Not Quite There Yet: The Family Vacation

We’re knee-deep in summer, and the season of family vacations.

My husband let me know he needed to travel to Martha’s Vineyard for work the week of July 4th. The girls and I had never been, and we all decided it would be fun to go together. Stanton had meetings, but would join in on the family time when he could—a mini vacation of sorts.

Before embarking on our trip, I did what most parents (most moms?) do. Laundry. The grocery store for snacks.

I located everyone’s beach paraphernalia: swimsuits, cover-ups, goggles, towels, chairs, flip-flops, sunscreen.

I also stopped by Walmart to buy sandcastle-building equipment…and then learned Walmart had just sold its last beach bucket. Next stop: Dollar Tree, where I had better luck with beach buckets, sand shovels, and seahorse and starfish molds.

Now, we’ve become quasi pet owners, you might remember. Ping, our betta fish, joined the family this past spring. She needs a pinch—just a pinch—of fish food every morning. Just a pinch of fish food still requires planning.

I asked our neighbors if they’d pet-sit Ping while we were away. They kindly agreed. And then, because I couldn’t carry Ping and her two-gallon fish tank down the block…I wheeled her over in Anna’s stroller, to the raised eyebrows of some passersby.

You can’t make this stuff up, friends.

So began our family vacation.

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Our drive to the ferry for the island took about three and a half hours. We started out in the morning. I gathered stories, coloring books and crayons, puzzles—hours of fun—into a bag, and placed the bag between the girls in the backseat.

Like kids everywhere, about five minutes into our drive, one of the girls shared, “I’m bored.”

The other wondered, “Are we there yet?”

Not quite yet, girls. Not quite yet.

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As a kid on family vacations or reunions, did you ever have to bunk with a sibling, or distant relative? It can be a little tough, right?

It was a little tough for Grace, who informed Stanton and me after our first night in the hotel, “Anna kicks, and she takes up a lot of space.”

For such a little person, she really does. I so appreciate how kind and patient Grace (usually) is with her little sister:

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During our time in Edgartown, the girls loved playing at the nearby beach and swimming in the ocean, which we learned is technically Nantucket Sound. I loved the beach too, and I was excited to check out the other sights. I promised the girls Popsicles if they’d come exploring with me.

Popsicles: As good a bribe as any.

We played in Cannonball Park, admired the Old Whaling Church, and stopped in local shops like Murdick’s Fudge. We wrapped up our sightseeing by sitting at the dock, watching the harbor boats and Chappy Ferry rides. Later, I asked the girls what their favorite part had been.

“Pretending to fish with that string we found,” they replied.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s always the little things.

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There’s a saying, which you’ve probably heard, that life isn’t about the destination, but the journey. I think this is true, too, of family vacations. We can read the latest issues of Travel + Leisure and plan the most TripAdvisor-approved odysseys—or make the most of last-minute adventures—and then find that what we love the most, and what our loved ones remember, are the seemingly littlest things. And we can be anywhere in the world for this it-never-fails phenomenon to happen: Lake Como, or the lake that’s an hour’s drive from home.

Sometimes crazy things happen too. And a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come, for better or worse. For example…

When I was growing up, my parents, siblings and I went to Orlando, Fla. We were in Epcot one day when I became horribly sick. My mom brought me to the on-site infirmary, where the medical staff diagnosed me with food poisoning. Ugh.

(As I’m writing this, I’m shuddering at the memory. Shuddering and gagging.)

The Epcot folks took good care of me. Then, per Disney policy, they arranged for a wheelchair for me, to transport me back to our rental car.

You can bet my brothers begged my mom to photograph that moment for posterity’s sake. Good ol’ Melissa in a wheelchair at Epcot. “Take a picture, Mom!”

Decades later, that crazy moment from Epcot still comes up during family get-togethers. (What does your family remember at summer BBQ’s and Thanksgiving dinners?)

…a summer vacation’s crazy moment has a way of becoming part of family lore for years to come…

After we got the girls to bed one night, Stanton opened a bottle of red wine he’d bought. “This was surprisingly thoughtful of you,” I said.

