Care and Feeding

Hawaii, Bahama, Come on Pretty Mama

Are we nuts to blow our savings on a much-needed island getaway? Oh, and we’d bring our 1-year-old.

A baby sits in a suitcase with flippers and beach gear.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Is it stupid to take a baby on vacation to Hawaii? My husband and I have had a rough year adjusting to new parenthood. First there was an emergency C-section, then feeding issues, purple crying, and several successive health scares with our baby.

Our parents live far away and haven’t been able to support us very much. We spent our first week home from the hospital exhausted, scared out of our minds, and isolated from even local help due to a freak snowstorm that shut down our city. We’re rounding the bend on a full year soon and things are starting to stabilize. It took a long time to bond with our child, who now has a clean bill of health. Everyone’s sleeping better, and it feels like maybe, just maybe, we are all finally coming up for air.

I have a milestone birthday approaching and do not want to spend it like I did last year, snowed in and trapped for a week while insanely hormonal, terrified, and in a great deal of physical pain. We are dreaming about celebrating surviving an awful year together someplace warm and sunny, possibly Hawaii. It wouldn’t break our budget any more significantly than the cost of day care already has, and it would be a once-in-a-decade type of expenditure that we have a small savings account set up for.

I think we have a clear picture of what vacationing with a baby would look like, e.g., little to no activities, just basking in the sun someplace warm. I think we really need this, but the idea of traveling with a 12-month-old on a six-hour flight sounds masochistic at best and delusional at worst. Everything has been so hard this year, I can’t help wondering, are we crazy to attempt this, too? Do you have any advice or survival tips for managing long distance trips with babies?

—Can We Catch a Break

Dear CWCaB,

I’m sorry you had such a tough time during your kid’s infancy but happy you’ve come through on the other side. Of course you feel like celebrating, but I worry you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Some kids are constitutionally suited to routine; some kids are more adaptable; but all kids are people and just like the rest of us they have good days and bad days and sometimes those coincide with trips on an airplane. You don’t say what your kid is like now, but in a way it doesn’t matter because kids are tricky and taking them on the road might be painless or it might be stressful—the whole thing is impossible to game.

I don’t actually think the transit is the trickiest part of vacationing with kids. There are a lot of logistics—do you have to bring a car seat and stroller along, do you have enough diapers, can room service bring you a banana at six in the morning so that your child can eat, will the time change make your kid insane, is the hotel-provided crib unfamiliar, is there a second room where you can stash the crib so that you don’t have to go to bed at 7 p.m., do the windows black out, can you do laundry if the kid barfs all over everything, will someone have to spend two hours at peak midday sun hiding out in the dark hotel room with the napping baby? Some families travel a ton when their kids are small and get all this down to a science; others decide the hassle undermines the point of the vacation and delay big trips until their kids are a little older.

I don’t mean to sound like a downer! I absolutely think that if you’re in the frame of mind where you can manage all of that and still feel like you’re having a blast, then go for it. If, however, there is one perfect getaway you’re imagining and it doesn’t involve doing laundry or pushing a stroller through the airport, maybe don’t spend your vacation fund in this way.

That’s not to say you can’t get away and enjoy being together! Splurge on a suite for the three of you at a local hotel with a pool and spa. Book a massage, go to a movie, go to dinner at five then put the kid to bed and order room service dessert, or have sex, or watch terrible movies, or soak in the bathtub, or have a grown-up conversation.

Or maybe drop the baby at your in-laws and spend an incredible couple of days alone somewhere nearby. Or invite friends along, and drink too much and eat too much and go shopping and sleep in and just enjoy yourself. These scenarios are not a Hawaiian getaway, I realize, but there are a number of ways to celebrate a big year.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My father-in-law is supposedly a recovering alcoholic. After an almost deadly fall from passing out drunk while on a ladder last year he claims he stopped drinking. He never got any professional help for his drinking, and he never admitted to how bad the problem was. (He was drunk all day every day for at least the past seven years.)

He continues to blame the passing out on low blood sugar from self-diagnosed diabetes and vertigo. My husband agreed with me before the fall that his father couldn’t be alone with our child, and could never drive her anywhere. A few months ago his father admitted to my husband that he was not 100 percent sober, but “had control” over the amount he was drinking.

My father-in-law now says that he is 100 percent sober and has been since leaving the hospital. My husband agrees with this statement, even though he knew it to be a lie a few months ago. Now my husband wants his father to help watch our 2-month-old son when my maternity leave is over, or solo babysit both children. I’m not comfortable with him being alone with my children, but my husband is getting very aggravated when I say no to his suggestions of having his father watch the kids. I’ve said we can initiate a once a week dinner where his parents come to spend time with the kids, or other similar options. But that doesn’t seem to be enough. He really wants his father to be able to babysit. How can I continue to say no nicely?

