I am sorry excited to report that next week is Spring Break here in our part of Illinois, and unfortunately happily for us that means Family Vacation! This year’s debate on where to go was particularly fraught with disagreement lively, partly because support for a real “family vacation” was what my siblings and I received from my parents for Christmas this year.
In a letter recognizing how busy each of our families are, my parents gave each of us a gift that would contribute to a vacation just for our own immediate families, which was incredibly thoughtful. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my father is a lawyer, so there was one stipulation—we needed to provide some photographic evidence of having actually gone somewhere (though if we chose to go away without our kids, he preferred that the photographs be taken during daylight hours only).
When I first read this letter, standing in the kitchen during the holiday craziness, all I saw was the word “vacation,” and my immediate thought was, “I could go to Paris!” I had a lovely fantasy of myself wearing a striped boatneck top, flinging open a window overlooking the Champs-Elysees. Then I heard a crunching noise in the background—someone driving a toy truck over the crumb-covered tiles on the kitchen floor—and I realized, “Oh, right. The trip would include THEM.”
So instead of Martin taking the boys camping and me staying home all by myself, which has been our past idyllic Spring Break arrangement, we are traveling to Niagara Falls. And yes, we know it’s going to be cold (one of the parents at daycare actually asked Martin if the falls would be “frozen over”), we know it’s touristy, and that the American side is very seedy.
But Jacob really wants to go and we want to support his idea. The alternative was “camping our way” to the Grand Canyon, which is about 14,000 miles from here, and no matter how many conversations I had with my sister trying to convince myself that camping in March under any circumstances, let alone with all three boys along some sketchily planned out route, where the main breaks would be getting back into the car would be “a fun adventure,” I just knew that either our lives or our marriage, and very possibly both, would be at stake should that scenario come to pass.
So it’s Niagara Falls, which has the potential to be quite a lot of fun: we’re driving in two days, breaking up our trip around Lake Huron, which will be lovely; it will be completely great to see the Falls, especially at night, and also from that boat where you can go behind them; there will be no camping involved; and the whole thing will be over in seven days and we can come home, having successfully completed our mission of a “family vacation.”
I was about to write that “it’s not as though I don’t enjoy traveling with my family,” but as my fingers were moving, I realized that is exactly what it’s like. I don’t. I love them, I have fun with them (we have a particularly enjoyable family dance ritual going right now to the song “Down”), and I value them as human beings. But I don’t like to travel with them. I’m afraid that sentence is going to have to stand as is. And the truth is that this has always been the case for me, even on family vacations growing up.
There was the disastrous 1980 beach camping vacation in Duck, NC, for example, when it was 135 degrees and my parents got to sleep in an air conditioned pop-top camper while my siblings and I slept in a tent with 3 inches of sand and flypaper. And we all got to sit on the beach staring at the ocean which was off-limits because of a shark warning. You had to walk about a quarter of a mile to go to the bathroom, and the evening campground activity involved clogging, which I had never heard of before and never need to see again.
But the problem has never really been the destinations; the problem is me. I’m not proud of it. On that NC beach vacation, I spent a good deal of time in the pop-top blowing drying my hair. In August. At the beach. The reality is that it takes me a while to adjust to new places, I can be sort of a princess about comfort, and in general, if given the choice between being with other people and being alone, more often than not, I prefer to be alone.
So as Chris Rock would say, “Yeah, I SAID it.” It doesn’t make me look good, and part of me would like to be a different kind of mother, but it is what it is. And we’re going on a road trip to Niagara Falls next week AND I plan to enjoy it. One piece of good news is that unlike with tiny kids, when you have to pack mountains of cumbersome paraphernalia, with boys over the age of 6, they don’t pack anything except an electronic device. Toothbrush? Blank stare. Underwear? Totally optional. Weather-appropriate clothes? Not even on the radar. So getting ready shouldn’t be too stressful. I myself will be packing my three must-haves for any family trip: my special pillow, some calming pharmaceuticals, and a copy of Po Bronson’s “Why Do I Love These People?” Understanding, Surviving, and Creating Your Own Family.
