The family and I took our show on the road, which as a wise friend of mine calls it, is what you do when you go away with young children. Basically it’s your same old schtick, except in a new place. We went to St. Joseph, Michigan, a charming town on the Lake Michigan shoreline, two hours from our Chicago home. Like any time with small children, it had some high highs, and some low lows, all of which added up to a truly terrific vacation.
I won’t bore you with the blog equivalent of sitting through someone’s vacation photos. Instead, I’ll wax philosophic on some of the topics that made our vacation what it was.
The only thing I find more upsetting than packing for a trip is a three-way with Dick Cheney and Snooki. Yes, I hate packing that much! There is so much potential to overpack, underpack or mispack, like when you think your trip is going to be like an episode of Sex in the City, and due to bad luck or bad planning, your clothing instructions might as well have been “Please dress like an extra in an Applebee’s commercial.”
Add to this the task of packing up two small children. Which means, aside from all the crap one needs to meet every possible contingency during a week at the beach, we’d be bringing diapers (regular and swim), wipes, a stroller, a pack and play, a booster seat, sippy cups, bottles, some child friendly cutlery, toys, bath toys, beach toys, their favorite bath towels and books. Of course there were stores nearby, but did we really want to spend our time searching for and shopping in the local Wal-something? For the first time in my life, I lamented the fact that our family vehicle wasn’t a Winnebago. Our ride is a Honda CR-V, a car that fits our family and fits into almost any parking spot in the city. I considered renting a car, as well as, investigating how to get a roof rack, before realizing that was bulls—t. If we couldn’t fit it in the car, we’d taken too much.
But somehow, Hubs did get everything into the car, leaving the back window clear and us in the front seat without suitcases in our laps and our noses pressed against the windshield. Truly a testament to his packing skills, the more-than-you’d-think cargo space of our little car and the fact that maybe we’d packed okay after all.
We timed our ride to coincide with the kids’ naps. But we left an hour late, and as we all know, but can’t fully understand, overtired children don’t sleep well. Both Riley and Aria were sound asleep twenty minutes into the drive. We praised the Gods. When we stopped at a toll, twenty minutes later, both were wide awake.
I spent the rest of the ride placating/force feeding the kids with veggie booty, their water bottles, grapes, every snack I could get my hands on. About a half hour from St. Joe I heard a whistling sound from the back. The driver’s side rear door, next to Riley, was not fully closed! Of course the indicator light was on, but neither of us noticed. Oh, CR-V, you can be packed like a drug smuggler’s belly, but why can’t you TALK?!
I wasn’t sure if the door hadn’t been closed properly from the get go, when we snapped Riley in, or if he had somehow been fiddling with it. Must we tie his hands and feet during car rides? My overactive imagination went berserk, envisioning Riley being sucked out of the car like some sci-fi character, the fully open door then being ripped off by a semi, or J pulling over on the shoulder to close the door and getting….
I sat, my heart palpitating, willing J to drive both slower and faster, and wondered if we’d run out of gas before the effing next exit. Finally we pulled into a particularly shady looking McDonald’s, closed the door and impressed upon our firstborn that if he so much as looked at that door his hand would fall off.
At our first vacation with Riley, when he was nine months old, we were stupid enough to bring reading material. Like bringing a six pack to the symphony! This time we didn’t dare. With two kids the beach is like the playground – it requires constant supervision and maintenance. Did the kids have enough sunscreen? Were they running too close to the road/water? John said two words to each other, only to turn to see fifteen-month old Aria gunning into the waves and falling on her face. I sprinted to her, scooping up my sputtering and screaming little girl. The waves were strong – what if we’d caught her five seconds later? I envied the parents who could lie down and relax, as their kids ran in and out of the lake and built sand castles.
Still it was fabulous to see the joy, freedom and awe on the kids’ faces. The kids, especially Aria, loved chasing seagulls. They also loved getting wet and rolling in the sand, like chicken ready for the fryer. To them, the beach was like the biggest sandbox ever. Aria continued to run straight into the water even after her incident. Clearly Riley adores the beach, and we hope Aria does too, because in this family, she doesn’t have much choice. And as for me, someone for whom the beach is like church, I made sure to leave while the kids napped with John, so I could sit and read by the water, all by myself.
On my birthday, my wonderfully sweet husband wanted to celebrate with a nice dinner. I thought we’d go someplace kid friendly and fun. When we walked in to the restaurant of the Boulevard Inn, the nicest place in town, my Negative Nancy got her cockles up. There were some other children there, but still, things did not look good. Aria had recently taken to yelling, “Nooow!” - a sound that married a bobcat and a lady about to have her purse stolen. I envisioned diners glaring at us, and being asked to leave.
“What were you thinking?” I hissed, as we scanned the menu.
“I wanted to do a nice dinner for your birthday,” J answered. “I wanted to do something like the dinners we used to do.”
Sigh. But since I had resolved for the ahem anniversary of my 29th birthday not to be such a you-know-what on wheels, I decided to try to have a nice time.
And we did, even though I ate my entrée like a contestant in a pie-eating contest and the servers didn’t sing to me because I was on my fourth keep-quiet walk to the lobby with the kids. It was good, however, to be at a nice place eating a nice dinner. All the eating out we did taught me how to enjoy myself while keeping the kids somewhat in check. Riley generally does well at restaurants and Aria is fine once the food comes. For their age, their dining-out conduct is on target. All kids screech and squirm at a dinner out – it’s a really long time for them to sit. In terms of disciplining our kids, we’re pretty sensitive to other diners. But if anyone says anything to me about their behavior, honey, it is ON.
The Cultural Experience
Hubs and I had forgotten what it’s like to really attract attention. Not the passing glance kind, but full on stares. Some people almost crashed their cars. Seriously. If you smiled at some of the starers, they’d smile back, especially those who were taken by our kids. Others looked away or remained stonefaced, signaling some not so nice thoughts, bad manners and/or the intellect of a mothball.
But when J and I talked about all the attention we got, I remembered that I too gawk at interracial couples. And when I’m alone, and I smile sheepishly and look away, I’m sure I raise the same questions. At the yummy pizza joint in town, we noticed a table full of college age kids. They were a U.N. of pretty people - black, white, Asian, Latino and South Asian, and I couldn’t help staring at them myself.
The multitude of reasons, both benevolent and unkind, people stare at couples like us is impossible to know. In the long term, I hope that education, tolerance and understanding will diminish some of the more shocked and hostile stares. That and the Tiny Feyesque, pithy, withering comment all not-the-norm couples should have at the ready.
Every day, sometimes twice a day, we rode on the Silver Beach Carousel. It was Riley’s favorite thing to do. Because he was happy we all were. (Well, maybe not Aria.) Watching him weigh which animal to ride, then his growing anticipation as he sat waiting for the ride to begin, and the pure bliss on his face as he sailed around and around was worth the organ music that burrowed itself in my brain like a tic.
Of course, our trip wasn’t a vacation brochure where that family of four, clearly in love with each other, holds hands and frolics on the beach. Our trip did have moments of contentment, laughter and even utter joy, but there was also plenty of problem solving, scheduling and overcoming great anguish (Truly. Stay tuned for that post...). I love my family even more after this vacation – it’s the most time the four of us have ever spent together. As a group we are all adaptable, fun loving, and supportive of one another. We take three hours and at least two false starts to leave the house. One of us is always in a foul mood. And we make it work. Like Riley on the carousel, we go up and down and around and around, cycling through spaces both in our minds and in the world. We take it all in, and when everything aligns just right, we break out in a huge smile, our happiness overwhelming us.