When you need a vacation from your vacation

He wants to eat summer.

Like so much ice cream, running down his forearms and dripping off his fingers. He wants to lick up every last drop and then ask for more.

This second born of mine only has one speed. And it’s fast and furious and can leave a mother and father and two sets of cousins and aunts and uncles all tired and worn out in his wake.

We’re on the edge of the lake in Northern Michigan where my husband’s family have been spending their summers for decades. Literally. Same lake, same bike trails, same little minnows trying to avoid the nets of boys like they have for so many summers in a row.


We’ve got two days of car travel to erase and Micah is ready to get the process started at 7am the first morning.

And while vacations bring rest from all the routine that we need a break from, vacations also mean that we’re parenting without the routine that can bring everyone rest.

Micah’s excitement meets our exhaustion head-on and it’s not a pretty collision at the crack of dawn, with the whole cottage still fast asleep and one small boy sitting stubbornly dressed and ready to go out and explore.

I delight in his passion and it exhausts me.

And I think about my ideal vacation and how it involves a whole lot of quiet and a big pile of books and very little call for the roller coaster of parenting.

Nearly eight years into the process and it seems to me that to mother is often to choose noise over silence, motion over stillness, chaos over order, speed over rest. Holding onto your temper with both hands.

When all I want to do on vacation is climb into bed and sleep for a week.

“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.” – Lewis Carroll

He wants to go zip lining this afternoon. His life all strung out before him. Terrifying and wonderful and so very alive. I bring my camera. I snap still images frame by frame of his face and the joy of being five and fearless.


He needs to make the memories right. now. this. very. second. because waiting means missing out and missing out is like dying to him.

I stand at the edge of a sheer drop and look up at the cathedral of green trees above me and exhale. And ache for the parts of me I can’t get back. My favorite jeans, my late mornings, my ability to eat a tub of ice cream every evening without any noticeable impact.

And he speeds by me. This boy who has broken me apart and put me back together in ways I barely recognize. And I’m no less tired. I don’t have a quick fix for balancing his need to be on the go and my need for naps.

But I know that this moment will be framed in his memory much longer than in my camera.

And I want to be part of it.

Not the tired, irritable, not-now-just-give-me-a-second-leave-me-alone part either.

The part that climbed the incline to watch the view from a zip-line in person.

The part that applauded. The part that whooped and hollered.

The part that showed up on his vacation.

And you? How do you balance what you hope for out of a vacation with what lights your kids on fire?

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Bronwyn Lea

    Ah…. That slippery thing called rest.
    For this chaotic season of life, when we are on vacation and hoping for some rest and recreation, I’m trying to focus on the recreation part of it. Maybe some of the joy of play, the ease of laughs, the making of memories will re-create, re-kindle and re-fresh me in a way that naps never could. Recreation for re-creation.

  2. Diana Trautwein

    This very thing was one of the reasons that I enjoyed the extended family trips we took to Mammoth Lakes CA most summers when my kids were between the ages of 5 and 12 or so. Because there were more adults to spread the responsibility around and there were more kids for mine to pounce on and play with. By the time my three were about 10/12/14, we were able to take long car trips together and we did a LOT of those, saw a lot of this great country and somehow, I managed to survive and thrive. Part of that was this truth: my husband was the small kid wrangler and I was the later elementary/teenage parent-at-the-ready. We were WAY too traditional in our parenting – but somehow, we figured out a way to survive those early years of vacation. And we instilled a high value for travel and recreation in the process, something which served all of us well. . . and still does. I’m on vacation with two of my three kids and their kids for the next two weeks. And we’re all lovin’ it.

  3. Laurie

    Oh I really want to zip line! My words of wisdom? Enjoy every wired out, fast-break, 7 am rising, let’s-get-this-party-started moment because before you know it, in just a blink of an eye, the children are grown and you will be vacationing as two once again…until the grandkids come along! 😉

  4. Victoria

    Love it and agree 100%. Vacations with the kids can be a whirlwind leaving me more tired than when we left. I have found one thing that works for me though, I like planning a bit of re-energizing me time as close to our departure date as possible so I start the trip with full mom batteries and really be a part of every second.

  5. Kelly Chripczuk

    Sigh. Your second-oldest sounds just. like. mine. We didn’t plan a vacation this year because with two almost two-year-olds, I couldn’t figure out a way to do it without having a heart attack!
    Yes, mothering is so. much. work. BUT sometimes I have to remind myself that even though the work won’t stop, vacations bring a change which, though not exactly restful, can come close to it.
    Love your writing, you help me understand and find grace for myself as an introvert with four kids seven and under!

