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Taking the Kids

Weekend Wandering

February 04, 1996|EILEEN OGINTZ

During the past 18 months, the Zuckerman boys have slept on a schooner, mined for gems, fished for lobsters, rafted down a river, sung along with musical theater and explored an old fort and an ice cave. And that's just on weekends.

"One big vacation, you go and then it's over. With weekend trips, there's always something to look forward to. We go 15 or 20 times a year," said their dad, Art Zuckerman, who runs a computer business in New Rochelle, N.Y.

"It breaks our schedule, and we get away from the phone. It's really good for the whole family," said Kate Day, a Seattle landscape architect who takes off on weekends when possible with her husband and two kids to ski, hike, canoe or simply see a place they haven't been. "We didn't grow up here, so it's fun to explore."

The Zuckermans approach their weekends away with the same zeal they would a European tour, researching every destination in advance. "We love to travel," explains Zuckerman. "These trips get our juices flowing."

Other families opt for returning often to the same retreat. "Those weekends together at our cabin are the only time as a family we sit down and play games and read books together. Everyone is very mellow," said Palo Alto orthodontist Lesley Samuels, whose family heads to Lake Tahoe as many weekends as possible. "The minute we open the door to the cabin," she said, "we all feel better."

Weekends are short enough for bitterly warring siblings to set their differences aside . . . temporarily, at least. But they're not long enough for kids to get bored. Because expectations aren't as high as for a "big vacation," no one usually comes home disappointed.

In addition to family harmony, there's another important reason working parents like weekend trips: It's often easier to escape the office for a few days than for a week or longer. "There's so much stress getting ready to leave for a long time," Samuels said.

Not to mention the expense. A weekend trip, of course, is cheaper. The Zuckermans always travel by car and go no farther than 250 miles away from home. The Days camp when weather permits and otherwise tote an electric frying pan so they can cook meals in.

The Zuckermans also seek out special discounts offered by city hotels, which may have vacancies on weekends when business travelers return home. Hilton Hotels, for example, is offering BounceBack weekend deals that include continental breakfast for all members of the family and room rates discounted 20% to 50% (call 800-HILTONS). Marriott Hotels has a weekend getaway that includes breakfast for two each day of the stay, discounted dinners and room rates as low as $69 ([800] 228-9290).

But before getting on the phone to the travel agent, stop and consider the kids' ages and how well they travel. While older children will love the adventure a quick trip somewhere new offers, preschoolers and toddlers may become so distressed by a change of routine that the trip isn't worth the effort.

"If you are going for a weekend, go where the children's schedule won't be disrupted," advises UCLA child psychologist Jill Waterman. That means, as much as possible, sticking to their nap and meal schedules and bringing along anything that might make them feel more secure.

Older kids may need more time to decompress after returning home.

"The more out of the ordinary, the more special it seems and the better they like it," said Dr. Margie Hogan, a Minneapolis pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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