Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Annual Birthday Trip

Birthday parties-- they aren't for everyone.  This is as wild and crazy as we like it.

For the last three years, Hubby and I have taken Princess and Birdie on a weekend excursion for their birthday.  We have several reasons we like to take a trip on the girls' birthday (not the least of which is my aversion to parties and the inevitable drama they entail).  The nightmare of a "real birthday party" is more than my girls can typically handle, what with the crowds of kids, the noisy birthday venue, having to say thank you for less-than-appreciated gifts (when the gift giver should "know I would never like that!"), being upset about friends that can't make the party, etc, etc, etc...  Not to mention the fact that a birthday party at the Rathole (aka Chuck E Cheese) or one of the other popular birthday venues is really freakin' expensive.  I remember my mom throwing me a birthday party for the cost of some paper plates, some cheap balloons, a box of cake mix, and a can of icing!  It most definitely did NOT cost $14/child.

You may be wondering why we don't have the party at home, like I did when I was a kid?  Well, the short answer to that is that we couldn't afford the therapy and emergency room bills that would result from an at-home party.  Let me explain...  Imagine, if you will, a bunch of children that my daughters only know from school (they are practically strangers, really) come into our house for the first time ever, all at the same time.  The visitors then, in unison, start touching our stuff-- the stuff that my children begin to very loudly describe as "THAT'S MINE, DON'T TOUCH IT!!!"  Can you say awkward?  When Princess and Birdie's "description" of these things doesn't make clear to the party-goers that all stuff is off limits, things then begin to get ugly.  Birdie begins to wail that "no one is listening to me and no one has asked permission to use my things."  Princess skips the complaining segment and goes right to the take-matters-into-your-own-hands part of the intervention.  In short order, children are flying willy-nilly across the room as Princess juggernauts her way through her "friends" to save her stuffy collection from certain destruction... hence the emergency room bills for our party guests and therapy for my traumatized children.  And all of this is before we even have a chance to serve cake and ice cream!  Hell, this has probably occurred before all the guests have even arrived!  (When a mother excuses herself during this time to use the restroom or to retrieve something she's "forgotten in the car" , I worry she is secretly texting all the other mothers, sending out a warning to the lucky late-comers, who will now be no-comers... and who could blame them?) 

When you take into consideration the expense of the party venues and the racked up medical bills from a home party, it costs much, much less to take a weekend trip, especially since Hubby always has boatloads of free hotel stays saved up from his many work-related trips.

That being said, even though the trip is less stressful than a party for both me and the kids, it is only so because I work my butt off to make sure it all goes smoothly.  Most folks plan a trip by making hotel reservations, possibly buying tickets for tourists attractions in advance, packing a bag or two, and possibly lining up a sitter for Fido.  I do those things, too-- and then I do some more.

How to Take a Trip with Princess & Birdie (and live through it):

1.  The Drive
The most important thing about the trip may very well be the getting there.  I have found that my girls cannot handle a long drive for a short trip-- there just isn't enough time for them to recuperate!  My rule of thumb: try to limit the time of the drive to about one hour for every day we plan to be gone.  So if we are going on an overnight trip (essentially 2 days away), then we shouldn't drive more than 2 hours to reach our destination.  The longer we are in the car, the longer my lovely ladies need to transition into the new environment.  Also, don't forget to pack plenty of snacks, movies, books, and toys-- traffic can cause grown ups to have meltdowns, so imagine what it will do to a bored Princess or Birdie!

2.  The Arrival
The second most important thing about the trip is the arrival.  I always try to time my arrival to coincide with either a meal or bedtime.  By arriving at a time when the girls have something to do immediately after leaving the car, we gain an advantage over their grumpiness.  Having a purpose keeps the girls from becoming overwhelmed in the new location and gets everyone moving toward a common goal (usually).

3.  The Accommodations
Believe or not, the hotel we choose can greatly reduce meltdowns on trips.  When possible, Hubby and I stay in a hotel that has two-room suites.  The kids can go to bed in the bedroom while we stay in the living area.  This lets Hubby and I stay up until we want to go to bed without keeping the kids up, too.  Yay!