—Nervous Nelly

Dear Nervous Nelly,

I’m so sorry about this. Addiction is a terrible, nefarious disease. Very few people conquer it in the way your father-in-law describes, so I think you’re right to be skeptical. It’s not even worth getting into the many reasons there are to doubt his story, because that’s not really at issue here.

Under the current circumstances, your father-in-law cannot be relied upon as a child care provider. I’m sorry your husband fails to see that, but I do understand that we are often blinded by love. I think you two should have a conversation that’s less about your child care situation and more about his relationship with his dad and his dad’s drinking problem. I’d encourage him to seek help himself, whether the services of a therapist or just a visit to an Al-Anon meeting, to help your husband better understand what addiction (and recovery) look like.

Perhaps you can agree to table any grandparent babysitting until your husband has done some of that work. Thereafter, I suspect what you propose—a regimen of family dinners and visits with all four adults present—will seem to him to be the best option at this point in time. But I hope your father-in-law truly is able to acknowledge his addiction and begin his recovery and earn his family’s trust and that wonderful time with his grandkids. I’m sorry you’re all going through this; best of luck to the whole family.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a birthmark on my cheek that’s around the size of a quarter. It has hair and looks texturized to the naked eye. I have always loved it and felt it made me unique, but it was a source of teasing for childhood bullies so I can be a bit sensitive (especially when it’s referred to as a “mole,” which I deliberately do not do as I find the word judgmental, despite being factually correct).

I just got a job in a children’s bookstore, where I interact with kids, and today my worst fear came true: not only did a kid comment on it (which I’m used to) but he reached out and touched it—REPEATEDLY!—without asking permission. His parents were right there but not paying attention, and I didn’t want to discipline him in front of them as that’s not my place.

But would a “please don’t touch my face” or “our bodies are personal spaces” comment have been appropriate? He of course also asked intrusive questions as a kid his age is going to do (“What is that? Why is it there? Why does it have hair? Why does it look like that?”) but now that I’m in a space where I’ll be interacting with kids much more frequently, and in the event this might happen again, I’d love a script to use that parents would probably feel comfortable overhearing and not like I’m punishing their kid. I’m afraid someone will call it ugly and my inner middle-schooler will not know what to say.

—A Hairy Situation

Dear AHS,

Maybe it’s because you were at work—the customer comes first!—but I’m impressed by your generosity in the situation you describe. Even in your capacity as a bookseller who deals with kids, you’d have been within your rights to protect your dignity. Parents, like anyone, can get distracted, but these parents ought to have intervened!

Anyway, yes, of course: It would have been wholly appropriate to say some version of what you propose. Saying, “Remember we keep our hands on our own bodies!” is not you being a scold. I think you have a script in mind already: Keep your hands to yourself, respect the endless varieties of human bodies out there, etc. You work with kids so you know you’ll have to change up your response to suit a kid’s age, and if they’re young enough that the intrusive questions keep coming, you’re well within your rights to get their guardian’s attention and ask them to intervene.

I can tell you’re a generous person by your sensitivity to how some parents might hear this, so I imagine you’ll be able to say what feels right without sounding snippy or irritated—especially because, as you say, they are only kids. But your feelings (and those of your inner middle-schooler) matter too, and you must not forget that.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are parents to an amazing 2-year-old daughter. Most of the time she is happy, friendly, and curious. She can count to 20 and identify all her letters. She has an enormous vocabulary. She loves to clean up. I have a great kid and a pretty low-stakes problem. Our daughter refuses to wear pants that are not pink. If you hold her down and put her in jeans, she will weep and yell that she wants pink pants. Afterward she’ll toddle off happily and you won’t hear a word about it, but the process of putting on the blue jeans or khaki pants makes me feel like I’m waterboarding my kid.

This has been going on for three or four months now, so it’s both a relatively recent phenomenon and, also, a pretty significant fraction of her life so far. My wife has solved the problem by buying a complete wardrobe of pink pants. I appreciate the tear-free mornings, but I worry that caving to 100 percent of our daughter’s tantrums sets a bad precedent.

My wife feels that giving our daughter autonomy over her wardrobe is easy to do, that it’s not worth the fight, and that this phase will pass—probably right when she’s grown out of the pink pants. And if and when our daughter starts demanding something we won’t give her (like candy or heroin) we can at that point put our collective foot down. Most importantly, she said that Care and Feeding would be on her side. So what say you?

—The Pink Panther

Dear TPP,

Think of this as a matter not of control but respect. You clearly adore your daughter, and in this matter you’re hearing and respecting her wishes. She’s got clean pink pants, she wants to wear them; there’s really no issue there. It’s a long walk from pink pants to heroin.

I’m not saying you won’t someday have to put your foot down—if you haven’t gotten around to the laundry, or you’re attending a wedding (in which case, I recommend this book), or if it’s freezing out and you can’t find pink snow pants. Putting your foot down is an inevitable part of parenthood; odd, inexplicable whims are an inevitable part of childhood. Maybe let her win this one.

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