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Leave your guilt at home (with the kids)

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / May 9, 2010

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A few days before I left for vacation with my husband, I asked the kids if they would miss us. My 6-year-old tried to arrange her mouth into a pout, but even she is not that good an actress. She knew what was ahead of her: A visit with her beloved grandparents, unlimited Scooby-Doo, cake. She was as excited as I was.

Still, anticipating guilt, I found myself explaining my getaway in a language they understand — fairy tales. I contrasted my daily Cinderella-like existence — spent fetching snacks and retrieving blankies and hauling mounds of laundry up and down stairs — with my fantasy of a vacation spent accepting drinks from cabana boys by the pool.

“Daddy and I just want to take a break and let people take care of us,’’ I began. “Instead of . . .’’

Right on cue, my son, 3, stomped over, and, in typically tyrannical preschooler fashion, demanded milk. I rested my case.

Over February school vacation week, my husband and I took a romantic getaway that I dubbed a “preschool-moon.’’ And why not? Parents now indulge in “babymoons’’ — second honeymoons before the baby arrives. After a few years of potty training, it’s even easier to justify a getaway, and you can travel on the cheap. Because, face it, when you have young children, your standards for dining and lodging are embarrassingly low.

It is always hard to leave the kids, but if it’s financially feasible, it can be a good investment for everybody. There’s nothing so restorative as spending time alone with your spouse on neutral territory to shake off domestic concerns — the angry tally of how many diapers each has changed and who has never, not even once, considered picking up milk on the way home.

Each time my husband and I go away together and get into a wide-ranging, intellectual conversation — uninterrupted by cries of “Poopy! Poopy! Poopy!’’ — I marvel again at how interesting this guy is. I come home adoring my children and remembering clearly why I had them in the first place.

Over three child-free vacations, I have learned some lessons, which I will impart here so that other worn-out parents can tamp down their guilt and enjoy a well-deserved time-out.

Plan around your baby sitters. If the children have reliable grandparents willing to baby-sit, give them anything they want. My parents ask only that I bring the kids to them and pick them up, which tacks two six-hour drives onto our trip. But that’s a fair price to pay for a few nights of unimpeded sleep.

Invest in travel insurance. There may be sickness in the family that could derail your plans. It’s worth it to spend a little more so you can reschedule.

Plan according to your energy level. On our first trip without kids, we booked back-to-back scuba diving trips that kept us on an exhausting schedule.

This year we aimed for a casually active trip. The week coincided with Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. We went to Curaçao, which had a big Carnival parade and easy-access snorkeling. Our resort, Breezes Curaçao, was adjacent to the Curaçao Undersea National Park, so we didn’t need to board a boat or a rental car. We could snorkel whenever we mustered the energy.

Resist other people’s children. Kids are cute — inestimably so when you don’t have to do anything for them. At our resort, I found myself ogling other people’s kids and missing my own. An adults-only resort protects against lapsing into parent mode.

Consider an all-inclusive resort. There was a time I sneered at “all-inclusive.’’ That was before I became a mother — and consequently, a sherpa, toting countless beach chairs, towels, shovels, pails, and tubes of sunscreen on every trip to the Cape. Now, I appreciate the all-inclusive for the incredible lightness of being that it offers.

I defy any mother of young children to resist this temptation: You can walk from your room to the beach carrying nothing but a room card. Maybe a towel. You get free drinks — as many as you want — and food that you didn’t have to pack into little plastic containers to bring to the beach.

Trust me. You have not felt this light in years.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at s_ebbert@globe.com.