I was such a smug mother in the very beginning. My kids are only 15 months apart, practically twins. I had a one and two-year-old, and I couldn’t wait to tell everyone how brilliant of me to have kids so close in age. They had the same frame of reference. We took them to the same movies, watched the same TV shows, went to the same mommy and me classes, and even had the same friends. I made it seem like this was the divine plan, not that I was 40 when I had my first kid, so I needed to act quickly on the second.
Wasn’t I wonderful?
That lasted one year. Then my daughter started to speak, and she realized that an annoying creature was ruining her life.
It wasn’t that bad. Most of the reasons I mentioned above held fast. The elementary school years went super quickly. They were easy kids. They had their interests and their friends, some I even liked. They fought occasionally, but as long as it involved no blood, I usually stayed out of the way.
Then came adolescence.
There are no two beings farther apart than a fourteen-year-old girl and a 12, almost 13, boy. I did not realize this until I booked a trip to Miami Beach over Spring Break. My husband would be out of town, and I had frequent flyer miles. The easy booking of a Priceline mystery upscale hotel sealed the deal.
I should have known that a swanky hotel in a very cosmopolitan area with two fighting teens would not be a dream vacation. My dream of sitting by the beach with a tiny umbrella-dressed cocktail reading my book was just a dream.
Although our trip to Miami was not a vacation featured on The Travel Channels list of great trips, I discovered helpful tips when traveling alone with aliens; I mean young teenagers.
1. Do not try to make everyone happy every minute.
My first mistake was to ask them what they wanted to do. You have lived with these young teenagers for years, so you know what they like and want to do. If I made my daughter happy by shopping, my son would be miserable. I still have a vision of my son sitting on the floor of the Kardashian-owned store Dash in his bathing suit and sun hat staring at a black bustier bra top. I will admit he got the short stick on this trip. A 12-year-old boy is not ideally suited to getting a suntan, shopping, and taking selfies.
Maybe I didn’t know my kids as well as I thought. All my son wanted to do was ride the hotel-provided bikes on the busy streets of Miami. Each time we went to borrow a bike, my daughter pulled from her vast arsenal a new reason why she could not go, and I had a panic attack watching him race out of the hotel alone. The anxiety will lessen once you realize that they will not always be happy doing every fantastic event you have planned.
2. Whisper screaming on an airplane fools no one
My kids flew to Florida each year with us since their birth. Never did they have a tantrum. I was wise enough to have a DVD player (pre -iPad) for both, tons of unhealthy snacks, and a large barely-allowed-on-the-plane bag of new books and toys. I grabbed my book, a People magazine, a jumbo bag of cheddar Chex mix, and an Uno deck of cards. They spend multiple hours sitting still staring at their phones. A 2.5-hour plane ride should be easy. You would think.
Not so much. Why did I think the fight club would magically suspend while in the air. The fighting started before take-off, and by the time we were cruising above the Atlantic, I was excusing myself in the aisle, picking up flying Uno cards. My expectations were set too high. After I lost it on them squished into our tight seats, I did a quick readjust. I moved to the middle seat, pulled out my snacks, and let them be.
3.Never rent a convertible with 2 kids.
Driving an hour on a highway with my son crying in the backseat was not my best parenting moment. I had no clue about aerodynamics and wind tunnels until a few years later when I got in the back of a convertible. I was the coolest mom ever renting a convertible. Or so I thought. All this money was spent without realizing how unbearable it was. Renting a convertible was expensive, and I was not shutting the roof. Assessing and adapting are vital skills to put into action on vacation.
4.Do not drive 3 hours each way for a day excursion with one driver
On paper, taking a road trip to a secluded beach to parasail sounds heavenly. A few years back, we missed Parasailing because of a tropical storm on a Disney cruise. Mom to the rescue. I found a hidden resort in one of the Keys I had never heard of, and we hit the road. Unfortunately, the lesson we learned is that if you ever lose cellular service while relying on a GPS, do not leave the site, or you will lose your directions. Another lesson is teenagers suck at directions. One would think driving back to Miami from some undiscovered Key would be easy. Drive north and keep the ocean on your right. And, there are no gas stations in the Keys. Keep your excursions realistic.
5. Don’t miss out on good food by catering to your kid’s culinary requests
My daughter fell in love with room service, and my son has an aversion to restaurants. Our hotel was on the street filled with an international choice of cafes and bistros. Every night I asked them where they wanted to eat, and it was a good night if we made it to the Shake Shack. The Shake Shack is fabulous when you’re hungover, but when you have the original Cuban street taco joint 100 feet from your hotel, maybe it is not a great choice. Compromise on food choices. There is always enough variety.
6. Don’t scream at them in the public lobby of a swanky hotel
This one should be obvious, but it may not be in the heat of the moment. It took me 14 years to realize, but I had lost any sense of decency I may have had. When I looked up and saw the group of overserved soccer players staring, I realized that I may have gone to the dark side. Before you get within an inch of your teens, back off. Take a breath, have a drink, walk away. Looking at your surroundings should calm you way quicker than it would in your kitchen.
7. Dont wake them up at the crack of dawn
Looking back, you would think I just met my kids. It’s not ok to wake them up and drag them to an interesting Miami tourist attraction. Let them sleep. Nothing is attractive to a teenager before 10:00 am.
8.Let them watch Sponge Bob Reruns in the room even during prime beach time.
When I travel, I need to fit in every activity available. My cynical husband would say it’s because I need to get my money’s worth. Not really. They can watch TV, sleep, or play video games at home. All true, but it does not matter. Let the kids have their downtime. We would bring them back to the hotel mid-day to nap when they were toddlers. This is no different.
9.Let them pick some of the activities
Instead of asking them what they want to do, give them deadlines and jobs. No open-ended questions. Have a conversation and shut down social media, and get some ideas. Instead of demanding on the spot what they want to do or demanding they do what you want. Make it a collaboration. In the late morning, you can take them to the lawnmower exhibit at the funky new museum, but all afternoon they can take a death-defying bike ride or roast in the sun.
10. Chillax Mom!
Throw out all the visions in your head of how you wanted the trip to work out. For me, one of the most complex parts of parenting was letting the kids find their wings. Let them spend an hour in the game room while you get a massage or sit by the pool. I was so uptight that we were not following my imagined plan that I will admit I was probably not in the best spirits. Once I started letting stuff go, it made the difference. If you still are stressed out wondering why on earth you took this trip, here are some beautiful quotes to use as a calming mantra when questioning your decision to leave the neighborhood.
You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.Dr. Seuss
Traveling with young teenagers alone does not always lead to a week’s stay in a sanatorium. By following my tips for traveling with young teenagers, you may save yourself some angst and have a joyous time.
Please follow me at TheUnpurposefulMother.com.