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Taking the Kids

Moms Just Wanna Have Fun Too

May 04, 1997|EILEEN OGINTZ

The temperature was climbing well into the 90s, but instead of swimming or sitting under a tree with a cool drink on the last day of vacation, Sara McDougall had been up since 6 a.m. in the house they'd rented, vacuuming, cleaning out the refrigerator and scrubbing bathrooms.

She had only her 6-year-old daughter to help. Her husband and son had left California Gold Country earlier for home, to make it back in time for a soccer game. Standing in that overheated bathroom, sponge in hand, McDougall had an epiphany. "I realized it was my vacation too," the Santa Cruz school librarian explained. "Moms have to stick up for themselves."

I couldn't agree more. Before we head off on family vacations this summer, it's time for moms to make time for themselves too. But they need the family's help. Certainly some hard-working dad's help, and I'm not suggesting heading off solo to a luxurious locale as the alternative, although that does sound like fun. "In my fantasies, I'm at a spa and there are people serving me those drinks with the little umbrellas and my daughter is off having fun with her dad so I've got that luxurious feeling of pampering myself and not feeling guilty because I'm not with my child," said Wellesley College sociologist Rosanna Hertz, who studies motherhood.

All-inclusive resorts, ranches or cruise ships offer a respite from all chores. But before sending in a deposit, the Child Care Action Campaign, a nonprofit national organization, suggests calling and asking the children's program director these questions:

What is the ratio of children to adults? (You don't want there to be more than four babies, six 2-year-olds, eight 3- and 4-year-olds or a dozen school-age kids to one adult.)

What are the activities planned for children? Are they age-appropriate? Are the kids divided up so that you don't have one group of children ranging from ages 2 to 14?

Is there a security system in place for checking children in and out? How do they know you're taking the right child? How many staff members have had first-aid and child CPR training?

"Look around the program when you get there," added Ellen Lubell, a spokesman for the Child Care Action Campaign. "Does it look like the kids are having fun?"

But even if you find a place with a wonderful program, the vacation won't be stress-free, especially for mom.

"Mothers want everything to go perfectly because they usually plan the trips. So they get uptight," said Nancy Schretter, who oversees the Family Travel Network on America Online and hears from mothers all over the country.

So dads, here's your chance to present the perfect Mother's Day present: Instead of buying her a new blender, take over the vacation planning this year. Enlist the kids to surf the net or write letters or call state tourist offices on their 800 numbers. Tell the gang (as you divvy up the chores) that vacation is the perfect opportunity to practice the teamwork that the kids' coaches lecture about.

This year, pay someone to do a few of mom's most onerous vacation chores. When the McDougalls rent a house, for example, they pay the small extra charge for daily maid service so that they can leave without cleaning the place. They also eat out every other night and use paper plates.

"I don't want to spend my vacation in the kitchen," Sara McDougall said.

Personally, I don't like spending my vacation in a laundermat, so as soon as we get to our destination, I stake out one that offers wash-and-fold service. For a few dollars extra (but a lot less than a hotel cleaning service would charge), I can have clean laundry before dinner.

For other moms, even an hour break from the responsibilities of mothering can make all the difference. There may be more places within your budget than you'd think, said family travel author Laura Sutherland, co-author of the newly revised "The Best Bargain Family Vacations in the U.S.A." (St. Martin's Press, $13.95).

Sutherland said that many small resorts and hotels around the country and in the Caribbean provide informal supervised children's activities. Some of these programs are offered at no extra charge, like those at Montecito Sequoia Lodge in California's Sequoia National Park ([800] 227-9900.) Others require a nominal fee, like the crafts programs at the North Captiva Island Club Resort in Florida, where rental homes are available. ([800] 576-7343.)

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

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