Welcome back to all who have traveled to the four corners of the globe for summer vacation. I mean, of course, the four corners of the globe, Bethesda edition: the Outer Banks, Cape Cod, Maine and Rehoboth Beach.
When you travel, as a family, to a destination that is not where you live, in our culture we call that a “vacation.” But as everyone who has young children knows, this is a lie. When you travel with children, it is really called a “trip.” A “vacation” is what happens after your trip, when your children go back to school, and you and your spouse stretch out on the sofa, put your feet up on the beanbag chairs, turn on a romantic Netflix rental, and promptly fall asleep.
No one expects a vacation to be just like home; on vacation, you want to have a unique experience. Otherwise, we might as well stay home, right? That is the logic that once rented us a room in a Mexican truck-stop motel with a broken window and cigarette burns in the bed, because we wanted to see whales. The sheets smelled like fresh cigarette smoke. And there were bits of glass on the floor because the window had been broken recently from the outside. They called this room “deluxe” because it was on the second floor. This means that at least they removed the body before they gave us the key. I believe I stared out the broken window, wide-eyed, all night, hoping we’d make it through and actually get to see whales. (Note: We did.)
Nowadays, when we take trips with our children, I find myself less willing to put up with extreme discomfort for the sake of a unique experience. A vacation where no one fights about who has the most rubber bands or whose turn it is with the Nintendo DS charger would be a sufficiently unique experience for me. However, there are certain hardships that do come with the territory.
For instance, at this rental, there was no salad spinner. All week long, I washed lettuce piece by piece. But it’s a vacation (“trip”), and therefore I’m willing to spend a week washing lettuce piece by piece in order to experience the pageantry of The Interminably Long Car Trip and the beauty of The Child Standing Far Too Close to the Edge of a Cliff.
As you may have already guessed, this was a theme trip during which we scouted locations for a reality series called “Dangerous Places Kids Love.” For instance, in Episode 1, our son decided to apply the skills he learned at a week of rock climbing camp to crawl up a sheer rock face—without a rope—while I shouted into the wind. He made it, or I wouldn’t be writing this.
In Episode 2, subtitled “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams if He’d Brought the Kids,” I lost one of my kids on the side of a mountain.
On that particular day, after a steep, rocky climb, we reached the summit of an admittedly small but scenic mountain and took self-satisfied photos of each other. This was a hike the guidebook had rated “easy to moderate.” I will never trust that book again. This hike is only easy if you are a mountain goat. It is only moderate if your knees are under age 25. Which is why Youngest Son of Blogger (YSB) reached the summit whole minutes before the rest of us. Of course, it felt to him like at least an hour. YSB insists that when I caught up with him, he stared me right in the face and said in a voice that could serve as an air raid alert, “I’m going to take the service trail down.”
He clearly did not follow the long-established rule: When you say something to a grown-up, stand in front of her and wait for a response, to make absolutely sure the grown-up has heard you and agrees with your proposed course of action. Because grown-ups are hard of hearing, given to deep contemplation about the most seemingly insignificant questions, and checking their Blackberries while you’re talking to them. Yes, even on Mt. Kilimanjaro, upon reaching the summit, climber Hans Meyer checked his Blackberry. I have this on good authority. I’m sure he just wanted to marvel at the great reception—and post a summit tweet.
None of us heard the boy say he was going down the mountain, much less that he was taking the service trail, which was not the way we came up or, importantly, anywhere near where our car was parked.
If there is a child for whom the whistle was invented, it is this child. In fact, we purchased a whistle for him to carry on hikes. It is a good, loud whistle, which you would not want to give to a child in any other situation, a point driven home to us the day we gave it to him… and quickly took it away again. Which I’m sure is why we left it at home “by mistake.”
When we set out to look for him, we found two trails down the other side of the mountain. One had a sign that said “Service Trail: Easy.” The other one had a sign that said “Steep!” We split up. I took the “Easy” trail with our other child, while my husband took the “Steep!” trail. I realize now that this hardly made sense because the boy would’ve read the signs and taken the trail that said “Easy.” But at the time, we were covering our bases. (And of course, we did not hear him say “service trail.”) His brother and I shouted his name at short intervals. In between, I muttered to myself the chant that’s been muttered by every mother since the dawn of time when her child goes missing in the woods (or the mall, or the museum, or the zoo … or the woolly mammoth hunt): “That’s it. When I find you, if you’re okay, I’m going to kill you.”
I did find him, of course, just before we called in the helicopters. He was running back up the hill toward me and his brother, having arrived at the end of the trail long ago. He had grown tired of waiting and decided to “come back and get us.” Of course he claimed that he wasn’t lost at all; he knew exactly where he was all along. His brother, on encountering his lost sibling’s flippant attitude, responded with “you stupid idiot,” or something along those lines. I’m sure this was because the boy had disappeared down the mountain before the two of them had a chance at their regular cleansing afternoon fight, and now was as good a time as any. As they say in the movies, in the woods, everyone can hear you scream.
In addition to returning home with the same number of people you left with, the best thing about taking a trip might be the little unexpected discoveries you make: For instance, the day before we came home, my husband discovered the salad spinner inside a kitchen cabinet.