Their Personal Travel Profiles

We are working with a travel agent to plan next summer’s trip to Italy, and she requested that everyone in the family fill out a questionnaire. It includes things like favorite travel memories, things you like to do, your style, most important hotel amenity, and more.

“Mom, what’s an ‘amenity’?”

“Mom, what’s an ‘indulgence’?”

“Ohhhh…. Chocolate!” They simultaneously scribbled away.

My fourteen-year-old got to: “Check One: Flip-Flops and Beer? Or Sport Coat and Wine?”

“I’m definitely a sport-coat-and-wine guy.” Check. Meanwhile, his heels hung over the back edge of blue, too-small-by-the-end-of-summer flip-flops. And he was wearing a Green Bay Packers t-shirt for the second or third time this week. “Yeah, totally see myself in a sport coat with a glass of wine like this…”

He posed. Very sophisticated.

“I’m not answering that one,” said his thirteen-year-old brother. “I’m a non-alcoholic kind of guy.”

Then he got to “Is there anything else we should know in planning your trip to Italy?”

“I don’t like Italian food.” He grinned, “That’ll really throw her for a loop!”

 

 

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Bigfoot, Click Bait, and the Eclipse

We went on a pilgrimage from Denver to Alliance, Nebraska to watch the eclipse from the Totality Zone. I was dubious that waking up at 3am and a nearly ten-hour round trip drive through dry, brown, flat land would be worth it.

But you can’t turn down an adventure with three boys, their grandparents, and a husband willing to do all the driving. Something spectacular is bound to happen.

Like plenty of pilgrims before us, our seven did not quite make it to the “holy land”, distracted by a dirt road along train tracks that were surrounded by fields of sunflowers. Soon other weary travelers joined us. A friendly group of families and retirees and young couples from as far away as Texas – all with picnics, beach chairs, cameras and eclipse glasses.

We walked and read and chatted in the sunshine. New neighbors described having turned back from the crowded streets, lack of parking, and overflowing restaurants of Alliance, which had at least doubled its population for the event.

A field of sunflowers in the center of the Totality Zone had won our hearts.

“It started!” came the shout by a group of retirees sipping white wine.

And our kids, entertaining themselves through the slow progression, made up ideas for Youtube videos that they call “click bait” – titles, often proclaiming something ridiculously untrue, created merely to earn millions of viewers.

Who knew?

Alien abduction reported in Alliance. Seven people missing post-eclipse.

“Let’s shave your head and eyebrows and cover your face in green paint,” said the thirteen-year-old to his younger brother. “Aliens don’t have eyebrows. And we’ll figure out how to make your eyes bulge. I’ll make a video of the eclipse, and then we’ll layer you in pretending to eat the sun.”

Bigfoot Seen at Eclipse.

In another plan, as the temperature dropped and a strange-but-beautiful dimming of lights changed the colors of the fields around us, he suggested that his older brother “walk like Bigfoot up on the train tracks, and I’ll video the eclipse in the background.”

Then… totality. Cheers erupted down the line of pilgrims. Sudden darkness with a pink band at the horizon any way you turned. The moon and sun as one.

Amazing.

Bouncy World

On beach vacations since I was eight, our toes typically remained in the sand, except for an afternoon of mini golf or a few trips for penny candy. So, a beach vacation where the beach itself is not spectacular, means readjusting expectations.

Well, my expectations. The kids are not as tied down.

So, when the largest bouncy water slide we’d ever seen loomed into view high above us on Day One, I privately groaned. And when the one slide turned into an entire park of bouncy castle fun, I knew, reluctantly, I was doomed to miss at least a day of beach time.

One side of the park houses water slides of all sizes. No shoes. No socks. Probably not quite sanitary. The other side is home to dry bouncy adventures. Socks, please. For a dollar, we bought a pair of black socks for the nine-year-old in flip-flops. New or from the Lost and Found? I’d rather not know.

In-between the two lands – wet and dry – are two snack bars, picnic tables, beach chairs, and even cabanas for $50 a day extra. Families bring their coolers and stay the day or check into the adjacent motel for stay-and-play special weekends.

