Monday, January 7, 2013

Our Williamsburg Vacation, and 5 Tips for Vacationing with a Toddler

Things have been a little quieter here than usual because we took a bit of an extended vacation for the holidays.  Even though Elliott only had to take off about 5 or 7 work days, with the combination of weekends and the holiday days, we were actually "off" for about 16 days in a row -- 10 of those days spent in Colonial Williamsburg.  Of course, I didn't "announce" this because... well, frankly -- it's the internet and it creeps me out when people know we're not home.

We're home now and I am happy to report no one got sick, there were no car troubles (excepting, of course, D.C. traffic), and we got to see a lot.

 By far, Gwen's favorite activities for the week: petting horsies and puppies.

 "Birdie" at 32(ish) weeks.  Vacation agreed with us (read: sleeping in and TONS of naps!!!).

 We were very excited about this find: the first theatre in the US.  Elliott and I met in theatre, after all.

 There were so many tradespeople to visit.  We didn't know what a "cooper" was until we stumbled upon his shop.  Apparently, they make round things like buckets, butter churns, and hoops for hoop skirts.

 We walked around CONSTANTLY.  It was great exercise.  Elliott also got to lift 25 pounds every day for several hours at a time since a little someone decided to reject her stroller for the week.

 The jail -- or as the colonials spelled it, "gaol."

 The best time of year to go to Williamsburg is immediately after New Years' Day.  The town completely clears out, but they still have all the sites up and running.

But by the end of the week, we were definitely ready to say our goodbyes and head home.

All that being said, we also learned a lot -- and not just about our nation's history.  The last time we took a vacation, Gwendolyn was about 9 months old.  Our vacation was absolutely ideal.  For whatever reason, Gwen decided to sleep a LOT, which meant we got to rest a LOT.  When we went out, she was easy to carry around on our backs, swaddled in front, or was completely content to stay in her stroller.

Going into this vacation, I suppose we had naive visions of the last one.  This brings me to my list of tips on vacationing with a toddler (Gwendolyn is 18 months and incredibly, wildly, and wonderfully active, so these tips might change with your own child).

1) Throw Away the Expectations
Like I said, we had naive expectations going in to this vacation.  Our last vacation was the most restful vacation I'd ever experienced.  Granted, we've never actually gone to a super-touristy area like Colonial Williamsburg, so the places we've gone to in the past have been very rural.  This means that the list of things we wanted to do were much longer this time.  But I had visions of Gwen sleeping long naps and letting us sleep in.  These visions did not happen.  She was a little wired from all the excitement from the holidays and running around with horses and carriages so her sleep cycle was askew.  It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't like she gave us four hours of extra reading time every afternoon.

So when things don't meet your expectations, you have two choices.  You can choose to dwell and sulk, or just choose to accept that your child is in a new and exciting stage of development and find ways to embrace it.  This meant that I didn't get as much reading and writing done as I had anticipated, but we were outside walking around a LOT.  We saw so many historical sites and learned a lot about history, and Gwen just charmed her way through town.  It was different for sure, but it was very enjoyable.

2) Remain Flexible
Once you throw away your expectations, it's important to keep an open mind for the week.  Even if you shift your expectations or throw them away all together, things will go array.  Your child might start screaming in the middle of the road because she doesn't want to sit in her stroller, wants to push it herself, and doesn't understand why you're trying to guide it away from the middle of the road.  Your child might want to wriggle her way out of your arms in order to touch every artifact in the room.  You might not get to spend as much time in the museums as you'd like because for whatever reason, your child is not as interested in 17th century-style harpsicords as you are.  

So when your child is screaming in the middle of the road, what are you going to do?  Well, we decided to walk back to the car and try again the next day.  This meant that the stroller was a pointless item to bring because it was only going to cause tears.  Instead, we let Gwen walk everywhere and carried her (well, Elliott carried her) when she was only circling around and around (as my dad put it, "We just walked half a mile but only moved 500 feet").  

It also means having a partner who is willing to sacrifice their own time for your benefit (and vice versa).  I really wanted to spend a good portion of my time perusing the folk art museum and old mental hospital, so Elliott took Gwen back for her nap and I got to peruse in peace.  Also, we took turns waking up with her in the morning so the other one could sleep in to their heart's content.  And when we were out, we were always prepared to shift gears and say, "This isn't working today.  Let's just go back home, watch some Elmo, and have nap time." 

3) Bring Along Some Grandparents
This is the best tip I could possibly give you: bring family, preferably grandparents who don't live close by.  The great thing about grandparents is that they WANT to spend ridiculous amounts of time with your children, so why not let them?  My parents were extremely gracious in letting us go out in the afternoons.  They whipped through the village in the mornings, came home after Gwen's nap time, and then let us go out to do tours that would be impossible to do with Gwen.  It allowed us to see and do a lot more than we would have been able to do otherwise.

We were also able to go out at night -- something we wouldn't be able to do if we were alone with the baby.  So we treated ourselves to Les Miserables (and being the very pregnant person I am, I absolutely wept through the entire movie, but that's another story).

4) Re-think Your Destination
Alright, don't get me wrong: I am SO happy we went to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  It was seriously a dream come true -- a vacation I longed for since I was a kid (did I mention I grew up around living history?  My family and I did Revolutionary War reenacting, my dad STILL does it, and I was a tour guide at a 19th-century manor for a couple yearsLoving history is in my DNA).  But the whole time we were on vacation, I kept talking about bringing the girls back to Williamsburg when they are 5 and 7.  This type of place is better for kids who can truly interact with the history -- not a fantastic place for toddlers.  If we really thought through everything, we might have chosen a rural area -- quiet, mountains, no people, and not too much to do (but a nice coffee shop is a MUST).  That's not to say Gwendolyn didn't have a good time -- she did, and there was plenty for her to see (sheep!  cows!  horses!  funny hats! great big expanses of roads with no cars!), and we didn't have to pay for a ticket for her.  But I think we'll all have a much better time when we return a few years down the road.

5) Are You Pregnant?  REMEMBER that You're Pregnant!!
Sometimes I think I'm invincible.  And I am incredibly forgetful of what it's like to be pregnant -- even when I'm pregnant (if that doesn't make sense to you, try being pregnant and it will make sense).  Make sure you keep in mind what you will be able to do, and how your inability to do certain things will affect your partner.  For example, I couldn't carry Gwen for more than 5 minutes at a time.  This made for an exhausting trip for Elliott -- more exhausting than I realized.

We tried to keep the pregnancy in mind and even changed our original plans (to drive to Florida.  I can't even tell you how many times I said, "I am SO glad we didn't go to Florida!").  But still, I don't think we kept in mind how much more exhausting it would be for Elliott.  Luckily for us, we followed the advice of #3.  I can't emphasize #3 enough.
  • What did you do over Christmas and New Years'?
  • What tips do you have for vacationing with a toddler? 

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