Are we there yet?

winding road photography
Photo by Johannes Plenio on

When I was a kid, we were broke. My dad departed from our family when I was 6 and money was always tight. Child support was more of a suggestion than a requirement. My mom really knew how to stretch a dollar. Mom had five hungry children to feed and didn’t have many resources to help with that. A family vacation was something other families did, not ours. Our summer vacation consisted of a trip to grandma’s house. As I have said before my mom had a mean streak, but she was a pussycat next to grandma. Grandma lived 20 miles away, and I can guarantee it was a far cry from Disneyland.

So you can imagine our surprise the summer I was 7 or 8 and Mom announced that we were going to take a vacation. This had never happened before. We didn’t have much notice. I have to say we didn’t get much notice about things happening in our lives as kids. That might explain why I hate surprises as an adult. We found out and were gone a few days after. I imagine we pestered her constantly those few days beforehand about every detail of this grand adventure. All I knew was mom promised that it was going to be fun. I have to confess I don’t remember a lot of the details of that trip. I can’t remember how long we were gone or what exactly what we did. What I do remember is that we went in our Ford Falcon and the car was full. It had bucket seats, and since I was the youngest kid, I sat between the front seats on the hump. Seat belts were not a thing back then. You just learned to hold on tight around corners. My mom scraped and scrimped during that vacation so we could do some touristy stuff. We swam in the natural hot springs in Durango and rode the million-dollar railroad train near Silverton. We ate lots of candy and drank soda in the car. It was a blast. It felt like we were like every other family. My mom was relaxed, and it was one of the few times I felt like she liked being with us. It’s one of the best memories I have of my childhood.

Picture this. We were on the way home, and it was one of the last days of the trip. Maybe it was all the candy we had consumed. Maybe to was the weird roadside food. Perhaps it was just a result of too much sun for my red-headed complexion. Or maybe it just my anxiety. Whatever it was, I didn’t feel well. Mom’s cure-all for nausea was 7-up. You know that experiment where you add Mentos candies into a coke bottle? How it fizzes up and just blows up? That is what I felt like when I drank that 7-up. I was a kid who threw up a lot, so when I said I was not feeling good, mom knew to go into action.

My brother Robert was sitting next to me, and he didn’t move out of the way. Either he was being a jerk (a high probability) or didn’t move fast enough to get out of the way when I got the first gag. In my panic, I grabbed the first thing I could find to contain my eruption, his brand new vacation bucket hat. I’m pretty sure he got it on the trip. Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and my brother was pissed. My mom gets to the side of the road, and we have to vacate the car while I heave on the side of the road. I’m relegated to the backseat and instructed to lean my head out of the window if the need arises. Let me say. I don’t think the paint job was ever quite the same once we got home. My mom was kind to me that day. She didn’t yell or scold. She held her tongue. Maybe for another mom, this would have been something expected, but for me this was compassion. Often times I remember my mom being angry with us. But I think she was furious at life, and we got the brunt of it. She was doing the best she could do in the circumstances she had. You can’t give what you don’t have.

I get to choose how I frame my life. I am tired of being angry and resentful. I want to see things in a different light. She tried hard to be a good mom that trip, and I am grateful for that. She wasn’t always capable of doing that. My childhood memories are a mixed bag. They are all not all 100% good nor are they 100% bad. Nothing is black and white. As I type this story, I am thinking about the family vacations that I have arranged. The times my children had mixed candy and soda and recently at Lake Powell when it was soda and tequila, all with the same breathtaking results I had all those years ago. I am so grateful for those memories. Not the eruptions but for the memories I have. I hope that one day my children can extend me the same grace I am trying to extend to my mother. I was far from the perfect parent. I am working to be better all of the time. It’s a job that doesn’t end once they are out of the house and more than worth every bit of the effort. Last night my stepson Colin asked about going on a family vacation with us next summer.

It was a delightful surprise. Perhaps grace rubs off.

But the Mentos and soda are staying home.

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