Joys of summer vacation

Emily and Henry Butler, the author's children, are aspiring beach bums – or maybe they are already. (Photo courtesy of Erika Butler, Baltimore Sun Media Group / August 12, 2014)

Sometimes I think vacation can be more tiring than working, but I wouldn't trade the fun I had last week for anything.

My kids' day care closes for two separate weeks each summer, and my husband and I each cover a week of it. Last week was my week, and I got to spend 10 straight days with Henry, 5, and Emily, 3. Only one day was really a struggle, when it seemed they didn't listen to a thing I asked or said and I had an unusually short fuse.

Other than that, we spent the week doing all kinds of things: the beach, a ferry ride, bike rides and runs, trips to the zoo, and ice cream, ice cream and more ice cream (which was all right by me).

I laughed with my kids a whole lot and got to really play with them, too, which gave me a whole new opportunity to get to know them – what they like, don't like, who their favorite characters are. All things I know, but got to become intimately familiar with during our week together.


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Some of the things I learned, or were reaffirmed, during our 10 days together:

They love the beach, including the sand. When it was just the three of us, we spent most of our time on the Delaware Bay, rather than at Cape Henlopen State Park and the ocean, which was too rough, the beach was too small and I could only take one kid out in the water with me, making it hard to keep an eye on both of them at the same time. They liked riding the boogie board, digging for sand crabs, burying Emily and building castles. Henry practiced the fine art of body surfing and diving under waves, Emily just swam around like a fish.

They love the outside shower. My college friend, Cynthia, got me hooked on taking a shower outside, and whenever I'm at the beach, I jump at the chance to take advantage of one. So as to track as little sand in the house as possible, I showered the kids outside, too, and found they thoroughly enjoyed undressing in the back yard then jumping under the faucet. It's was kind of like playing in the sprinkler.

Henry's favorite animal is the bald eagle – he wants one for a pet. It was his favorite thing he saw at the Cape May Zoo, two of them actually. He's still saying, "I can't believe I saw an eagle!"

Emily likes anything cheetah – stuffed animals, clothes – you name it, it has an animal print, she wants it. Probably the only way I'll get my little tomboy to wear a skirt is if it's cheetah print.

They both love ice cream, like me. Henry likes chocolate, especially chocolate Moose Tracks, with chocolate sprinkles. Emily's favorite is vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.

Henry loves to ride his bike. So I could still get my runs in while we were at the beach, I took them both to the trail that runs between Lewes and Rehoboth in Delaware. I pushed Emily in the stroller while Henry rode alongside us. He had a blast, most of the time trying to keep ahead of us so he was "winning." He rode 4.25 miles one day and 5.25 another, with only minimal complaining.

They both love animals, fostered, I think, by their fascination with the PBS show "Wild Kratts," which educates kids on all species of animals from all parts of the world. Emily's favorite is the peregrine falcon and the cheetah, but they both will choose that show most of the time over anything else. It's amazing what they retain from it, too.

Which is probably why they liked the Cape May Zoo so much. We took the ferry from Lewes to Cape May, where we met Henry's pre-school friend, Quinn, who was vacationing with her family there. Even though we live nearby, Quinn and Henry won't be at the same school next year, unfortunately. The two of them have gotten to be quite good friends. Quinn's older sisters, Kassidy and Raegan, and their cousins, Emma and Annie, entertained Quinn and my kids for a few hours at the Cape May shore – thanks, ladies!

Nothing is better than kid snuggles. The kids climb into bed with me many mornings and we lie there together until it's time to get up and get moving. It's probably my favorite time of day. There's no rushing yet, no fighting, just giving my kids hugs. We got to do a lot of that last week.

As much as my kids may fight, they really do love each other. Henry is the doting, caring older brother who Emily so wants to be like, to the point she wants to dress like him, and even wears his old clothes. Mixed in with the typical brother/sister behavior of arguing over whose toy is whose, who gets to pick what TV show they watch, who gets to do this, that or the other, there are moments of sweetness and tenderness that just melt my heart.

When one consoles the other when they've gotten hurt, doing things to make each other laugh or just offering up a simple: "Emily, I love you" or "Henry, you make me laugh," it makes all the bickering worth it.

While I'm sure my mom could tell you, I don't remember when my brother and I started our fighting. We were three years apart, whereas Henry and Emily are 20 months. And, I know my brother and I fought like the dickens – my mom said she would send us to our rooms just to get us out of her hair; she didn't care what we were doing (our rooms were across from each other and we'd play poker for quarters; I cheated and won most of the time).

My kids are no longer babies. They're becoming young children with their own distinct personalities – and mine are like night and day in many aspects. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of getting them up in the morning, to day care, to school, that it's easy to lose the full impact they have on you and how much fun they can be and how much you really enjoy them.

I'm so grateful for that time I get to spend with them and I can't wait for my next vacation, even if it does wipe me out.