There is no such thing as Vacation with a small child.
There is Travel. There is Visiting. There is Spending-the-Weekend.
On Vacation, I relax. I sleep late, eat at leisure, enjoy wherever it is I have traveled. Traveling with a small child, I try to keep the kid as close to his usual routine as possible despite our being in a completely novel environment doing totally non-routine things. I tend to his meltdowns when he gets flustered by the necessary changes in routine. I walk the line between trying to interest him in doing something new and respecting his comfort zone. And I get frustrated because I'd rather be relaxing.
We rented a house in the Catskills for a long weekend to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. Ryan had a mostly glorious time. He played with hairy caterpillars - picking them up like dolls, stacking them into unwilling piles, introducing them to each other. We swam in a lake, and paddled a row boat to a small uninhabited island. He spent time with his grandparents and aunt and uncle and their beagle. We caught tiny frogs and even tinier tadpoles (I even had a tadpole swimming about in my sandal!). He painted my legs with his muddy toes.
We stuck to his usual meal and sleep schedules and other routines, and the entire first day he seemed thrilled with the adventure of staying in an unfamiliar place with new things to explore.
The second day, he started to snap. There were lots of meltdowns, involving crying and throwing his body into the floor, on purpose, hard. My favorite meltdowns happened because he wanted to use the upstairs bathroom but preferred the downstairs toilet to the one in his bathroom of choice. He did a lot of begging to "go home please." After Ryan's bedtime, I drank more than enough wine and asked why nobody had opened a bottle for me earlier.
The final morning, he had had enough. His meltdown reflex was on a hair trigger. Even after we got home, the wailing continued. I sincerely hope a night of sleep in his own bed will reset all this.
Ah, vacation. Someday...