  6. Tricia Ballad

    It’s about balance – and that doesn’t mean Mom always bends to the wants of her children. When we go on vacation (and I’ve got several of the on-the-go 24/7 variety) we try to find activities that we’ll all enjoy together, or we make sure that everyone understands that we’ll do the zip line and the roller coasters, but we’ll also slow down and take walks around the lake listening for bird calls. Vacation, just like every other moment of their lives, is about learning to be the type of people they will be someday. No mom wants her child to be the type of person who bulldozes everyone around them, so we might as well teach them early that Mom’s needs and wants are important too, and that we can accommodate everyone’s interests so that everyone has fun.

  7. Jennifer Sikora

    I see everyone posting about rest these days and I laugh. I have no clue what it means to rest. I am constantly on the go and I hate it. I want to slow down, but just the thought of it makes me cringe. Being still is not something I am good at, but something I crave.

    Thanks for posting this today.

  8. Julie

    We have 3 kids, newly turned 4, 2 1/2, and 10 months. They are so great, but yes, taking time vacationing with babies & toddlers isn’t exactly restful! So we decided that in this busy time of our lives it is important for us as a couple to have vacation times by ourselves. My parents live 10 hours away, but we are lucky because they are always up for taking our kids for any amount of time. So we figure in the extra gas and driving time into our vacationing budget, and try once a year to get away for a week or so. just the two of us. It teaches our kids independence and that they can have awesome experiences outside of their parents lives, and it gives them a chance to connect with their Grampie & Grammie who don’t get to see them on a regular basis. It reconnects Andrew and I, so we don’t forget that the kids are only ere for a short time, but we are together for life. We want to still be best friends when we send our youngest out of the nest. And it makes us actually be able to miss our kids (which in the daily mom-i-need-you, Daddy-watch-me-do-this, grind of life, doesn’t really happen all that often!) and excited to get home to their grubby hands and little clingy arms! Then in between these big breaks, we don’t mind having small family vacations that aren’t very restful, because we treat them more as opportunities to spend time as a family together and not as a time for us to recharge, so we don’t end up resenting the lack of sleep & downtime. That’s how vacations work for us right now. And we are so thankful to have such accomodating Grandparents that live close enough for this to be an option for us.

  9. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    Fantastic question. I have no idea how to balance my kids’ needs for activity with mine for rest and quiet while on “vacation” but I’m about to try–we’re renting a beach house for a week.
    So far, my one idea is to let my husband go play a round of golf on day while I stay with the babies; then, another day, I’ll go off exploring/reading in a coffee shop for several hours. And I hope to have the benefit of naptime for the littles, too. *Hope* 🙂

  10. Shirley

    ahhh, the Summer Season of Life…how I would love to put my book down and go back to Summer for just one day. That’s when I tended my garden of 4… growing and thriving… My season of planting, weeding, raking, hoeing and watering. I thought it would never end at times, but here I am in the Autumn and the Harvest is plentiful.

    • Jen

      Shirley, that is just lovely. I am copying your words on a post it note as a beautiful reminder while I tend my little garden, too!! 🙂

  11. karyn smyth

    We just hang out at the pool and bask in the sun like a hippo in the river in Africa. 🙂 I have seven hundred hippos as a collection since the age of twenty. I likened myself to a hippo in Africa just doing absolutely nothing. 🙂

  12. Jo

    You are a great mom! And one of my most favorite writers! Keep in mind this phase WILL pass. Maybe not soon enough, but then you will miss so many things. Mom to 8 here including twins. I had 6 children 8 and under so i know how it is. Meanwhile – coffee and red bull girl!

  13. Meredith

    Thank you. I needed that reminder this morning as I sat to drink my “hot” coffee and catch up on a few things as my children run screaming around the house, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. It made me feel not so alone in this structure-less thing called summer.

  14. Amy

    I still remember when I shared that same feeling of exhaustion and someone told me “that’s why it’s called a TRIP (not a vacation). It’s a vacation when you are without young children.” Aaahhh. So very true (for me). So now my children are 10 and 12 and it definitely feels like a vacation when we are together.

    We found that during those toddler years it was most helpful to schedule time for ourself too–whether that required the help from family or friends to watch the kids–or a sitter that a friend in that town could highly recommend. Ex: Massage and shopping time for the moms while the dads watched the kids. Putting your needs high on the importance list sends an important and powerful message.

