"Let's take a family vacation this summer," I suggested one cold winter's evening.
My husband tightened his grip on the TV remote until his knuckles turned white. "With the kids?" he asked in a strained voice.
"Of course," I laughed. "That's what makes it a family vacation."
"But vacations are supposed to be fun," he said. "And relaxing."
"Of course, you dear, silly man! We'll have fun and relax with the kids."
Rick gave me his that-remark-is-too-stupid-to-answer look. It's the same look I give him when he asks, "How many pairs of black shoes do you need?"
Once Rick agreed that a family vacation might be niceI think his exact words were, "Over my broken, bleeding, dead body"we decided to visit Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where we could commune with nature as well as with each other. The park offered pleasant accommodations at reasonable prices, plus an abundance of restaurants and convenience stores. And if our three boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) and toddler daughter got a little rowdy, I figured they'd blend in with the other wildlife.
With our van filled with soda pop and our hearts filled with hope, we headed down the highway. We sang songs and told jokes. We listened to audio books from the library. I read a magazine, the boys quietly played with toys they'd brought, baby Kimmy snoozed in her car seat, and my husband contentedly sipped his diet soda.
Then we tried to figure out what to do for the second half-hour of our trip.
I suppose it's inevitable six people crammed into a minivan will start to get bored fairly quickly, especially when four of those people are under the age of eleven. As the fussing from the back seats escalated into full-blown howling, my husband said, "Can't you do something with them?" I felt like replying, "I could do something with them, but the luggage carrier on top of the van is full."
I found myself yelling things such as, "So what if he spit in your pop? You're related, aren't you?" and "If you don't like the way he's looking at you, close your eyes."
Since the Black Hills of South Dakota are conveniently located en route to our destination in Wyoming, we decided to spend a few days there. Naturally, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to Mt. Rushmore. There, watching our own children as well as others', my husband and I were fortunate to observe a key difference between girl children and boy children: Girl children stand respectfully before a massive historical monument, act as though they're truly impressed, then head to the gift shop to buy dozens of cute trinkets to remind them of this awe-inspiring structure. Boy children, on the other hand, stare at the monument, scratch their heads (or some other body part), and ask, "How big of a booger could come out of a nose that size?"
Eventually we made it to Yellowstone, where we had a wonderful week. We took walks and played in the little creek near our campground. Our sons learned how to turn marshmallows into taffy with their fingers, creating a gloriously sticky, gooey mess that only little boys truly can appreciate. Our cabin was quaint and comfortable, we were surrounded by breath-taking scenery, and there were lots of interesting sites to visit.
The boys thought Old Faithful was very cool, but they really got excited about Dragon's Cave, which belches noxious-smelling sulfur fumes. The entire site reeks of rotten eggs. "Awesome!" said our sons, who think anything that belches, rumbles, or stinks is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
When we finished our week in Yellowstone, we headed home by way of the Badlands. You might think the Badlands are called that because so many lives were lost when the pioneers tried to cross this vast, barren stretch of land, but you're wrong. No, the area's called the Badlands because in all those hundreds of acres of sand and rock, there's maybe one bathroom. And it's located right where you enter the park, before you realize it will be miles before you see indoor plumbing again. It didn't take us long to recognize we were in real trouble. Not one scenic turn-off offered a restroom, and we were beginning to wonder about the fine for relieving oneself on a federally protected natural wonder.
The rest of our trip home was uneventful.We eventually pulled into our driveway with a van full of 4 tired-but-happy children, 17 empty Happy Meal boxes, and 39 "made-in-China" souvenirs. As the children tumbled out, I looked lovingly at my husband and said, "For our next vacation, I was thinking "
It's funny; I don't think I've ever seen a grown man weep like that before.
Rhonda Wheeler Stock, a TCW regular contributor, lives in Kansas with her family.
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