I established the first rule before we’d even left North Carolina, the last of our visits in a month of visits on the road.
“No more Sprite,” I said emphatically to my nine-year-old.
“And you,” I said making eye contact with the littler one who’d developed a Pavlovian drool near rest-stops.
“It’s over. M&M’s from the vending machines are a thing of the past.”
Vacation was coming to an end and we were going cold turkey. No more soft drinks. No more candy because it’s “11am somewhere.” No more watching Scooby Doo in the back seat for 8 hours a day. When we pulled into our driveway at home the next day we were going to be a lean, mean, post-vacation machine.
But I had a lot of laundry to do. And the dog forgot he was potty trained. And there was that super moon.
Things were pretty much a mess when we got home after thirty days away from our routine. Rules are made to be broken, unless you’re the one whose sanity depends on them.
The dog was probably the easiest to retrain.
“I don’t care if they let you pee wherever you wanted at Camp Bow Wow,” I told our one-year-old spaniel. “We don’t have concrete floors.”
The milk bones were my most effective tactic with him.
And the crate.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t use either of those incentives with my human children, and I had to resort to phrases I’d used when they were toddlers.
“Whining won’t work.”
“I’m in charge.”
Looking back, there’d been a surprising absence of that two-letter word on our vacation, and it took some time to relearn the meaning of it.
Again, the dog surpassed his sisters in this. But my tone with him was more emphatic. The threat of dog poop on the floor is just that much more intolerable than the prospect of the kids watching another episode of Guy Fieri’s Grocery Games.
It was a long process of detoxing from some very bad habits: TV as if it was an inalienable right; dessert as if it was more vital than oxygen; and bedtime, which lost all definition and meaning and became just a quaint word they heard me say from time to time, like “whom” and “post office”.
It’s been about three weeks now and things have finally settled down. In fact, the dog is fantastic.
The kids are ok, too. A regular bedtime. No expectation of Sprite with breakfast or a feature film every time I merge onto the highway.
“We’re only going five miles,” I still catch myself saying from time to time. “Nobody needs a snack!”
I am once again the alpha dog—with the dog, I mean. And we have finally re-established a very good routine for bedtime.
That should last for about ten days until school starts.
At least the dog hasn’t started Pre-K, yet.
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This week on The Educated Mom, I write about the Common App Essay for college, and a private consultant who helps guide students in an era of sensational "over-sharing".