  15. Kathy

    Your ideal vacation sounds just like my ideal vacation! I find that short trips are better for me. And I definitely need to carve out pockets of my own time so I can enjoy all the togetherness.

  16. Pam

    I have found that being careful not to set up unrealistic expectations of a vacation is key. It’s not always easy, but I’m learning to just be in the moments as they come and not set up a picture of how I think the moments should be.

    You have such a beautiful way with words that bring such peace out of the chaos of motherhood. Thank you for sharing : )

  17. Amanda

    A friend encouraged me before our recent vaca to think of it as a business trip. Expect to spend most of the time working (bonus: it’s Bring your Husband to Work Week!), and any moments “off the job” are sweet icing on an already tasty cake. Have fun on your business trip! And what a great idea to fuel up with a “me time” day before you leave!

    I second the advice to get away for restful vacation with just that love-of-your-life, too. We have two nights coming up in October, and just thinking about it gets me through the really rough days.

  18. Elizabeth

    So timely as I am about ready to go on “vacation” with my three littles…part of which I am dreading and part o which I am excited for. But I decided to just go with the flow and enjoy the fact that I will only be caring for 3 littles (4 and under) and not the four dogs which include two puppies.

  19. Elizabeth

    I’ve learned to adjust my own expectations and to simply delay some of the things that I would love to do on my own vacations (which, like yours, would consist of books, silence, and food. The End.) All too soon we will have to beg THEM to do things with us on vacation!

    One thing we do is to find free things to do in whatever city we’re visiting (which is why we like St. Louis so much…lots of free things!). That way when kids get tired and cranky I don’t feel like I have to go into “you are GOING to stay and have FUN until we have gotten our money’s worth so HELP ME” mode! We can just leave when they are ready and go swim at the hotel…which is what they really wanted to do anyway. 🙂

    • Rachael Jones

      Elizabeth – We are actually headed for St. Louis this weekend…what free things are there to do?? Thanks so much!

  20. Jen D

    Vacation with Grandparents!

    Also, we get away for a weekend once a year. My absolute fav vacation ever was the 24 hours my husband I spent away from my 2 year old & 6 mo old. It was an intense season for us (figuring out Baby’s food allergies & dealing with constant screaming) & we dropped them at my parents’ & ran. With no plans. I’m not usually a flexible, surprise me, kinda girl, but the spontaneity was just what we needed. We slept through the night, rented bikes & rode along Lake MI, read books by the water, & picked blueberries. It was Heaven on earth. Vacations don’t have to be long to be restful!

  21. Deena

    Big Sigh. My oldest has Aspergers and getting anywhere was half the battle. I always enjoyed the idea of having more adults to watch the masses. I was always counting heads. Then this summer, I realized, I don’t have to count heads, none of the heads to count are mine.
    22 years of counting head and it is all over , until the grandchildren start showing up in a few years.
    Yesterday I had coffee with a friend and all my kids were doing something, someplace else, without me and didn’t have to put the phone on the coffee table and wonder if it would go off…I had no time table either. After 23 years.
    I thought I would never make it sometimes. God and I had long talks through the night. Sometimes I had songs hold me in my sleep as I drifted in the “Twilight Sleep” they tell us about in birthing class that follows us through out Motherhood years.

    As a matter of update. The one with Aspergers has an AS in Diesel and Welding and is a school bus driver and mechanic. She follows the Aspie code of “Honesty, Rules must be followed and Schedules must be kept”. She loves with a Love only God puts in our hearts, every child and knows their names the first week of school. She has been taught the importance of eye contact…it is trained in all children, I believe Aspies get the bad rep in that one, when I see so many “normal” kids that never look you in the eye.

    My second, “The Stem Winder”, is an Archaeology student in her 3rd Year of University Studies. She plays the violin in church and digs up dead people’s stuff to tell the story of cultures long ago. Most of all she loves the Lord and desires to serve Him. She can write books with wonderful illustrations.

    My third has worked very hard her entire life to be better than the other two at everything. She has a competitive drive that I pray God will use in an amazing way for His Kingdom. She is one and 1/2 years younger, but also in her “3rd” year of University Study. She wants to be a Social worker and help people to take care of children as families. The Lord has put a very strong sense of family in her heart. She has been in or worked with AWANA for 12 years. She also as an artistic eye in her photography like no one I know.
    Then I had a boy. A fellow who sits with me in church and his knees don’t have room between the rows. This month I put him on the outside, so that he can stretch into the isle. He loves the Lord too and wants to protect his country in the Coast Guard upon Hi School Graduation next year.

    People say, “You’ve done well”. “You should be proud”.
    “Yes, I am proud, but not because of what I have done, but what God did with my failures and short comings”. I am the one who was told by a daughter that I had had my quota of breakdowns. I am the one who wondered if my three year old would end up in Foster care when I could not get out of the store without her throwing a fit every single time. But I am the one that God chose to parent these three young adult into the place they are right now. He makes no mistakes and He knew the plan before I was born. He knows what these four young people will to for the furtherance of His Kingdom.
    So, now I have my season of rest. Required Rest. I lost my job on July 2nd. My summer is 1/3 over, as my youngest daughter will pack up for her dorm on August 20th.
    I know God has another job for me, but my job of Mothering is for a lifetime.
    Rest in the Lord.

  22. Beth

    Beautifully written! I have a 5 year old Micah, who sounds about the same as yours. I’m learning how to be his mom in every different stage of his life. Definitely stretching at times, but oh so rewarding too!

  23. Martha

    I totally agree with your headline. I haven’t had a real vacation since I became a mother 8years ago, hardly even a days rest unless I was violently ill and that doesn’t count, right?! We are summering in Harbor Springs, sounds like you are our neighbors!

  24. Faigie

    I think the hardest thing about a family vacation is when the difference in the kids ages is so huge that there is little that makes everyone happy, (unless you find a creek to go down on a really hot day)

  25. Mrs. Tucker (Patti)

    Many times, we just keep moving, speeding along with them, trying to keep the mayhem contained. I can tell you this, as a mom who has made it to the nap side, that you will miss that life force when it flies away, so even through your tiredness, remember that you *must* keep chasing and living and OMG’ing right along side of him until one day, he’ll step outside that mom box and you can grab a quick 30 minutes 😉

  26. Cat

    Just back from a family week at the beach. Oh, I hear you, sister! I’m already planning a “chaser” vacation!

  27. Jen

    You spoke to my heart! We are getting ready to go on OUR annual vacation to the family cottage on a lake in Northern Michigan with our four boys 6 and under. When we went on our first few vacations with kids, I had a really hard time transitioning. Before kids, vacations were about chilling on the boat, going straight from morning coffee to beers, playing cards, exploring nature and reading book after book after book! My hubs had the same problem, going from carefree to lots of little ones to care for was a shock to the system- especially vacationing in the place where he was a carefree child!! However, now it is just plain exciting because I have released from the burden of expectation. We had one particular exhausting and disappointing vacation on year 2 of having kids, and that was a good time to talk about how we were going to still love vacation moving forward. Releasing expectation is key. Now that I don’t EXPECT to relax, any relaxing I sneak in a super duper surprise! 🙂 And we try to be really intentional about our time, like if they are all sleeping- QUICK!! Grab a gin and tonic and meet me on the dock! You have the kids- QUICK! I am going to read two pages of my book!! Even packing seems easier because after a few rough years of trying to pack we are learning how to do it well for a whole fam. We have also shortened our vacation, because all of our activities in Northern Michigan are so weather dependent and the year we had the really stressful vacation we were there for like 10 days and the weather was awful the whole time!! 🙂 I hope you have a lovely rest of your trip and you find some rest while you are there, at least a few quiet moments that you can snatch up and just be “you”. 🙂

  28. naptimewriting

    I adore this post because, though I’ve never understood my two energizer-bunny boys’ always-running-wrestling-exploring energy, I’ve engaged with them less and less. I’ve gotten stuck in the “when do I get quiet time” funk that makes me no fun.

    Thanks for the reminder that engaging is fun, creates energy, binds us, and teaches the while family about saying “yes” not “later.”

    Our answer so far has been to have all vacations be camping trips. Lots of hiking, go to bed all together, and wake at dawn to run the kids ragged. 😉

  29. Pamela

    You are such an amazing momma. First of all I had girls and they were nine years apart. For some reason their favorite thing to do was to go to a bookstore. We found them all wherever we were. And they loved cuddling in bed and reading. Easie peasie Now those three grandsons of mine…totally a “get up at dawn” crew.

  30. Char

    I love your Mother’s heart! Hang in there ; a couple more blinks and you will have too much quiet and time to rest. During those crazy and chaotic times the days are long but the years fly by!

    Keep on trekking! You’re doing great…

  31. H S

    Thanks for writing this. I really needed to hear those words.

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