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Vacation! 2016.07.07

By HEATHER WALKER

“Did someone spray ant killer in the house?” I yell to no one in particular, as I slam the front door and hustle out to the packed Tahoe (and U-Haul trailer) where my family waits to embark on our annual vacation Up North. 

When I hop into the passenger seat, my husband Craig answers quietly. “It’s in here, too. I think it’s cologne. Or maybe someone’s deodorant.”

“Oh,” I respond, surprised and a little embarrassed. Then I laugh out loud, thinking about how worried I was that our dogs might be asphyxiated by insecticide fumes while we’re away. In fact, the scent had actually been applied to someone’s skin—on purpose.

Welcome to life with teenagers.

Never is it more obvious to parents that the kids are growing up than when observed through the lens of a family vacation.

Since our kids have gotten older, our traditional Fourth of July trip has taken on a completely different identity. By this I mean the trip has gone from being a stressful, volatile, mentally (and sometimes physically) painful cacophony of chaos to something that is starting to resemble a vacation.

About an hour before departure, it hit me how much easier preparations had been this year. Three of the four kids PACKED THEIR OWN BAGS. Seriously. That cut my preparation time down by hours—and my stress level down immeasurably. Ironically, Craig benefitted the most by the kids’ new-found independence. 

The night before a family “vacation” has inevitably been the ugliest, most hostile nights of our marriage. Every year. Without fail. Traditionally, the stress of preparing for the annual tour of duty has so effectively turned me from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde that it’s become somewhat of a standing joke. Somewhat. A sick joke mixed with terror to be dreaded like “The Purge.”

But not this year! By 5 p.m. the night before, the bags were packed, the car was vacuumed, and the dog yard was scooped—all thanks to the kids (for a nominal fee, of course). Arriving home from work at 4 p.m., I was able to have a snack, take a short run, overpack my own suitcase and have a drink. Lovely! 

The next morning we were on the road by 7:48 a.m. (well within the range of our ideal departure time), and only one of four kids left the house with bed head (yet another victory!). 

Two hours into the nearly silent car ride (brought to you by tired, surly adolescents and hand-held devices), our first challenge was accepted and met by fulfilling the breakfast needs of half a dozen people at a Biggby’s coffee shop. The stop went amazingly well with only a short delay of indecision (What, exactly IS a “bragel” anyway?) and an awkward, overly-intimate interaction with a well-meaning local grandmother. When I escaped to the restroom, a ghost of another “vacation past” visited me, making me feel grateful for our teens once again.

I recalled a breakfast experience from a few years ago, set in a Corner Bakery in Chicago. Small, busy and cramped with corporate-types, the venue was probably not optimum for a family of six on a weekday morning. Sparing the details, I walked away from the counter scowling at everyone around me, hissing something along the lines of, “That’s right, take a good look at the circus side-show!” Apparently, Mr. Hyde can be provoked at times DURING the actual “vacation,” as well. 

But not this time! Back in the car I offered Craig a dab of my “Cheer Up, Buttercup!” citrus essential oil, despite his assurances that he did not need “cheering up.” He relented, still catching wafts of cologne from the back seat. A few minutes later to the car radio serenade of “Got You,” by the Flys, we were both equally captivated by the majestic landscape, lined with slowly turning wind turbines. After a moment, I mused, “It’s like they’re dancing, swaying to this song.” He agreed, quietly nodding.

Then it was his turn to burst out laughing, “What’s in that OIL?!” 

Oh, the oil smells fantastic, but I know better. That euphoric state was not the result of aromatherapy but sweet, sweet freedom. 

Sure there are moments when I look back at old photos and wax nostalgic about how cute the kids were when they were little, but really. Could they pack a suitcase? 

Give me a quiet car, kids who can vacuum and the smell of ant killer any day. Hello, VACATION!