Last week, Philip and I packed our car with two portable cribs, two suitcases, a week’s worth of baby food, a year’s worth of toddler snacks, a pack of diapers, and a motley assortment of board books, coloring books, trucks, stuffed animals and blankies. And a huge pile of old towels for our often-carsick toddler.
Then we drove from South Dakota to Ohio. It took 14 hours of actual driving time, and three days of travel. I wish I had kept a log, because I am pretty sure we hit every single rest area and public bathroom along the way. And more McDonald’s than I’d like to admit to.
But it was totally worth it for a family reunion to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday at Cedar Point Amusement Park. I’m originally from Ohio, and we went to Cedar Point every year. And I mean every year. Even after we moved to Rhode Island, we came back to go to the park. I even worked there for a summer in college (a job I generally hated). The park boasts a ton of roller coasters, a rockin’ kiddie land and a beautiful location on Lake Erie. It’s also really, really clean as far as huge public places go. And the cabins you can stay at are awesome.
We shared one with my sister Kim, her husband and their two boys. It was a tight squeeze, but that’s OK. We’re all pretty easygoing, so it worked out. The biggest worry was if my kids woke up and woke her kids up — she wasn’t worried, but I was. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s vacation, someone who is used to sleeping through the night, because of my nutty kiddos. Jack did wake up one night, and I brought him to bed with me, where he proceeded to talk to himself for about a half hour. Did I mention I was sleeping right next to my sister and her husband?
Jack: I’m laughing. <giggles> I’m giggling.
Me: Shh. It’s time to sleep.
Jack: I like candy. It’s delicious.
And on and on. And on. He is such a turkey. But overall, he was really fantastic. I was so, so proud of his behavior. He was outgoing, social, cheerful and hilarious. He ran after his cousins, hugged and kissed his aunts and uncles, helped his Uncle John carry things in from the car, danced, played and helped clear his dishes from the table. My good boy. I don’t know what I did in life to deserve such a good, good kid, but man, we are lucky. He’s just good-natured. Genevieve was super mellow. You’d never know she basically cried nonstop for like four straight months as a newborn. She is SO mellow now. She just hung out in the front-carrier, or did her weird Spider-Man one-leg, one-knee crawl she does. She lights up when Jack comes into the room, which is beyond sweet.
I haven’t been together with all my sisters in two years, I think. And I haven’t seen my aunts and cousins, and their beautiful kids, in about 10 years. I can’t even tell you what it was like to see them, especially Rachel and JoAnne. We were very close to them growing up, and it’s amazing how you can see each other, and that closeness is still there. It was like time had stood still.
God, I wish we lived closer together. They doted on my kids, I doted on their kids. We teased each other relentlessly. Our husbands made fun of us. My Aunt Lynne tried to give Jack an orange soda (“What? You kids all drank that and came out fine.”). They let Jack eat cookies at 9 a.m. Someone fed Genevieve a Dorito. Everyone was spoiled rotten.
And then all our kids:
My dad basked in his family, his three sisters, his nieces and sons-in-law and daughters and grandchildren. And we did it all somewhere that means something to us. It might sound silly to say an amusement park is that big of a deal to our family. But it is. We didn’t go on a lot of big cross-country road trips as kids. In fact, we didn’t go on any. But every year, my parents saved up and took us to Cedar Point. My dad joked that he has spent 45 years watching someone ride rides in Kiddie Land. This year, I was grateful to be there with him, as we watched Jack ride the classic cars, the helicopters, the rockets I remember going on as a kid. The carousel. The monster trucks. The little rides in Camp Snoopy. I thought my heart would just explode, sharing those moments with my dad and my son.
My sister Kim commented after the trip that she saw how much Philip and I enjoy our children. And it’s true. I do enjoy them. I loved watching Jack’s face light up when he saw Snoopy.
Look how happy he is! He didn’t even know who Snoopy was. Now he does. And we got him a stuffed Snoopy as a souvenir. I feel like I get to live life all over again through the eyes of my kids. Watching Jack ride the helicopters was as fun to me as going on rides myself.
Jack was still too short this year for a lot of the Kiddie Land rides. But my brother in law, John, reminded me: That’s part of the fun. Every year, you get bigger and can go on more. And that’s true. And he doesn’t care. He’s having a blast riding the carousel over and over.
Genevieve was very patient in her little front-carrier!
It was wonderful to have so much family around. My sisters and their husbands were so helpful with the kids — and so willing to include them in things. It’s hard to think back to when they had little kids, and how young and stupid I was, and all the opportunities I missed to be the kind of aunt to their kids they are to mine. I had no idea what I was doing. So selfish. Kim and Pam held Viv, laughed with Jack, carried our diaper bag, and generally made life easier.
I’m lucky to have sisters. I wish one of them had told me how unflattering that shirt is.
And look at this sweet pea:
It was a pretty fabulous family vacation. We got Genevieve’s caricature done, which is a Palfy family tradition.
Jack didn’t puke once on the trip. That’s 28 hours of driving. No barfing. Amazing. We only got lost once, and ended up cruising through downtown Chicago on a late Sunday afternoon. Jack had very few accidents the whole way — pretty amazing — and randomly decided to start pooping on the potty (finally!). That seriously might be the highlight of the trip. Sorry, family!
Everyone kept telling us we needed a DVD player to make the drive. And we didn’t. It went fine. We borrowed my brother-in-law’s car for the trip, which had the player, but after 20 minutes or so of “Cars,” Jack wasn’t interested. He would rather look out the window, read his books, or talk to us. Or listen to kid songs on the mp3 player we bought him. This Sweet Pea music player is awesome. Put it on your toddler Christmas list now.
And man, it’s good to be home.