When you are almost four years old, apparently you don't need anything more from a vacation than a swimming pool and a hotel room with a bed that's good for jumping. To make it a super-cool vacation, apparently that hotel bed only needs a mirror in front of it to watch yourself jumping. And if you want to have the best vacation ever, maybe one night, while you're totally staying up late and swimming with your dad in a pool on the seventeenth-floor of a tall, tall building, your mom will order a room service fudge brownie sundae and it will get there right after you return to your room still smelling of chlorine and your dad will set up a picnic on the floor by the door because your baby brother is sleeping across the room and all three of you will peel back the plastic wrap and sit around whispering while eating this sundae with fancy napkins on your laps.

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My wife goes to Cincinnati every month for business, and sometimes we drive down and stay with her at the fancy hotel. I know why some people build swimming pools in their backyards or buy trampolines: they love their kids and want them to be happy. And (for the same reason) when some people go on vacation, they go to places like Hawaii or Florida. But that's just not our style. We parent on the theory of lowered expectations: if they don't know what they're missing, they won't get upset about it until they're already old enough to resent us for a whole host of other reasons. Disneyworld is, I'm sure, a totally magical pain in the ass. But when your kid has never seen a Disney movie and doesn't know Florida even exists, places like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati will do in a pinch.

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After the last trip to Cincinnati, our daughter's preschool teacher told us about a game she invented that the whole class plays called "going to Cincinnati." I don't know any of the details, but apparently the kids just love the sound of that word: Cincinnati. They sit around saying it over and over. The game has taken on a life of its own.

But I like to think they sing it as LL Cool J might.

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When I was a child, I remember my parents taking us on a car ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. I don't know why, but I built up heavy expectations for this journey. On the way to the port, I imagined a gleaming white cruise ship, perhaps helmed by a white-suited Ricardo Montalban* and his diminutive Filipino first mate (I thought Fantasy Island was just the second hour of The Love Boat) and filled with minor celebrities such as Nipsey Russell and Robert Goulet feasting at huge spreads of jumbo shrimp cocktail and tropical fruit. Instead, we pulled up to a dingy utilitarian vessel with nothing but a hot dog counter and a broken Burgertime game. I cried. This is the danger of heightened expectations.

But later, that same trip, we stayed at a Holidome by a highway somewhere in suburban Green Bay and I swam constantly and marveled at how every day someone came to clean up the mess we made in our room. This, I thought, was paradise. When we left this hotel, I cried. When my parents tell this story, they say I kissed the dirty carpet in the lobby before we left. I like to pretend they're exaggerating, but the thing is, I totally remember doing it.

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Yesterday, when we're packing up our bags to leave Cincinnati, my daughter starts crying (these days my wife is fond of looking at me with eyes that say, "You and your damn genes"). By the time we get down to the lobby, she is in full-on hysterics. The business-casual brigade gives us dirty looks for disrupting their free wi-fi frenzy. "I don't want to leave Cincinnati," she hollers.

"If you keep this up, we'll never come back."

Then, all of a sudden: silence. Not returning to Cincinnati, it seems, is a fate this screaming preschooler can't even imagine.

*8:54 p.m. I just learned that Montalban died today. May he rest forever in the thickly cushioned luxury of Corinthian leather.