Taking our large family to Washington, D.C., with five kids ranging in age from 11 to 1, taught me 7 lessons.
Lesson #1: You will visit every public bathroom in the city.
In fact, there may be certain Smithsonian museums that you have no idea what's even inside, excepting the restrooms.
Your children will stagger their pit stop requests throughout the entire vacation so as to maximize your intimate knowledge of each and every public bathroom on the National Mall.
This is made slightly less annoying by the fact that your preschooler calls port-a-potties "Portal Potties."
Lesson #2: You will be in each other's way, like, all of the time.
Your kids will walk off the Metro and stop directly in front of the doors, while you're trapped behind the stroller frantically waving at them and saying, "Go! Go! Move over to the side, at least!" as the other commuters stuck behind you start to panic. The kids, however, will be completely oblivious that you're even talking to them.
Little things like that are just more embarrassing with a big family, because, well, you take up more space. You're more conspicuous.
If you're by yourself and you get on the elevator at your hotel, can't figure out that the buttons don't work without your key card, and then get off, it's not too mortifying. People probably won't even notice.
But just try parading a family of 7 (plus suitcases) in and out of the elevator, then back in once you figure it out. Trust me, every eye in a mile radius will be trained directly on you.
|Everything 7 people need for 6 days. We tried to pack light and blend in. Didn't work.|
You'll be going up to your room when the elevator stops to pick up a guy on the fifth floor. He'll get on and exclaim, "Woah! Party in the elevator!"
You'd better believe it's a party, mister. You have no idea.
Lesson #3: Hotels aren't built for families of your, shall we say, caliber.
Not advocating breaking any fire codes here, but you'll stay in one room because let's face it: having a separate room for the kids to be in unsupervised increases the odds of the building burning down by 500%. It's just math.
Which means you'll have people sleeping on pretty much every conceivable surface come nighttime.
At home we have a book called So Many Bunnies about "Old Mother Rabbit" who lives in a shoe and tucks her many, many baby bunnies into bed in creative places:
"1 was named Abel, he slept on the table. 2 was named Blair, she slept on a chair. 3 was named Dee, she slept in a tree..."
The book ends with the 26th bunny Zed, who sleeps on the shed. And you'll be wishing you had a shed by the time you get everyone tucked in to their various nooks and crannies in that teeny hotel room.
Families like yours can also get really loud, especially when all the kids are excited. You realize it's hopeless to prevent this, but you'll try anyway.
|Phillip giving the preliminary "no screaming in the hotel because there are other people here" speech before we enter our room.|
In the end, the kids will end up watching a whole lot of TV in the hotel room to stay quietly entertained.
Thanks to Cartoon Network, you'll leave with half the brain cells you had when you came.
Lesson #4: You will write embarrassing notes to housekeeping.
On your first night there, you'll be awoken by a child at your bedside saying they wet the bed, "bed" being a euphemism for the two couch cushions under the writing desk they're sleeping on.
As you're cleaning them up in the bathroom, you'll open the door and literally run into a second child telling you that they threw up earlier. Then they'll demonstrate it for you, in case you didn't actually believe them.
In the morning, you'll ask yourself, "Am I really doing this?" as you write the following note for housekeeping, but you won't know what else to do because you don't want the maid to come and just re-make the bed using the vomit sheets.
|I debated whether I should sign this "thank you" or "sorry," and I decided that "thanks" sounded more positive.|
Later in the week, a child will wet the bed again. You'll bit your lip, examine the circular urine stain on the blanket and have a debate with yourself: do you write another note and become known among the housekeeping staff as the Weird Vomit-and-Pee Lady in Room 1202, or do you run the entire blanket under the sink so you can still signify to the maid that it's in need of laundering without having to write "Heads up, there's urine on this!"
You will choose the latter.
Lesson #5: D.C. is a great place for cheapskates.
You'd be lying if you said one of the most exciting parts of this vacation was how little it cost.
If you're lucky, you'll get your hotel room using points from your credit card. Food won't cost much more than a week of eating at home, because you'll eat the hotel's breakfast and buy food at the grocery store to make your own lunches and dinners.
|Look at the food trucks lined up for all the suckers! Oh, we're just fine with our PB&Js, thank you.|
(Note: if you buy a week's worth of groceries at a Safeway a few blocks from your hotel and then give everyone in your 7-person family a bag or two to carry home, you should also wave and throw candy because people will think you're a parade.)
You'll pay for gas driving there and back, daily parking at the hotel, and subway fare, but that's it. There are paid attractions in D.C., but you won't see any of them, because there's so much else to see that's free.
and the monuments,
which have lots to offer babies who live to climb stairs.
But they're even more majestic-looking all lit up at night:
Plus there's the National Art Gallery and all the Smithsonian museums, and the U.S. Botanic Garden where you'll finally find out where pipe cleaners come from:
|Didn't see a label with the name, but I'm pretty sure it's a pipe cleaner plant.|
Lesson #6: Hell hath no fury like a baby who hasn't taken a proper nap in three days.
You'll hope that your 1-year-old will just sort of drift off to sleep in the stroller when he's tired, but how realistic is that?
He'll be okay for the first few days, but on Day 3 he'll end up screaming face-down on the floor of the Meto, and any attempt to placate him will only make him madder. When you get to your stop you'll carry him 5 blocks back to the hotel while he flails so furiously his shorts fly off, and he'll fall asleep the second he hits his crib.
Tomorrow, you'll learn your lesson and stay at the hotel to get the baby his beauty sleep while your husband takes the older kids out at naptime.
Lesson #7: You will discover again how cool each of your kids is.
At home you're nagging your kids all the time to clean up after themselves, put away the Legos on the floor, do their chores, and flush the toilets when they're finished (for goodness' sake!)
On vacation, you'll remember how hilarious they are and just how much you enjoy being around them.
They will laugh every time you go past the stop called "Foggy Bottom" on the Metro, and it'll never get old for them. They'll even make up a song about it together.
|"There goes old Foggy Bottom..."|
Your son will be transfixed by touching a brain (even if it is a fake one) at the Museum of Natural History,
and will try to convince you that this giant chunk of amethyst really does smell like grapes.
You'll see the statue of Roosevelt and his dog at the FDR Memorial and your 3-year-old will immediately bend over to check "if there's anything inside her nose."
Your two oldest girls will stand in the Lincoln Memorial and read one of his speeches in its entirety,
and the baby will want to be standing on the windowsill pretty much all of the time you're in the hotel.
You'll play with them at a water park
and laugh when the baby tries to copy his older siblings doing handstands in the park.
And you'll tell yourself never to forget how very, very lucky you all are to have each other.