And the place, unimagined by me prior to this week, was packed.

I let my guys loose, found a chair in the sun, and opened a good book. They played for more than three hours, and would have stayed much longer. No fights. No whining. No injuries. No “can we go home now?”

One stopped by for a rest every so often. Another sat for a snack, then rushed off again, dragging his older brother with him. I only caught glimpses of the youngest racing between slides, or heard his voice yelling as he plummeted downward or calling out a challenge to whatever child waited in line behind him.

“The best part of vacation!” “We have to come back!”

As we fly home, I already miss the sun and the sand, and the possibility of every day being a good beach day. But I have to admit, Bouncy World – in all its plasticky, dirty, strange distortion of my vacation expectations – was the highlight for the boys, ready to go back in a second.

Twelve Days in the Wilderness

My eighth grade Environmental Science trip included a week of canoeing and camping, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The night it rained so hard our tent collapsed. M&M soap operas with rationed candy. Being first in line in the cave. Learning to steer.

I am one of the few who loved middle school, and that week was the best of it. So, I was excited when my son wanted to go on his school’s version of that trip. Still, sending him off into the wilderness was a little unnerving. He’s the one who admits to being afraid of the dark. The one who hates to exercise. The one who wants pasta every night for dinner.

So, during their two-day drive to the boundary waters in Canada, I expected some hint from him how he was doing. It turns out, no one on the trip called home before leaving their cell phones with the outfitter.

And his texts went like this:

“At Wall Drug.”

“I found your letter.” (I left a little card in his backpack telling him how proud of him I am and how excited that he gets to go on this adventure.)

“Mini golf course.”

“The fleas on the prairie dogs in the Badlands had the bubonic plague.”

“Yes.” “You too.” “Too late. Goodnight.”

Then… “Good night. Not bringing my phone canoeing, so this might be my last text message. I love you!”

And as the days of his adventure go by, I realize that I never called my parents. We didn’t have cell phones. And like me learning to navigate the river, they were fine.

Racing Car Red

At midnight, the boys and I got our bags from a slow baggage claim while my husband went to get the car. When he texted that he was on his way, we went outside, and within seconds our thirteen year old shouted, “Here he comes!”

Faster than expected.

I looked into the darkness outside the garage but didn’t see him. “Are you sure?”

“It’s the only minivan in Colorado that goes 90 miles an hour.”

Family humming of Raiders of the Lost Ark commenced, as if we all knew what was called for.

Why We Need Our Dog

We were standing at the edge of the water, the sun splashing itself against the curling waves so that the water itself sparkled. My thirteen year old son, whose freckles reappeared after a few days on the beach and whose blue eyes match the turquoise sea, leaned into me. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Me neither,” I answered with my arm around him.

“It was an awesome week.”

And we took a few last moments watching the sea together.

Two hours later, having packed up and showered, our nine year old and I sat on the Harbour island dock with our bags while my husband went back to get the older boys and lock up the golf cart. Our son wore a Kansas City Chiefs baseball hat and a fluorescent green t-shirt from last summer’s swim team. His red fox neck pillow was wrapped around his neck.

“You guys are so much fun to travel with,” I told him and couldn’t help but kiss him on the nose.

He smiled, “You and Dad are fun to travel with too.”

And when we were all together, having made our connecting flight, but nostalgic for the day we arrived eight days ago, our fourteen year old reminded us that home is not so bad, because…

“I can’t wait to see the puppy.”

The puppy who is no longer a puppy. “Poor puppy,” the boys added and were suddenly ready for vacation’s end.

 

Heard on a Plane

On a recent flight from Denver to DC, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker, while we were still at the gate an hour after our original departure time.

“So the reason you see us all standing around doing nothing is that they are just now loading your bags on the plane. And my guess is that you all need some clothes wherever you are going. So we have to wait.”

Did he just say that?

“And I am just as sorry as you are that I am yet again apologizing for the airline.”

For real. He said that.