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When Vineyards are Replaced with Playgrounds

My husband and I are two years into parenthood, after 15 years of traveling, working and celebrating our days away as “dinks” (double income, no kids). The travel highlights? Well, they somewhat revolve around a glass half full: A chianti festival in Tuscany. Champagne and rose in France. Cabernet and chardonnay in Napa and Sonoma. Beer, beer and more beer in Ireland, England and Germany. Then along came Dillon. We didn’t stop sampling the fruits of our travels, but our choices sure changed.

I spent much of our recent Pacific Northwest trip feeling like a fish out of water. How does one comes to Washington and Oregon without spending a few hours in Willamette Valley tasting pinot noir, experiencing Beervana in Portland and drinking espresso until we’re shaking in Seattle? Sure, we can have a pint, a glass or a cup while Dillon nibbles on local fare. But it’s not fair to him, to us, or to those who are really serious about these things to drag him from tasting to tasting.

Then came the moment that it really hit me how much our lives have changed. We entered our second playground in two days in Portland, and my husband leaned over to me and said, “our moment of zen." For the next hour, my son’s giggles, smiles, kisses, slides and swings -- surrounded by local families and a city we immediately loved -- filled me with more pride and joy than an hour in any bar.

What we look for now as parents in a great vacation is a combination of our past loves with our growing future. Mapping our course (whether from home in advance or once we get there) requires good maps, detailed websites and knowledgeable friends and local guides who can help lay out where we should go, what we should do, where the playgrounds and water fountains are, and which destinations are worth a drive (while Dillon takes a nap). We opt for fewer sites and hotel stops rather than more. We start our days and end our days early, getting enough sleep and beating the crowds. And we choose our pit stops with a different frame of mind.

Some places are more kid-friendly than others. Get a nasty look when you walk in? Walk out. Can’t find a changing table in the bathroom? Another sure sign you’re in the wrong place. Wonder where you can grab a pint and please your half-pint? Look for stollers; those are locals’ wheels. Need a mommy moment with baby while shopping? Whoever designed mother’s restrooms at Nordstrom stores should be knighted.

Kid-friendly joints come in surprising places. Picture a Portland brewery with a Lego table. A Chicago breakfast joint attached to a gay bar where the high-chair setup comes complete with paper under the chair to catch spills, a basket of books and a bowl of sliced bananas upon arrival. An Arles, France, best-of restaurant where the server soothed our teething toddler with ice, chocolate and bread. These places earned our business, and we’d come back in a heartbeat.

The biggest thing we do now to be adults is we take a day off from work while Dillon is in school and “vacation” in our own city. There’s nothing like a movie in a theatre or a plate of mussels with a bottle of wine to remind us of that other part of ourselves for a little while. We’re also opening up to the idea of short getaways without kids, when grandmas and grandpas are up for it.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Chicago
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
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Angela Shannon