The indoor pool makes Birdie very happy.
We also try to stay at a place that provides breakfast in the lobby.  I know it sounds crazy, but breakfast in the lobby prevents us from having to eat in a restaurant, which is usually much louder-- and therefore less inviting-- than the lobby breakfast room.  Even better, the hotel breakfast, while not great, is good enough and what you see is what you get.  No worries that you will get something you didn't ask for when you serve yourself.  To make it all even better, if my angels aren't up to eating in public, we can take our food back to the room.  Score!

Last, but certainly not least, we always try to stay in a hotel that has an indoor pool.  The indoor pool is the ultimate back up plan.  When the weather is uncooperative, or the kids are uncooperative and you just know that your day's plans are going to be a royal bust, the pool. always. works.  Sometimes, I am tempted to skip the long drive, rent a room locally, and just spend the day in their over-chlorinated indoor pool room.  The pool always ranks in the top 3 things we do on every trip, regardless of where we go and what we do.

4.  Eating Out
Some restaurants are just too much... unfortunately,
sleep isn't Princess's usual response to the stress.
Eating at an unfamiliar restaurant is one of the most stressful parts of any trip we take.  Each dining experience becomes more stressful the longer we have been away from home, simply due to building fatigue in the girls. A restaurant's name and menu doesn't really tell you whether that restaurant is going to be noisy, or have lots of distracting decor.  It can, however, let me know in advance, whether the menu has Princess and Birdie's favorite foods, and whether or not they have chocolate milk (which is a must).  By at least being certain that the food will make my girls happy, I have increased the odds that we will have a pleasant meal.  If mealtime is approaching and it is evident that a restaurant is out of the question, I have learned that carry-out delivered to the hotel works just fine.  The girls seem to enjoy the adventure of having food delivered to their temporary "home", and the naughtiness of eating on the bed or in the floor is loads of fun for them too.

5.  The Main Attractions
Once all the incidentals of travel have been taken care of, all that is left is to make sure that the main attractions of the trip are my-kids-friendly.  This means that I know where the public restrooms are, I know what kinds of food are available, and I pack snacks.  Also, if the main attraction is chock-full of sensory-overloading input (such as the 4D movie we recently tried), I make sure that I have an escape route for me and my overwrought chicklet.  I also make sure that I have ways to pass the time (such as my phone, I Spy, silly songs, or food) if we will be waiting in long lines.  The best trick I have is, though, is to take frequent breaks-- preferably in a quiet(er) place, and try to reward "holding it together" behaviors.  Rewards can be anything from atta-girls to stuffed animals and trinkets, and both work well most of the time.

Last but not least, you still have to expect the unexpected.  Regardless of the planning and the time spent fussing over the details, crap still happens.  Always.  Take, for instance, this year's birthday trip for Princess and Birdie, from which we just returned.  Our plan was to leave just after school-- no later than 4pm-- on Friday afternoon, and arrive at dinner time in Hershey, PA.  We left just after 4:30, which was no biggie really.  After spending an hour to travel a mere 23 miles, however, the "Service Required" light came on in my car.   At the exact same moment,  my car's automatic transmission lost it's ability to shift gears.  Can you say Holy Shite?  After much moaning, shrieking, crying, and belly-aching from the backseat, Hubby turned my car around and we prayed cautiously made the return trip to our house to change vehicles.  Three hours and two Happy Meals after our originally planned departure time, we were back on track to Hershey.  Luckily, we arrived with two sleepy girls that went straight to bed, putting an end to a rapidly deteriorating day.

Fortunately, we found out the next day that the beginning of our trip was not completely indicative of how the rest of the weekend would go.  But that story will have to wait for another day...


  1. Ohhhh, that stinks about your car! Brilliant planning you do, though - I feel like I have to be super-organized about things, but they're mainly to do with me not forgetting stuff. Thanks for putting the "simple" things that most people take for granted into perspective. Happy birthday to the girls!

    1. Nothing is ever truly simple, is it Becca? Ha! And that is why everything is always so fascinating to dissect!

  2. I love your blog! Your kids are so cute and your writing style is great! I'm a new BloggyMoms follower and look forward to your future posts.

    1. Thank you so much, Tess! Don't you just love BloggyMoms?! I will have to check out your blog as well. :) Thanks for following along.