“Glad I can still surprise you sometimes,” he replied, pouring two glasses.

Then, despite the thousands of brand-new TV and movie options available to us, we watched a rerun of “The Office.” Season 2, “Email Surveillance,” the episode where Jim doesn’t invite Michael to his party. It still made us laugh.

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On our drive back home, the four of us played the License Plate Game. Our family’s version of this game is to find license plates from the four states we’ve called home: Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Now, we acknowledge other license plates. Indiana, OK. Florida…Maine…North Carolina. Utah, whose license plate declares, “Greatest Snow on Earth!” We acknowledge other license plates, but we get excited about Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and New York.

Driving through Massachusetts, it was, of course, easy to find license plates from neighboring New York and nearby Pennsylvania. I was amazed, though, to see more than a handful of license plates from the Lone Star State. There were a bunch of Texans in New England that holiday week—who knew?

We were about five miles from our driveway, and we still hadn’t seen Virginia. I was about to give up when, out of the corner of my eye… “Grace, look!” I pointed to the car to our left.

Grace’s middle name is Virginia, so she can recognize the word right away. She looked at the car, saw the white license plate with navy-blue letters, and grinned. “Virginia!”

Anna cheered. “We found Virginia!”

Indeed we did.

I loved our impromptu getaway. It wasn’t perfect, of course. We all had our moments, and traveling with kids is tricky, in general. But for all the moments we had together…I appreciated them so much. And some of those moments, possibly, will be ones we’ll remember years from now, when the four of us—a little older, and maybe not living under a shared roof anymore—are lucky enough to be gathered in the same place.

“For such a little person, she took up a lot of space. She kicked me all night.”

“Oh, you were fine…”

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“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” (Buddha)

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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Nostalgia for Last Summer

The other day, my girls and I went on a lunch date. Our destination: Pam’s Patio Kitchen, my favorite local lunch spot in San Antonio.

Pam’s is located just a few stop signs away from the neighborhood swimming pool that Little G and I swam in virtually every day last summer. “Little G, do you remember what’s over there?” I asked, pointing farther along the street.

“What?”

“Don’t you remember, honey? The pool from last summer?”

“Oh…yeah.”

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But I could tell my daughter’s 3-year-old memory wasn’t as good as my 32-year-old one. Meanwhile, 5-month-old Baby G squealed from her car seat, reminding us that she was there, too. She doesn’t like to be left out of things.

But Baby G wasn’t here last summer, and for a moment, I felt a flicker of nostalgia for that time in my life, when everything seemed so much easier. There was just one child to take care of. She slept through the night. I had more time to write; I had just finished “The Moms,” in fact.

And I could still wear a swimsuit. Yes, I gave birth five months ago, but my post-baby bump is still startlingly visible. It will be some time before I feel comfortable in a swimsuit again, friends.

Last summer, I felt comfortable in everything I was doing. Baby G, though, has forced me to push the reset button. For starters, I’m rereading (whenever I can) “What to Expect the First Year”—I barely remember any of it, thanks to the first round of sleep deprivation with Little G. And in some ways, I’m forging a new mother/daughter relationship with Little G. This summer, for example, I’ve said to her (more than once), “I’m so sorry I raised my voice to you. I am just so tired.”

Little G looks me in the eye. “It’s OK, Mom. You can do better next time.”

We didn’t have these kinds of conversations last summer. I’m hoping, though, that our conversations now are richer, with the added layers of compromise and forgiveness, give and take. And if they’re not … I’m sure Little G will let me know when she’s older. 🙂 (I’m a firstborn daughter, too. I know how it goes!)

I remember when Baby G was born. Everything was so much easier with her than with my older daughter. All because I had already done it all once before. And because of that first experience, I was conscious, this second time, to appreciate everything more. To hold Baby G longer. To sing “Goodnight Sweetheart” slower. To take our time.

Pam’s, the pool, last summer … The nostalgia I felt, I think, was really an awareness that time moves fast. Even when days feel long, time is skipping forward until this summer, this season, becomes last year’s.

Unless that is nostalgia—“That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet” (Emily Dickinson).

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.