Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Vacation Story

In case you missed my June column for Chicago Parent magazine, I thought Father's Day might be a fitting day to re-post.  Best wishes and much love to the man who paved the way for functional insanity in my life and laughing in the face of disaster.  Happy Father's Day, dad!
My husband and I are both products of the 1970s single-income parenting philosophy where luxury was defined as any new item not handed down from an older sibling.

And this would include underwear.

Raising four kids on a tight budget produced countless stories of ingenuity and insanity that still make me laugh.  Yet my favorite tales always involve the family vacation.  There were no planes.  Hotels were for sissies.  And GPS? That would be my dad, his old Rand McNally map, and a carefully researched route highlighted in permanent yellow marker.         

My father viewed these trips as a personal mission from God to break the land speed record for Chicago to Florida.  The man would drive eighteen hours straight, stopping only for gas.  As kids, we knew all too well that there would be no second chances for “having to go.” An ice cooler of homemade sandwiches sat at my mom’s feet and a clipboard for recording gas prices and average miles-per-hour was tucked under the driver’s seat. 

For entertainment, we wrestled to be nearest the front of the van for bragging rights, “I’m the first one in Tennessee!”  We counted state license plates, read books, and listened to Neil Diamond on the radio.  Best of all?  We talked.

These trips made my childhood.     

When it came time to vacation with our own kids, my husband and I shared one brain.  Of course we would road trip.

With only hours to go before our inaugural trek, Joe wandered into the kitchen as I dumped ice into a cooler.

“What are you doing?” he questioned, confused.

“Making sandwiches!  Packing drinks!  I figure we can make it there in 18 hours!”

“What are you talking about?” Joe asked, producing his detailed list of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

“We’re eating at RESTAURANTS?” I demanded, appalled by his lack of shared vision and disregard for basic frugality.

“Yes.  And we’re not driving straight through.  I booked a hotel in Georgia.  It’s not 1979.  If I want world-famous barbeque, then by God, we’re getting world-famous barbeque.  Maybe Guy Fieri will be there.”

As I tried to wrap my brain around a vacation without salami, my husband removed the boys’ violins from our minivan. After that? He green-lighted the kids bringing their DS games.  My dreams of being serenaded by strings and discussing world history were dashed.

“Look,” Joe comforted, “I know you have this idea about how you want things, but our parents did stuff a certain way because they had no other choice.  We have options.  Let’s just enjoy that fact, ok?”

“But,” I kept on stubbornly, “I LOVED driving through the night - it made me feel like a Von Trapp family singer fleeing the Nazis.  I loved talking and dreaming of what was to come.”

“What was to come,” Joe responded, “was a life where we can stay overnight at a hotel occasionally and eat world famous barbeque in an actual restaurant.”

My husband made solid points.  Yet I always believed having less material stuff made for happier adults. I value friendships, family, and a funny story more than anything, and I wanted the same for my children.  But somehow, I had forgotten to include Joe’s priorities in how we were raising our kids.

I had forgotten to include good barbeque and a decent night’s sleep. 

Our vacations since then have been a compromise of ideals.  Limited video games. Routes planned around dining options.  No trombones in the minivan. 

But there is still the talking and laughing. 

And I suppose that is what matters most.


  1. It's always a shock when you find out that you and a close friend, spouse, significant other have different ideas about Big Things. The fact that you negotiated a compromise that gives you both what you want... yay!

    1. Thank you, Robin! We honestly seldom disagree. Mostly because Joe's afraid of me. ;)

  2. Plus, now you have to get out and stretch your legs...aka get those step numbers up there!!

  3. How did I miss this one?? You are me; I am you. Your 70s road trips are EXACTLY the way mine were...right down to the sandwiches and gas prices. We drove to Georgia every year (straight through) and the highlight was hitting Tennessee and counting the "See Ruby Falls!!" signs. "See Rock City" signs were plentiful as well, but nothing like Ruby. We took our kids to our same GA vacation spot years later. The signs had been greatly reduced, but we still had our cooler of sandwiches and pillow cases full of clothes. And gas. Lots of gas.


    1. It's all about the gas, isn't it? I think my dad would still agree!