Last week, Dustin and I took our older boys, Ford, 9, and Owen, 7, on an overnight trip to Portland. We left Lindell, 3, at home with my mom, who is visiting from Virginia.

Ford and Owen have reached an age where it is almost (key word) enjoyable to take them out in public. They seldom have tantrums, they don’t run around restaurants, and they don’t drop their pants and urinate whenever and wherever the mood strikes. Yet they are still childish enough to appreciate a little rule-breaking, like swimming in the hotel pool past bedtime. Of course, they have their moments, most of which involve back-seat — and therefore semiprivate — fighting: “He looked at me; tell him to stop looking at me.”

In all, however, I’d say Ford and Owen are the perfect age for day tripping. We no longer have to look away and pretend we don’t know them when they stick drinking straws on their canine teeth, and they can be seen with their parents without losing any dignity.

Which isn’t to say that we didn’t miss Lindell. Several times throughout our minivacation, one of us would look over at Lindell’s empty car seat and say, “Sure is quiet without him.” Then we’d swap our favorite Lindell stories, most involving him screaming and peeing in strange places, and privately sigh with relief that we were, for the most part, having a grown-up vacation.

Lindell was not happy that we left him. When he saw my suitcase at the bottom of the stairs he said, “We’re sleeping at a hotel tonight?” Then, when I stuffed a stack of four, not five, bathing suits into the suitcase, he put it all together. “You’re going to a hotel without me?”

As a diversion, my mom promised him a day of fun: lunch at McDonald’s and shopping for a new toy at Target. Ford and Owen patted him on the head as we left. “Have fun, little buddy,” they said in a patronizing way Lindell could not understand. They were certain he would not touch their belongings or enter Ford’s room, where he is never allowed without Ford’s permission.

On our vacation we saw a Sea Dogs game, raced go-carts indoors, played carpet golf, ate at a floating restaurant, and took a tour of the only desert east of the Mississippi (great “Jeopardy” question), the Desert of Maine in Freeport. If I had all girls instead of boys, family trips would be quite different. Instead, I acted as a personal waitress at the baseball game, shuttling drinks, hot dogs and popcorn, while Dustin, Ford and Owen sat riveted to the game.

After the fourth inning, and once everyone was happily fed, I snuck away with Owen to the speed pitch tent. For a buck, you get three throws and the chance to beat the day’s highest score for fastest-pitched baseball. I thought I could take the Females 18+ category, which was already up to 48 mph. Owen had such faith in me. But I threw all three balls in a tragic, downward arc that only measured 20 mph on the radar gun. I received a pin, a “pity pin,” for trying, and I offered it to Owen. He looked around sheepishly and said, “Uh, no thanks, Mom.” It was the first of many times that I would embarrass him.

On the way to the go-carts, I stole a moment to talk to Ford and Owen about important things like saying no to drugs and not smoking cigarettes. Without Lindell to interrupt, it was pure parenting magic.

Forty-five minutes after this discussion of safety, however, I was wearing a racing suit and helmet, sitting on a go-cart with a bottle of gasoline between my legs, and driving 40 mph, faster than my baseball pitch, around hairpin turns. I could not talk the boys into doing something safer, something like Build-A-Bear, next.

After dinner and a dip in the hotel pool, we called it a night. All of us were missing Lindell, so we called him to say goodnight. He was eating fresh-baked cookies that he had made with my mom.

“Ah, man, you got cookies,” Owen said. “No fair,” he said, while smiling up at us to show that he was just trying to make Lindell feel better about not being on the trip.

“I got a toy, too,” Lindell said.

“Really? What kind of toy?” (wink, wink) Ford said. Owen covered his mouth to stifle a laugh. Poor Lindell, they both seemed to be saying.

“And I’m staying at a hotel, too,” Lindell said, his mouth full of cookies. “It’s called Lindell’s Lodge.”

Ford and Owen were rolling on the bed laughing now. “A hotel, buddy?” Ford said. “That sounds like fun. Where’s your hotel, little buddy?”

Lindell swallowed his cookie, then said as clear and triumphantly as he could, “Your room.”

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at