick around for years to come.

Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment