The Playroom: A super-sized vacation

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA

Maraya Steadman

My kids think a great vacation is staying anywhere that has a pool, a vending machine and a television. But we decided to super-size that idea and instead of just taking them to the Holiday Inn Express on the back side of Phoenix, we went to an all-inclusive family resort in Mexico.

As my son remarked to his friend, “It was great! And guess what? My mom spent $50 on a bottle of sunscreen!”

“Great” isn’t the adjective I would use for describing our vacation. I don’t like standing in line for toast. And I like to look at stuff — nature, trees, sand, grass — but resorts are mostly concrete.

I also like to sit down. At the resort we went to there was no place to sit. We tried to sit in chairs at the beach, but they were for VIPs. We tried to go to another pool with more available chairs, but it was for VIPs, and the only time I managed to find a deck chair to sit in, albeit one with a towel on it to “reserve” it, I had one of my “Jerry Springer” moments and got in a fight with the towel shack guy.

The resort had a beach but it was narrow and the only place for you to sit if you weren’t a VIP was in front of the rocks. There were no beach toys, not even a bucket so kids could dig in the sand. Lots of rocks, no waves, no toys, no shells, no ghost crabs to chase, no birds to look at. There was nothing for kids to do at the beach but stand in the crystal clear, aqua blue water and enjoy the warmth of the sun, which doesn’t interest any kid for more than about ten minutes.

One of the best hours I enjoyed at the resort was when my 6-year-old daughter met a couple kids from New Jersey and they found enough garbage around the pool deck to play with in the swimming pool. But that was the day I got in the fight with the towel shack guy so we left.

I’m not sure why my husband and I feel that we need to take our kids to the places we want to go or places we think they should go to. When I was in high school there were bragging rights associated with the resort vacation over spring break. But I’m a grown-up now, and I hope that wasn’t part of the equation.

Mexico for spring break was expensive, my husband got sick and the kids eventually got bored. I’m not sure the extravagance was worth it. I think next year we should try to keep things simpler, less complex, maybe a cabin in the woods, with a clean toilet and a hot shower, and a washing machine, good hiking trails not too difficult for young children and other activities, not too many biting insects and comfortable beds, so now I’m probably out of the woods and back into a hotel room.

I don’t really know where to go or how to travel with my kids, although I do think there is merit in family travel. Traveling forces all of us to come together as a family, spend time together, share our meals together, and play cards on the porch and tag in the pool. Time away from our routines creates family memories and stories: “Remember the time Mom bought sunscreen in Mexico?” Best of all, I think, broadening my horizons by traveling with my children helps me appreciate coming home, being safe. The travel we do over break makes me grateful for all that we have, and I give thanks for our amazing American life. Our life here in the suburbs is great, and the sunscreen is only $8.99.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. Her website is Email her at