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Stephanie Wilbur Ash
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By: Stephanie Wilbur Ash | Posted: 07/16/2014
Hi. It’s your divorced Minnesota mom again. Geez! It’s been ages!
I just got back from Madden’s on Gull Lake, where I vacationed with my second husband, four teenagers from two different moms, and a mother-in-law. Call me crazy but… Hey, I’m crazy!
Even crazier? No one wanted to leave. That’s because I’m a grizzled, jaded, divorced Minnesota mom who has learned through repeated failure how not to do life.
If you want to spend your vacation drinking margaritas on a boat like any healthy, good-looking Minnesota woman-of-a-certain-age would, you will heed my words.
1. Do not go Up North outnumbered.
Lots of people love hanging out with kids, but those who love hanging out with only kids are like that creepy Matthew McConaughey character in Dazed and Confused. Take many grownups with you Up North, including your parents, your therapist, your kickboxing instructor, and some prison guards from Moose Lake. DO NOT GO UNDERSTAFFED. Have you seen Children of the Corn?
Careful readers will note that I did not follow this rule. Spend multiple summers in a hot, dusty cabin watching Elmo videos while a sweaty baby chews your knuckles off and you’ll be up for the challenge too.
That doesn’t mean I recommend it.
2. Do not engage in an Up North cooking war.
An “Up North cooking war” is the mutiny of kids who become excited by bags of groceries in a cabin but who do not have the cognitive skills to deduce that those groceries are not for them right now. As a veterinarian once told me, “Children are pushy opportunists in unstructured places.” If kids catch a glimpse of brownie mix/rib racks/nacho cheese sauce and have the free time to obsess, they will hound you until you are a hot parenting mess. You’ll be burning off your eyebrows baking brownies in an oven with a faulty pilot light and not drinking margaritas on a boat.
Go out to eat. Hand them a bag of potato chips when they ask for breakfast. Go to a resort that has several restaurants on the premises (like Madden’s). Or go camping with shelf-stable junk. Do not try to be the Barefoot Contessa on what is supposed to be your vacation too, unless cooking fancy meals for people who shove whole bananas into their mouths before they sit down for dinner is your dream. Just. Be. Barefoot.
3. Plan only one thing a day.
Any more than that and your kids’ heads will spin around, spewing under-baked brownies and vitriol. As one of my own children so wisely put it, “I don’t want to do things on vacation! I have to do things every day!”
But don’t plan zero things, either. Your children’s heads will be lost in a pan of brownies, or an episode of Adventure Time they already have memorized, or the elaborate text affair they’re having with the boyfriend to whom they can’t speak actual words lest they hyperventilate.
Plan one thing a day and do it right after potato chip breakfast. If the children repeatedly express dislike for “the thing,” stand as far away from them as possible. If “the thing” they don’t like is horseback riding, make sure your horse is in front of theirs and that your horse’s bowels are in excellent working order.
4. Beware the third day.
My own mother noted the phenomenon among preschoolers, but it’s also common among grandparents, husbands with kid-free day jobs, and—of course—all teens. My mother dubbed it the “Third-Day Sh*tties,” and it’s what happens when the newness of an experience wears off and people lose the veneer of good behavior but still find themselves Up North, all with their hands in the same bag of chips.
I don’t have any hard numbers, but I’m certain the third day is the most popular day for fishhook “accidents.”
You must plan something for children on the third day, and this “thing” must not be led by you but rather a third party, preferably a Moose Lake prison guard. Even during the throes of “Third-Day Sh*tties,” most children still respect martial law.
5. No laptops.
Phones—okay, I’ll give you phones, because bears and fishhook “accidents” and Wicked Weenie rides during which unfortunate lady parts injuries are sustained. Up North is a dangerous place where phoning a friend or a parent or a gynecologist could save your life. And if you put that phone in a zipped plastic bag, it’s waterproof enough. And if it’s not, it can be replaced pretty cheaply, unless you haven't bought the insurance, to which I must say buy the insurance because you have kids.
The laptop is in no way waterproof and you can’t replace it for $50. True, a smart phone can do all the distracting stuff a laptop can do. But it all happens on a tiny screen—wave a brownie in a child’s peripheral vision and that phone is under a bunk bed.
The jury is out on tablets, though somewhere between Brainerd and Bemidji is a grain bin filled with thousands of my children’s lost tablet chargers. If you find it, send up a flare.
6. Say yes.
“Mom, will you fish with me? Mom can we go on the boat? Mom will you jump on this water trampoline even though you are fat and your thighs are super jiggly and it makes me laugh, which is embarassing to all of us?”
Do it! Say yes! Say yes to every mother-loving activity kids ask for, even the kids you married or somehow gained by relational association. Because the magic of Up North vacations with kids is why you had or married those kids in the first place, and why you have taken the whole shebang Up North. You certainly didn’t do any of this for the money.
If you did any of this for the money, I am so, so sorry.
7. Do not let children sleep in your room.
Without kids in your Up North bedroom, you can do grownup things in there, like eat brownies and watch Adventure Time on your laptop.
8. Drink margaritas on a boat.
Seriously. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a normal Minnesota mom, and a super foxy one at that. Just make sure you’re not drinking that margarita while sitting on a Wicked Weenie being pulled behind that boat at 50 miles per hour. And make sure the bear driving that boat is sober.
Stephanie Wilbur Ash is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. See bio.
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