Our neighbor rolled down his window as he left his driveway early on our day of departure on vacation. I had gotten up at 4:00 am to run the dog and, hopefully, get my family on the road by 5:30 or 6:00 am. Ha! I was still awaiting suitcases and trying to get everyone’s stuff loaded in the van at 7:00. Our neighbor watched me load, then unload when another new bag came out, finally commented, “This brings back so many memories of those vacation days with family when the kids were little.” He said it with a smile. I wondered what part of the bulging vein on my forehead looked funny to him.
I also get nostalgic when considering past vacations. I remember the first 8 years of our marriage…vacations before kids. Due to some generous church members, we did a few days at Disney for most of those 8 years. We always expected it to be our last without kids, so we’d embrace all that Disney is for adults and had a blast. Then we’d typically head to beachfront property for another week or so of vacation. (Again, thanks to another generous church member.)
Packing for those early vacations meant a suitcase of clothing for each of us and a third suitcase filled only with books. We would lounge by the pool – Deana in the sun, me in the shade. Or I’d sit on the balcony reading while Deana sat within my line of sight on the hot beach. We’d plow through books and enjoy quiet, restful vacations. Then, we had children…
After we were blessed with children, we began combining our clothes into one suitcase. We’d pack another one or two suitcases with baby junk. We’d arrive at the airport with bags filled with diapers, toys, a pack-and-play crib, a stroller we’d check at the gate, a diaper bag with snacks. We were a traveling Babies-R-Us store. We always bought plane tickets for both kids and would lug their carseats through the airport for use on the plane. We’d always need them for the rental car anyway. We were one of those families who would board first during the call for families with young children. Airline attendants and other passengers would roll their eyes as we made our way to the gate looking like pack-mules. In our defense, Deana was a phenomenal traveling mother and always had every trick in the book for traveling with babies and toddlers. We were never the family with the screaming kids.
Now we’ve hit the tween/teen years and I realize we’ve transitioned into a new packing phase…we’ve become a traveling electronic store. We have four cellphones (and chargers), three mp3 players (and chargers), my laptop computer (and charger), two digital cameras (and chargers), a DVD player (and charger), Garmin GPS device (and charger), and an assortment of reading lights and other gadgets. We have electronic adapters for use in the van and a console with multiple plugs. When we pull into a rest area our doors open and people assume we’re a traveling Best Buy store.
So, I guess we have adapted and changed over the years, and so have our traveling relationships. I still do a majority of the driving. Deana has the gift of car sleep and dozes almost instantly when the wheels begin moving. She’s not a long-distance driver, but can handle just enough to give me a little nap that recharges my batteries. JJ is our best map reader and, despite our GPS, we still need someone who can glance and tell me where we are, when we turn, and how many miles we have to go. (The fact that Deana doesn’t read a map well was one of those newlywed surprises we discovered on our honeymoon. It wasn’t a pleasant interaction when I discovered her map reading weakness, and it still produces problems when we travel.) Amelia is best at staying awake and is excellent at keeping the driver awake during tired stretches. Her propensity toward carsickness means she gets to ride in the front seat if I decide we need to eat in the car while traveling. The next major family transition will be when the kids begin to drive, but I’m not even ready to contemplate that one yet.
As mentioned above, when traveling Deana loves to sleep. JJ reads the entire time we’re on the road. Amelia likes to listen to music on her iPod. This trip was the first where both kids did a lot of texting while we traveled. They were constantly chatting with friends in either Texas or Illinois. I like to text, browse online or post to Facebook – when I’m NOT driving. Did I mention Deana likes to sleep?
This trip I learned not to stop in Oklahoma after dark during the summer months. We paused to get gas on the return trip. It was 9:30 at night. There were hundreds (no exaggeration) of crickets around the pump. They jumped in our sandals, on our legs, and in the van. There were just as many flying bugs, including one who bit me on my leg leaving a welt. I stopped as we entered and exited Oklahoma and had the same experience both times. So, I’ve decided we’re better to fill up with fuel before entering Oklahoma and pushing it unto we exit the other side, at least at night.
BATHROOM ALERT: I typically approach vacations by closing down all rectal functions until I return home, but still must make some bathroom stops during a 20 hour journey. I keep record of good and bad bathrooms along the way, and won’t stop twice at a nasty bathroom location. I’ve added another NO STOP to our list – the Braum’s on 69/75 in Pryor, Oklahoma. The food service areas all looked appropriately sanitized, but they’ll never get my bathroom business again. For those coming TO Texas, hold it until you reach the first Texas tourist info/rest area. They always have clean bathrooms. Another great public rest area bathroom is located in Missouri on I44 between Joplin and Springfield. They also have well-stocked vending machines and great play areas for the kids.
We encountered a minimal amount of construction traffic on this trip, but did come across a few accident delays and one bad storm. The accident that cost us the most time was when we were attempting to leave Chicago on 355. A bad accident in a construction zone completely stopped traffic and left us sitting for at least 30 minutes on the tollway. I’d never seen drivers get out of their cars on a Chicago tollway – seriously, turn off their cars and get out to talk with one another.
We encountered a big storm during our drive north from central Illinois to Chicago. I’d driven a couple hours and pulled over to switch with Deana for a bit. (We swapped at a Burger King so Deana could get her favorite Icee for driving.) As soon as we took off it immediately got dark out. I turned on the radio and checked online (via my phone) and discovered severe weather reports right on our location. I immedately suggested Deana pull over at the next off ramp and we switch. Deana thought she’d be fine, so NO pulling over. It started to rain and I suggested Deana pull over to the side of the road, but NO pulling over. We were suddenly hit with a driving rain in the middle of one-lane construction. It was so bad we couldn’t see anything. It quickly let up to a sprinkle for a moment, but we knew it was going to hit again. We passed one car that tried to get across the construction zone when they couldn’t see and drove right into a disabling hole. We heard a report on the radio of worse weather about to hit, I continued to beg Deana to pull over and swap, but still NO. Then it hit again – 70 mph winds and hail. NOW Deana decides she wants to switch! We were going so slow, and had an excellent semi-truck driver behind us, so we put our seats back and Deana turned on our hazard lights (remember we had nowhere to pull out of this one lane). The truck driver realized we were going to do something and pulled way back, so Deana put it in park and she climbed over the seats while I ran around to the driver door in the middle of Rt 55…well attempted to run around. I was immediately hit by those 70 mph winds and practically flew out of my sandals. Plus, I was being pelted by hail. I jumped in the driver’s seat and was soaked to the skin.
(I think the truck driver found the whole situation hilarious.) A semi-truck a little ways in front of us was picked up and flipped on it’s side, so it was really bad. Even after the storm let up, we still couldn’t go over about 15 mph for the next 13 miles because the winds had blown the construction barricades and signs all over the place, creating an obstacle course that had to be maneuvered at very slow speeds.
Still, I love traveling with my family. I enjoy meeting people along the way and talking to strangers at rest stops. We played many rounds of the alphabet game (a contest of finding words that begin with every letter of the alphabet in correct order – thank you Quiznos, QTs, Xtra trucking, and work Zones). And we even saw some good bumper stickers. It’s all part of vacation travel with family, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.
Happy to be back home, and to my own bathroom.