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.

Under the Eye of the Fox

My eight year old loves foxes. So on a trip at the start of summer, as we approached our Frontier Airlines gate, he was thrilled.

“My first time with a fox on the tail!”

But our gate had changed. We were flying on Mickey the Moose’s plane.

Later, as we suffered through a white-knuckle descent in windy skies over Washington, DC, he looked out the window. “It looks like the wings are going to brake off.” Pause. “Mom, if we crash, and I survive, you know what I’m going to say?”

“What?”

“I knew we should have flown the fox’s plane.”

Attack of the Vacation Beasts

It is a good thing that all went well in March 2013, while on safari in South Africa. I have bad luck with vacation animals, and that was the only recent trip where the beasts were not on the attack even when our jeep got stuck a few yards from an alpha lion and his fiercer looking ladies.

Phew.

On other trips, however, there were the all-night partying roosters who never learned to wait for sunrise.

The pack of chickens, led by Geraldine, who chased me through the barn, pecking at my calves because I had not brought them grapes.

The toad that made our dog vomit five times after going after “frog’s legs” for an appetizer.

The crazy swans who swarmed every time we went near the water, sending the kids into high-decibel shrieks and the Puritans in neighboring lake homes wishing we had never come.

And now, falling asleep each night, is it the swans or the frogs honking?

I miss our dog. She may roam the halls, nails clicking on hardwood floors like an alarm clock we do not need to set, but she sleeps through the night and doesn’t bite when she is hungry.