There is no reason a grown man should wake up at 2 am infectiously giddy. He has no right to be singing about going to “Wally World” and moving swiftly, floating even, turning on lights, rousing children. He shouldn’t have the ability to make a house pulse with life when just a week earlier it had been flatlining with the comings and goings of the everyday. And when that man then has to take his once sleep-weary children, put them in the car, and proceed to drive 1500 miles, there are even fewer reasons said man should be anything less than entirely spent and growling. He should have every right to be impatient, urging fumbling children to find shoes, find their way in the darkness, and find their seats in the car. But that man, then, wouldn’t be the man who was my father.
I come from a typical family of avoiders. We avoid decisions. An average conversation we’d have while I was growing up would go something like this: “What do you want for dinner?” “I don’t know; what do you want?” “I don’t care; whatever you feel like having.” “Do you feel like having (insert random food here)? If not, we could find something else.” “Sure. If that’s what you want. I could eat it. Is it ok with you?” And it would go on. And on. And hours later we’d settle on something (usually all of us gathering our own bits and pieces of food because we were too hungry to wait for a final decision be made). Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I’m not. (Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t worry. I totally am. (Wink wink.))
But on vacation? My dad was a stealthy ninja decision maker. If we thought we might want to do it, he made sure we did. Think you want to go to the largest bookstore in Georgia? Well fine then. We’ll just hang a left here, tires screeching, circle back, and pull into that giant parking lot so we can browse aisle upon aisle. You know there’s a botanical garden up the road. Want to go see it? Good because we’re already on our way. Instead of staring at each other, fearful of stepping on one another’s toes by voicing our own opinions or desires, we’d catch on to his whims and ride them with the same enthusiasm of a dog with it’s head out the window coasting down an open road.
My dad was excitement. He enjoyed himself. He enjoyed us. That’s not to say he wasn’t this type of man all the time, but the memories I have of him where I can still smell him and hear him clearly are of this version of him, this vacation dad. It wasn’t just how he acted outside of his own elements of home that created this man. He was there, present in balmy summer afternoons that seemed somewhat mundane as well–at least mundane until he’d pull into the drive way, tell us to pack for (insert random place here), and then get the car ready for a 2 am departure. The dad that still surrounds me is the dad I remember from middle of the night talks as we drove across states to check out colleges. He’s the dad that would point out every South of the Border sign. Every. Single. Time. He’d also pop up when he’d visit me at college, at my new apartment, in my new house. Some days now when I travel I can hear him telling me to step out of line and go down a different road than planned because I want to. Or to let myself go into a store because it seems interesting. Or to keep the little people up a wee bit later so they can see the night time crowds. To get dirty from a game of mud tag in the jungle.
So, when Mother’s Day rolled around this year, after my beautiful breakfast in bed was served, I thought about what kind of a day it was I wanted to have. Mother’s Day can be tricky for me because in 2011, two days after my father’s sudden fatal heart attack and two days before I went into labor with my first beautiful little person, there was Mother’s Day. And now it is caught in memories of bittersweet. But this year, exhausted from rituals of daily life with little people, I thought that perhaps I’d just use the day to catch up. Catch up on laundry. Catch up on shifting things in our house so our house was more a home. Catch up on sweeping porches and raking leaves. But then I heard his voice tell me to get out and go down a different road. Because, honestly, I wanted to. To gather up my littles and be vacation mom. The problem was, we weren’t on vacation. And with school and my husband’s business trip the next day, we couldn’t simply pack up and go.
But, here is the important thing, we could still go somewhere new. I had just stopped by the town hall to enroll my biggest little in summer camp, and when there I spotted a handy little guide to all the public parks and spaces in Westchester County (the county directly north of NYC). I grabbed it thinking it’d be a good way to hunt down some new playgrounds this summer, but that Mother’s Day, I used it to hunt out new spots to investigate. I was ready. I wanted to be vacation mom. I wanted my children to have memories of me exploring with them, learning with them, being present with them.
Needless to say, our hike was a bit ill planned. Because, you know, it wasn’t. Like, at all. We got to the park (we chose the county’s biggest hoping we could get lost a bit) at about 11:20, just grazing the edge of lunch time and nap time. I had no snacks. I had no diapers. I had a baby carrier, a few bottles of water, three giddy little people, and a kind husband. What we thought would be an hour, turned into three. There was a siren in the distance which rattled some little people nerves (the middle one keeps thinking he’s going to be arrested). The sun stayed out even though it was supposed to rain all day. We found a random swing set. We found a hut. We found wildflowers. We found the time to be together, to run ahead and fall behind. We discovered our little one is mesmerized by rushing water, our biggest one is a leader, and our middle one has a kindness in him deeper than we suspected.
We returned to our car dirty, tick-covered, hungry, and desperate to keep the little people awake until we could get them into their beds at home (totally didn’t work). But we were also happy. Not scream out loud happy, but contentedly happy. Heart-full happy. That day, to those little people, I was vacation mom. I was making with my children the memories my father made with me. And I hope too that as my children grow up and start to live life apart from me (I can’t explain how much it pained me just to write that statement), that they will keep with them memories of me as vivid as those I have of my father when he and I traveled. Even though that Mother’s Day we didn’t drive for hours or fly across the world, we were somewhere different. To my children, we traveled. We were together exploring a new world and making sense of things together. Listening to each other and really hearing. There was nothing but us and the place we were. And, really, that’s one of the reasons why we do it, I believe. Those memories, those moments of just us with no outside noise are why we say all the trouble, the hassle, that comes from traveling with little people (because there will absolutely be hassle) is worth it. Totally.
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