And, I will have my laptop! I don’t plan to let a little thing like an 800-mile family road trip interfere with completing my Radical Lent project. So for anyone who might be interested, I’ll be here (or there, as the case may be), keeping you posted on how things are going from the road, sharing some poems (and very possibly requesting moral support or a manufactured emergency that will require me to return home–alone).
Today’s poem is “Lamentations” by Rita Dove, and despite the title, it’s more of a response to lamenting, not lamenting itself. It’s a poem that kicks you in the butt for closing yourself off to life (or for greeting whatever life offers you, like a trip to Niagara Falls with your family, with a negative attitude).
Throw open the shutters
to your darkened residences:
can you hear the pipes playing,
their hunger shaking the olive branches?
To hear them sighing and not answer
is to deny this world, descend rung
by rung into no loss and no desire.
Listen: empty yet full, silken
air and brute tongue,
they are saying:
To refuse to be born is one thing—
but once you are here,
you’d do well to stop crying
and suck the good milk in.
Rita Dove, Mother Love, 1995
I went last summer with friends from ME. I would suggest taking the tour bus from the souvenir store very near the bridge from NY to Canada. They bring you to the hot spots and you don’t have to get lost. Somewhat pricey but it allows you to spend more time at the attractions instead of getting lost in the slums.When you add up what the fees are for each place it may be worth it for you. Lap riders may even be free. I will look into the name of the tour company and let you know if you want.
Thanks Sean, that would be great! Do you think 12 and 14 year olds could count as “lap riders” too???
You know me, girl, I’m right there with you … everybody else can camp … where’s the posh lodge??? As usual, you awe me in your talent … I bow to your writer aura!
Did you ever take that Facebook “How long would you survive outdoors” quiz? My “score” was “You’re doomed.”
Thanks for reading!
I know I’m not alone in saying that I’m thrilled you’ll have your laptop.
You’ll have an interesting time, to be sure! And you won’t be inundated with summer crowds, which can get pretty intense.
(For the record, the Canadian side is also seedy.)
Any suggestions or advice about what to see/not see? All the tourist attractions seem sort of overwhelming.
This was funny! I am at work laughing aloud. You are very good writing on family; you are honest. My daughter in law is similar when it comes to what makes a good vacation and declined my invitation to back pack with me, her husband (my son) and her sister-in-law around Ireland. I love my daughter-in-law, Michele, we get along great even after living together but we could not “vacation” together. She was very supportive of my son going off with us (and we had a blessed time together) but Joshua said that Michele was more the Marriot sort of person. Quoting Jerri Seinfeld, “Not that there is anything wrong with that … !” I think you should go with your brother’s suggestions. Thank goodness for laptops.
I remember that trip to Duck NC!!! You all ended up at our house! I laughed at your mother’s stories for three days!
Your story today reminds me of me!
The vacation never seemed to live up to the expectations.
I am happy to report that years later, the good memories are winning and the bad memories are fading away…… In hindsight, am so happy that we had the time to spend together..
Have fun on your adventure. I am so excited that we are going to hear from you during your journey and adventure. I look forward to your candid observations along the way!
Take some pictures please. I have never seen Niagra Falls.
I loved your post today! I have an upcoming trip where I am flying with my two young boys (under 5) to meet my husband after a business trip and visit family. For some crazy reason I actually think I can fly with them myself. Add to that, if you have ever seen the movie, Marley and Me, my youngest is just like Marley. I keep asking my in-laws, “Are you really sure you want us in your house. I am not always sure I want us in our house!”.
You have a great gift in your writing – thanks for sharing and enjoy the Falls!!
Thank you Evelyn! I say the same thing whenever people invite all of us to stay. I’m like, “Are you SURE??” Thanks for reading and sharing!