One day in to our annual week-long vacation with friends, and already I have felt my shoulders start to migrate away from my ears, back down to where they sit when I am less hurried and more present. The first leg of this year’s trip consisted of a mini-vacation for the four of us—a fiveish hour car ride to an overnight stay in a cheap motel a little less than two hours away from our ultimate destination.
The pool was essential: it was what qualified this part of the trip as a “vacation.” (See also: a TV in front of the bed) And calling it a “cheap motel” is no exaggeration: Our room’s classification as non-smoking was generous, and there were more cigarette burns in the bed sheets than holes in a piece of swiss cheese. But the rate was right for our meager budget, so Febreze-veiled smoky burn-riddled room it was. The kids thought it was paradise.
Rosie, surprisingly, displayed a good bit of homesickness, telling us often that she didn’t want this new house, she wanted HER house, and we kept having to explain that we were only staying one night, and that we were on our way to our Super Fun Vacation with our friends … that she barely remembers. (We left out the part about not actually seeing her house for eight more days.)
This is the first time that the four of us have gone anywhere to stay overnight, like a normal vacationing family. Part of the reason for that is that we haven’t had any extra money to spend on a trip that didn’t involve seeing grandparents (we still don’t, but we could afford one extra night of an already-planned road trip at a 1-star hotel for a quick dip in the pool and a dinner at Cracker Barrel) and also just that trips with kids under 3 are nowhere near my definition of fun (THERE I SAID IT). We’re pushing it with Rosie on this trip. She doesn’t quite get it–the long hours in the car, the lack of anything familiar, the bathroom stops at grungy gas station bathrooms. Getting her to go to sleep—a challenge on any regular night—was near impossible in an unfamiliar, stinky room. Once she finally settled down, she rotated like a second hand of a clock for the entire night, relegating me to the hinterlands of the mattress at regular intervals through the wee hours.
But despite all the negatives of traveling with a toddler, there was a lot about this tiny microcosm of our larger trip that was really pretty great. Here we were, like every family in the great American novels of the past, checking in, swimming, sharing rickety beds, watching bad TV in the dark, eating free lukewarm eggs and Fruit Loops, and then packing up our stuff to hit the road once more. Nothing about our stay was exceptional or noteworthy. But it better defined for me the edges of our family unit that set us apart from the rest of the world. Together we were vagabonds on the road, providing a familiar sight for each other in a place of unfamiliar scenery.
After half an hour or so in the motel pool, I took a break from front flips and handstands and guessing words yelled underwater and dripped back to our room to grab my camera, hoping to get some shots of Noah’s newfound abilities in the water. When I got back I snapped a few pictures, but it didn’t take long after noticing me that Rosie called out from the shallow end. “Mama! Put down your camera and come here!” There was nothing to do but give in to the vacation spirit. I set it down a chair, kicked off my flip flops, and jumped back in the water.
This is gonna be a great week.