Recently, we took our first REAL vacation since Lily was born. Huzzah! (Yes, once Joe and I found a viable option with daycare, we jumped at the chance and anxiously awaited the date. It’s really, really hard when you have a little one to find a vacation that gives you down time from parenting – something I never realized or thought about until I had a child myself.)
We went to Camp Michigania at Walloon Lake, about a four hour drive north from Farmington. (This is a family camp program offered by way of the University of Michigan Alumni Association.)
I spent the day before we left shopping for random things – a big cooler, a new laundry basket for packing, rain boots for me and Lily (to trudge through the mud when it rains), small rugs to place around the cabin, etc. After nearly two hours in Meijer, I got what my brother-in-law aptly calls “mall feeling” – wherein a physical numbness, as well as an intellectual cloudiness, takes root, and you must get outdoors lest you suffocate.
Plus, I had to review a play that night, so I couldn’t really pack until the next morning, when we were trying to get on the road as soon as we could. Now, you should know that packing for a trip is one of the things I hate most in the world. The only thing I may hate even more is packing in a hurry – which inevitably happens every time, since I procrastinate like mad.
So on the morning we needed to leave, I had my “morning-after-a-review” hangover. Joe took Lily out for pancakes while I packed for all of us, certain I was overpacking on some things while completely forgetting to pack others (see? a control-freak-worrier’s nightmare). It was nearly mid-day when we got on the road, and it wasn’t long before Lily fell asleep, so we delayed eating lunch until she awoke.
We stopped at a Big Boy in West Branch, hoping to find a hot dog for Lily (we didn’t), but she happily ate and made a mess with her mac and cheese.
Because Lily’s going through a big “mommy-should-do-everything-involving-me” phase, she pretty much throws a fit unless I sit in the back of the car with her. (When I’m in the driver’s seat, she screams unless I at least hold her hand, which is really tough when driving a stick, let me tell you.) So I had the onerous task of trying to entertain and distract her during the part of the trip when she was conscious.
She was fine, but got increasingly restless, saying she wanted to watch DVDs on my laptop, only to watch a minute of each one and then wave it away. I tried reading books, but she waved those away, too. And as we got off the interstate and wove our way across curvy off-roads, Lily suddenly, out of nowhere, got car sick.
Scared, she kept pointing at herself and saying “Messy!” while Joe pulled off onto a side road next to a golf course. We got her out of the seat, cleaned her up, and then I cleaned up the car seat with wipes while Joe walked around with her outside. Drat. Lily had had a bout or two with carsickness before, on rare occasions, and I’d fear that precisely what happened would happen. But we had about a half hour yet to go, and we couldn’t just stop. In theory, we were supposed to register by 5 p.m., and we weren’t going to make that, clearly, but we still needed to do our best to arrive as soon as we could. So we all faced the dreadful prospect of strapping Lily right back into the car and hitting the road again.
Understandably, she fought against this. I would have, too. But then I looked to the gift bag full of new little toys and activities I’d gathered at the store for Lily for the car trip. (The slinky and a small Dora backpack were two of the big hits.) Desperate to soothe and distract Lily, I pulled out something she hadn’t yet seen from the bag: a big sticker/activity book. She still cried and looked skeptical, but I kept flipping through the pages, showing her all the stickers of animals and trucks that there were.
Slowly but surely, the crying turned to whimpering, as she pointed out which sticker she wanted next, then found where the sticker went. I praised her, sounded overly excited about each one, and she came back to herself, forgetting for a time what had just happened. Phew. I’d thought when I bought the sticker book that it was overpriced, but it ended up being worth way more than I could have guessed.
Finally, after we turned onto the camp’s driveway, we drove past a ton of horses out in a field, which filled Lily with longing. (“I wanna see horsies!” she said, pointing. She’s been fascinated with horses for more than a year now.) We assured her we’d be seeing them a lot in the coming week.
We checked in, found our cabin, and I moved our stuff in while Joe played with Lily on the nearby playground. (The folks at this camp have thought of EVERYTHING, believe me.)
We went to dinner, which was amazingly good, but then came our next big test: bedtime for Lily in a strange room, in a strange bed. We knew she’d push back on this, but we had no idea how much. (Unfortunate, since we shared the duplex-like cabin with another family. Oh, that poor family.)
We got Lily in her pajamas and read books to her, but then, when we plunked her into the crib, she screamed with terror and tried to climb out – and this on for a long, long time. Impressive, since she had to be as exhausted as we were (which is to say, very). Every traveling day is tough, of course, and it seemed like this one was just never going to end.
We’d brought her favorite blanket, her pillow, and toys, but she was, as we say, “out of the building” with panic. So we tried to soothe her and comfort her for a while. Each attempt failed miserably. So we lost our patience and started trying to draw a hard line. Joe urged us to leave the room for minutes at a time, but the screaming seemed to only get worse.
Horrible. Everyone’s about to drop from fatigue, but there seems no way out.
But one of the key advantages to having two parents involved in a family is that if one needs to take a break and walk away from a situation for a moment – which happens now and then – the other can step in and take the heat for a bit. So I told Joe to take a moment and go outside. “And do what? I can’t see anything, I don’t know where I’m going. We just got here!”
With Lily’s screams still in my ear, I thought, well, nothing else is working. Do something new, just to change the trajectory, if nothing else. So I said, “OK, Lily and I are going to go for a walk, then.”
“And wake everyone up?” Joe asked. A legitimate question.
“She won’t wake everyone up. She’ll quiet down.” (That’s sheer hope talking.)
I pulled Lily up from the crib and left the cabin, and indeed, she muffled her cries. I walked her around the circular path of north camp, then toward the main road, near where all the cars were parked. I pointed the moon out to her, and she looked, sniffing and yawning. I walked her around one more time, and her breathing steadied to sleep mode. I tried to take her back into the cabin, but she stirred and protested, so I sat in a adirondack chair on the porch, wondering how this would finally end.
I listened to the family in the next room as they got ready for bed, and my face burned while thinking about how they’d heard our family at our absolute worst and most tired. I was relieved that Lily was finally sleeping peacefully on my shoulder, and I felt good about finding a way to make that happen – but what kind of people were we? Probably normal, I told myself. But it sure seemed hard to convince myself that night.
So when the mother next door (how much more cliche could this be?) briefly looked out the door before closing it for the night, I didn’t meet her gaze, but instead stared down at the porch, hoping I hadn’t made a horrible mistake in choosing this vacation.