I think I read on the back of my cereal box that the word “vacation” is defined as a “freedom or release from duty, business, or activity”. Traveling with my wife and children for a legion of hours in an overpacked four seated vehicle to a small “rustic” (read: spiders in your shoes) cabin in the deep fried southern mountains of western North Carolina doesn’t quite meet those requirements. Duty? If my wife and I aren’t using our Sarah Connor level focus someone will probably sustain a life altering injury or end up being chased by bears or enraged locals. Business? As a stay-at-home dad my business is the business of always watching the kids so there isn’t much respite there. Activity? Activities are the sweet enduring life blood of the semi-sane parent. Keep the activities going full tilt or the children might just realize you’re sitting down for a second to feel the mountain breeze on your face as though you’re the only person on earth..you know…sweet lord in heaven just for a damned second.
So what do you call a period of time spent with small people in a place other primates typically go to “vacation”? Is it a “recreational dry run” to practice an array of vacation-like behaviors so one day your progeny will be able to mutually enjoy the scenery with you? I’m not sure it is because by the time I could really appreciate scenery I was too old to want to go with my parents anywhere. Is it a “locational respite”? A place to shake things up and reboot behaviors? If that’s the case I’m fairly sure the journey though the toddler vomit inducing winding mountain roads wasn’t all that necessary because there is a perfectly lovely park across the street from my house that fits the definition of a“different location”. Perhaps it’s just a “universal rite of passage”. “You went WHERE with a two and five year old? And! AND! You SURVIVED!?? Allow me to buy you a drink pal! Hey Dave! Get a load of this guy! He took his kids to a CABIN!”
My wife and I (along with some dear family friends…the kind so dear they’re amenable to traveling long distances to spend time with our kiddos) had decided to head to the mountains of North Carolina for a “trip” (let’s just call it that). The journey began with packing the car for nearly half a day on a Friday. I truly remember a stage in my life where I could toss some deodorant, a tooth brush, a few t-shirts, and some underwear in a Kroger bag and be out the door. Now there’s a process and lists to be reckoned with. Contingency plans must be designed, considered, and prepared for. Long dead Roman senators must be communicated with via a trio of albino Slovakian mediums in the belly of an ancient Native American burial ground. The gravitational constant of the known universe must be readjusted using ancient alien technology delicately pulled from the wreck of a starship at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Packing for a trip with young beings is not a task to be taken lightly. Oh sure there are stores along the way you can hit up if you may have missed something but it’s those things you need in an emergency that you can’t wait for a google search of “nearest grocery store” to appear across your screen cracked phone that present the problem. It’s just best to bring everything. Tie the rocking chair to the roof of the car Pa Joad because you’ve got yourself some bear cubs in them car seats.
Our first stop was the house of my wife’s parents to spend the night before setting out on the remainder of our pilgrimage to the land of knife stores and pottery stands. Arriving much too late in the evening my daughter was extracted from her car seat only to walk into my mother-in-law’s waiting arms and immediately throw-up. This regurgitative response was due to the hastily consumed road food combining with the carsickness that both my tadpoles seem to be stricken with. This motion-sickness always seems to result in wild chundering when parking a car or recently exiting one. It’s not that the middle of a journey is a better time to toss cookies but for me I struggle with the fact that the two of them allow my wife and I to think that perhaps this time we’ll make it to a destination without having to use a Starbucks stir-stick to extract regurgitated goldfish crackers from the seatbelt clasp. This time we won’t have to spend an hour deodorizing the car with archaic dark magic before we get back in right? Mighty Zeus please tell us that this time we will be puke free?! No. Lies. All lies.
When my son was born I promised something imbecilic and ridiculous to myself. He would have no screen time until the age of four and then only strongly limited screen time until he left the house for college. Pardon me while I laugh the laugh of a thousand laughs. That strange guttural hollering noise you just thought you heard in the alleyway sixty stories below your rent controlled apartment is not a hobo fight but the eternal echo of my booming laughter at the dense pronouncements on the usefulness of screen time I had made when holding my newborn babe in my uncertain arms. After I set up the dual dvd players in the back seat and slammed random Pixar offerings into the players whirring interiors my wife took the wheel (because she wants to get there tonight and not a week from now) and we zoomed off down the road. Four minutes passed before I found myself in a Kmart looking for sunscreen and granola. Civilizations rose and fell, whole species evolved into unique variations of their primal forms when we pulled into the cabin. It had been a day. My wife aged well. Her hair now a deep white belied the life still in her eyes. I was a lumpy skeleton filled with unfortunate piles of preservative laden fast-food choices made with no consideration for my future health or happiness. The kids were a wild mess of sugar, tenderfooted frustrations, and John Lassetertonian philosophical hopefulness. My daughter took one look at our cabin and said grimly “this will do”.
More to follow….
(Photo Credit:Emily Schwartz 2016)