Rule #11: Vacations ain’t what they used to be.

I’m unsure of where to begin. So much of me wants to ask: vacations- relaxing or exhausting? Another part of me wants to share how exciting vacations are for our girls because there are so many firsts that they experience on our trips. But honestly, all I can hear right now is SW (2 years-old) whining at me, refusing to go to sleep, and keeping up her sisters until 11PM on the first night of our family vacation in Chicago. Vacations are no longer the relaxing experiences they once were.

This summer, we decided that our one large family vacation would be to Chicago. Chris has been attending many church conferences around the country, promoting church software he created. Since one of the conferences was in Chicago and would be an easy place for us, my parents and sister to get to, we said yes to a Chicago family vacation.

Two years into parenthood, I’m still learning that things are different post kids than before kids. Before kids, I enjoyed not scheduling much on vacations. I loved finding local coffee shops, bookstores, foodie restaurants, and hipster neighborhoods to explore. We vacationed in areas where you could walk to local places and where there was plenty to explore on foot.

With kids, vacations look very different! Nap time keeps me (and everyone) sane, so everything revolves around nap time. Plus, even on vacations, we try to keep the girls on a routine. And we now look for vacation stays that are family-friendly. This typically includes tourist traps, free events for kids, and chain restaurants.

A great place to stay in Chicago with 3 kids, 5 adults, and 3 cars.

On our Chicago vacation, we decided to stay in Logan Square. It is a cute neighborhood with tons of local flair. Although I did not get to live quite like a local on the trip, the neighborhood offered free street parking (which was great since we had three vehicles), parks within walking distance, public transportation, and was a fairly quick drive to downtown Chicago and many kid-friendly places.

Family-friendly places to explore in Chicago (whether or not you’re on a tight budget).

So what exactly did we do on this family fun trip? Day One included getting to know the fabulous house we stayed in with four levels of living space. Even with the kids, I still chose a quirky place to stay where there were doll legs in vases, a record player with a great record collection in the living room, and a picture of Mary Queen of Scots framed in the bathroom.

Day Two included a trip to Garfield Park Conservatory for their free children’s program on Monday mornings. With free admission to the conservatory and a free kids program, this was a no brainer! Day Three was spent with MW and BW at Navy Pier. SW stayed behind with Grammy and Grampy to enjoy special time with her grandparents. And Day Four included a trip to the lakefront. Grampy and I took all three girls to Foster Beach, a great family-friendly beach with ample parking, bathrooms, outdoor showers, and a food stand. As a parent, the best part of the beach was the safety. Lifeguards were stationed on shore and in the water.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Navy Pier

Foster Beach

Learning to enjoy vacation as “Mommy”.

In the afternoons, I decided to explore Chicago in my own now-I’m-a-mama way. I’m still working through mom guilt and since Chris was away some days at the conference, I felt guilty asking the other four adults in the house to watch the kids for long periods of time. Even during nap time, I never know what the kids are going to do! Instead of taking several hours for myself, I took about 20-30 minutes every day to explore the neighborhood by running about 2 miles each day.

I began running half-marathons about nine years ago. A couple years ago, I suffered a back injury, which has now healed enough that I’m starting to run long distances again. Although it’s not the same as exploring a neighborhood by visiting local places or relaxing on vacation, running is my alone time. It allows me to free my mind of all things and allows me to live into one identity while I’m running: I am solely a runner. And on this vacation, it allowed me time to check out Logan Square, people watch, and see local sites.

Our family vacation to Chicago looked very different with the kids than it would have without them. But I’m learning how vacations can be enjoyable for everyone, that we don’t have to do everything together, and how to continue leaning into motherhood. Even if vacations aren’t as relaxing as they used to be, I love finding new things for our girls to explore and offering them new experiences.

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