Thursday, August 8, 2013

Postcards from the Edge

the face of the summer vacation...are we having fun yet??
I can see the light. It’s so bright and beautiful, ahead of me in the near distance. I want to go toward it, to see where it leads. I know it can mean only one of two things. Either I haven’t survived this summer “vacation” with the kids and, somehow, I have made it to heaven, or it’s that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel that indicates I have survived the summer with the kids and that school will soon, soon, not-soon-enough be starting. Either way, there will be peace. Insert sighs of relief here.

August has arrived (Hurray!! Cartwheels!!! Twirl in mid-air!!! Skipping!!!) and, with it, the symbolic end of summer. Here in Kansas, there are 12 full weeks of summer vacation. Eleven weeks have passed and I am so pleased to proclaim that the kids are in one piece, as am I, and that only five days remain until I can triumphantly declare victory over 80+ days spent full-time with four kids, three of whom have mastered the fine art of pissing-off-your-siblings-to-no-end. Also conquered: a tonsillectomy and a 1400-mile, summer-vacation road trip.

Ahhh…the family vacation…the source of so many memories, a handful of which provide fodder for future therapists in years to come. I can’t help but wonder who first “invented” the family vacation, or how the idea caught fire and infected more people than the bubonic plague. The lure of the open road, the desire to make new discoveries, the quest for adventure…the idea is so American and so romantic.  The reality, of course – like all realities - is slightly different, especially when conducted in a mini-van with a three-year-old with a chronic case of why-arrhea.

This isn’t an earth-shattering epiphany, but I’ve decided vacations are like a photo album (the old-school kind). There are tons of photos/memories at the end of the trip, but only the best make it into the photo album/memory bank. My albums consist of the edited and beautiful photos that make me seem like a master photographer with a really expensive camera. The truth, of course, is very different, when only 48 of 647 photos taken were actually decent, without strangers scratching their ass in the background, photographer-induced decapitations, humidity fogging up the lens, etc. What’s preserved, at the end, is the best of the good, while all else is omitted and forgotten. Here’s my photo-album synopsis of our trip.

General stuff: I bought a new atlas (spiral-bound!). For me, looking at an atlas is sometimes even better than looking at the scenery, especially when that scenery is the very flat, dull, dry western part of Kansas. My new, posh atlas revealed some before-unknown Kansas treasures, like the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum (in LaCrosse, for anyone interested) and the World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine (in Cawker City, and NOT to be confused with the world’s largest ball of baler twine, which is in Darwin, Minnesota). Again, I am reminded: IT IS TIME TO MOVE, despite the giggle over things in Kansas that make it onto an atlas page.

Things seen: Wind farms. Dirt roads. Weed for sale. Nudity. Kansas has a lot of wind, and it’s not just because I live here, for anyone interested in making that smart-ass comment. Minimal trees, wide-open spaces, weather currents I don’t grasp…all this equals LOTS of wind. I knew the wind farms were out here, but they’re not in my east-central part of Kansas. It was very cool to see a wind farm for the first time, full of massive, countless turbines, harnessing nature for energy. Then there’s the dirt-road network. I have been startled by this discovery before. I come from a place where the very rare dirt road is surely a road to nowhere, a dead-end. If the road actually went somewhere, it would be paved. But, in Kansas (and many places, as I’ve discovered), there’s a hearty network of thriving, trafficked dirt roads; and these roads actually go somewhere (albeit probably to someplace rural).  Other sightings: a gift shop in Colorado with a sign that read, “A respectable joint, 25 cents.” I thought, What an odd endorsement. No one calls a place “a joint” any more. And why 25 cents? And then it dawned on me…they were selling ‘respectable’ joints, for a quarter. Also seen: an incredibly aggressive species of hummingbird that scared the bejesus out of us, and a naked neighbor enjoying the morning mountain air in his lawn chair.

Things heard: Nadia waking the entire house at 645 AM to announce her sighting of a doe and two babies. Unimpressed with our tepid, sleepy response, she said, disappointedly, “It seems like nobody cares.” In our defense, we all would’ve cared a lot more AFTER a cup of coffee and AFTER the crack of dawn. Nadia, again, as we were driving up Pike’s Peak, clinging to our side of the in-the-clouds, limited visibility, guard-rail-less, winding mountain road, looking over at the precipitous drop inches away from us, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Dad.”  And Nadia, again, having an epiphany at the zoo: “When people die, why don’t we just feed their bodies to tigers, instead of burying them?” I am curious what the inner workings of her mind look like, but applaud her dedication to recycling. On a hike along a creek as we plodded uphill, Liam proclaimed (with all the attitude a tired, unpleasant three-year-old can muster), “ME HATE THIS WALK!” He wasn’t even the one pushing the stroller. If only these kids would tell me how they really feel.

And that’s my album of snapshots. We ventured to Colorado. We partook in many activities and saw nature’s majesty up close and personal. We encountered wild animals – some of which were our own children, some of which were the kind with fur. We were intrepid and fearless in the face of having-four-kids adversity. Moments were challenging (and sometimes the moments were hours, or entire days or nights), but, in the end, we labeled it a wonderful time, sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of the adventures that children induce. Which sums up the entire summer vacation – and parenthood, in general – quite nicely.

Onward, towards the light!