It’s an oxymoron to think that vacations are relaxing. I posed the question to my husband at 11:56 PM as we drove through our state border; heading home. Has there ever been such a thing as a perfect vacation?
The hubs is slow to respond; the deep breathing and soft snores heard from our back seat. Outside our car windows it is pitch black; the reflective signs occasionally in our headlights’ view. There are few cars on this portion of the highway and I wondered if he had heard my question. I considered posing it again when he finally responded. San Francisco.
I reflect on this as the miles blur by.
The moon waxed full on the beginning of our trek and the boys and I, lulled by the lights of Sin City, had decided we could make the short trek up and down the Strip. But the boulevard is deceptively long and that first night we were exhausted. Objects appear closer than they really are. We already had round one of my infamous navigation skills and even with our GPS and Google maps app somehow we still could not reach our very obvious destination. How can you miss the Vegas strip, I mean really? Between two differing digital voices speaking almost simultaneously the hubs still did not agree with our route. It is at times like these that I am grateful I have never had to be his co-pilot. The poor crew who flew military missions with him for sixteen years probably got an earful. Or maybe, it’s just me.
I hadn’t realized I said this aloud but a disembodied voice from the back answers me. Mom. It’s you. I normally would bristle at this but the middle son is a great navigator. Out of the mouths of babes.
I planned an ambitious spring break vacation at the very last minute. Originally our destination had been to the City by the Bay. Instead I chose to travel over 1,200 miles by car with three sons, the hubs and my grumpy self. I had not realized it was a full moon until we walked the strip; our first overnight stop. Neither the hubs nor I are gamblers and we had not returned to this city since his best friend married his wife over sixteen years ago. Bedazzled by the ever twinkling lights; we shared with our boys that this was the adult Disneyland. As we traipsed through the casino to our room, their eyes were mesmerized by the machines; the real versions of games that produced cash if you were lucky. To my surprise our sons want to return here; the land of the JabbaWockeeZ.
We ventured away from all cell reception within the mountain ranges; left to our very basic map. Amidst the cliffs of red rock I could finally sigh in relief. But I remained grumpy and tired; hiking the rear as we traversed steep drops and rocky terrain. It took me two days to realize we had changed time zones and that my tiredness was due to the high elevation. And, of course, my unexpected visitor chose to arrive a week early whilst on a two mile hike and I was ill prepared. The boys continued to torment one another and when we hopped off the shuttle for our fourth hike of the day the boys groaned. Whose idea of a vacation was this anyway? I found myself thinking the same thing.
Day four found us on the road crossing state lines once again. We gave up figuring out what time zone we were in; our cell reception still sketchy. Our back seat to our SUV is now too small as long gangly legs fought for space. For hours the car chargers were in constant use until we discovered at our last gas stop; a car charger with two USB ports. Again the hubs chose to ignore my directions (which on this entire trip were correct, mind you). Our differences in personalities revealed themselves in the close quarters of our vehicle. I like to travel during the day and study maps. My spouse, on the other hand, prefers detailed guided directions way in advance and traveling at night. At the roundabout signaling a highway change he announced their was no signage. Once again we backtracked to our route and I loudly and clearly stated I told you so.
By the time we arrived at our viewpoint we all were ready for fresh air. True to form, my off-road hubs chose to trailblaze off the beaten path. I longingly gazed from the Watchtower filled with tourists; many of them foreign. Immersed amongst so many diverse cultures I happily took in the view until I noted my sons and husband were hiking down and away from the safe railing.
Whenever our family hikes I always take the rear. When my sons were young I needed to keep them in tow like a mother duck; the hubs taking the lead. Four of the members of my family were making the descent towards an unmarked plateau and my sense of adventure vanished. Amidst the south rim of the 7,000 foot Grand Canyon I stood frozen. I have a fear of heights and my husband and children were happily descending into the steep canyon on an unmarked trail on the edge of a cliff. My fear for my children’s safety overrode my fear of heights and I unwillingly hiked after them constantly repeating the mantra in my mind. Don’t look down. Don’t look down. I breathed deeply; my heart in my throat. Why can’t we be like the tourists and stay where it is safe!
My sons chose to throw rocks over the cliff, waiting to see if they could hear them land. They could not. When the hubs asked where my sense of adventure was I remained quiet. I sat away from the edge as he monitored our boys; taunting me as if they were falling. Eventually my heart returned to normal and the hubs revealed the trail. It was well marked but it was unpaved and there are no safety rails. But others have come down this path; the tell-tale signs of footprints. He proceeded to tell me that this will be the best view we’ll have of the canyon, you’ll see. I was dubious but I sat; itching to reach our hotel. He sighed.
What is your rush? Why can’t you just sit and enjoy the view?
Of course we lost our way to our final stop; hungry and tired in the midst of Grand Canyon village. I was stressed and my boys, masters of the obvious, tried to ease my mind.
Look Mom! That family is fighting too. It’s not just us.
They had begun to notice this on our first day in Las Vegas as a mother yelled at her husband in Spanish while their kids followed while walking the strip. In Zion National Park a German family with similar aged kids, argued and pointed at maps; lost between shuttle stops. I did not relish traveling at night and had already wanted to be at our destination reading my Kindle. At 8PM the general store was closed and I was still in need of feminine items for my unexpected visitor. Thankfully, a kind woman re-opened her register just for my transaction. Without cell reception to call the hotel that we would be a late arrival I fretted. Minutes later we arrived.
Day five we hiked various trails along the rim with scenic viewpoints. Leaving the crowds behind we happily hiked until we realized we had forgotten our tripod. Across the trail we heard a mother yelling. When I say we are going to take this picture I don’t want to hear anything else. This is the one and only time we will ever see this place so you better act like you like it. The boys turned to me and grinned and the hubs chuckled. Yep. I know the feeling. We stuck our camera in the tree, set the self-timer and took our own picture.
I, the woman with the itinerary, still have a long way to go to be able to just go with the flow and enjoy the present moment. But I seized my moment as I quietly sat at the end of the unpaved trail at 7,000 feet. My husband saw my frustration and sat beside me. The eldest stopped taunting his brothers and came to lean on my other side; quietly staring into the canyon depths. I realized how rare this moment was and the tears came to my eyes as my other sons threw rocks below. My time is short with these boys and Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right.
Life is a journey, not a destination.
I smiled to myself in the darkened car as I replayed our vacation. San Francisco had been a spontaneous, unplanned vacation with no expectations. I had no agenda or itinerary; unlike this past spring break where I had places to go and sights to see. I had highlighted guide books and trails and we actually did see most of them; just not on the timeline I would have anticipated. On the evening of day four I had highlighted this quote from the book I had been reading, Moon Daughter by Zohreh Ghahremani.
“Life is nothing but a chain of mistakes. Some we learn from, but most others are only horrible misjudgments on their way to becoming regrets.”
I was grateful that my actions didn’t become regrets. It was natural to lament the negative: the navigation arguments, the disgruntled kids wanting Wi-Fi, the full moon and unexpected monthly visitor. We survived 1,200 miles together, enjoyed the natural beauty of two amazing national parks and discovered that the family vacation is the same across all cultural backgrounds. It’s real life.
The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
They are right in front of me but I keep projecting out into the distance; thinking of the future. I need to travel in the present time and enjoy them with no regrets. No smoke and mirrors. Here and now.