When Your Vacation Isn’t One

Before we loaded up our rental van, I was on the verge of tears. Big tears. I didn’t even want to go on vacation. I wanted to hide in my bedroom, shut the door, and cry, cry, cry followed by a weeklong bout of sleep. I was hardly in the state of mind to begin a two-week vacation with my beloved husband, our two foster kiddos, and Marmy the Motoring Marmot. July has been a stressful wreck in-between all the work, both professional and educational, and other life changes.

As much as I wanted to see my folks, I had zero desire to leave the house. In fact, I knew before we even left the house that I would have to work over vacation. I had learned that the school project I thought was due the week after vacation was due the day after we returned. Further, a key handoff at work for a project was over three weeks late; I would have had to work diligently to meet the deadline if the data had been delivered on time. It wasn’t.

So, my vacation didn’t exactly start off on the best of feet, and few moments during it really allowed for any kind of regathering of equilibrium. I don’t want to bemoan and belabor everything that occurred, but I think a quick recap will cover the bases:  One of our teenage kiddos decided to ignore our explicit description of what to pack and injured herself on our first short hike because she just decided to borrow our other kiddo’s shoes that were a full size, maybe a size and a half, smaller than she wore after purposefully deciding to pack no hiking shoes, thus destroying our ability to go on any other hike as a family in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park; both girls were as stereotypically whiny and ridiculous as you could imagine two grumpy teenage girls to be who would rather paint their nails than take a walk in the woods; I worked 64 hours over the two weeks I was on vacation; I spent 18 hours writing and recording my presentation for my online class the week I was at my folks’ house (and additional time in the car finishing up my research); my mom took the girls out thrifting, and the girls were unfairly accused of stealing a credit card and interviewed by the police (which is apparently legal without a guardian present in South Carolina); my back is an angry beast of pain after sitting in the car and sitting to work as much as I have; and my mom’s beloved fourteen-year-old dog died the last day we were there.

Yeah, so, I’m ready for a vacation. Or a nap. Still, I’ve been trying hard to focus on silver linings and to identify the good amidst all the bad; I’ve been trying to be mindful and to appreciate the beautiful moments, no matter how small even if I feel (and believe me, I DID feel it!) like raging and screaming and throwing things and sobbing out of frustration. Temper tantrums, though, get me nowhere and aren’t nearly as therapeutic as I’d like.

So, here are the good things that happened on vacation, and I hope that these moments outweigh all the bad that did happen on vacation and my desperate need for a nap as I type this in the car on the way home.

In two days, I bicycled Cades Cove three times in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the second two times, which were the times without children (cough), were absolutely perfect. The loop is gorgeous, and I loved visiting the historical buildings on site and nudging my husband and telling him he could build me this house or that barn. In fact, I found a gorgeous barn, and I have quite the thing for old barns. I was ecstatic and brimming with joy to drag my husband off to see my favorite barn. When we bicycled the loop together, he pointed out all sorts of novel information about the buildings that I hadn’t noticed because I lack his practical knowledge about construction and building. In those moments, I fell in love with him all over again. I promise to do a proper write-up of Cades Cove and our other (mis)adventures in the Smokies, but this is the snapshot of what I enjoyed of the trip.

SmokiesSouthCarolina201 105
Me and my favorite person at Clingman’s Dome

I feel really good about my finished presentation for school. So good, I’m considering applying to present some of the main points at a conference, which scares the heck out of me. We’ll see. Still, I’m proud of it, and that’s something to be grateful for even if I had to work rather diligently at it over vacation.

My foster kiddos, one of whom has had markedly few major life experiences, got to step foot into an ocean and experience a whole world of new activities and adventures. They loved going to the beach, even though they both swore they’d be too frightened to go into the Atlantic. They played and frolicked in the waves, and my mom took them on a dolphin-boat cruise where they saw so, so many dolphins. The dolphin cruise was the highlight of their trip, and they were nigh well giddy about it. One of my kiddos has some excessive fear responses when she’s startled and has more fears than most kiddos her age. She faced several of them on this trip, and I’m really proud of her.

I got to see my folks. Since my parents moved away from Kansas City just over a year ago, I’ve seen them a scant number of times. Spending a week in their house, seeing them every day for breakfast and dinner was wonderful even if I did then disappear to get some work done or woke up at ridiculous hours to squeeze in work before anyone else woke up. I got to hug my mom and give her a kiss on the head and go to one of her favorite places (Pinckney National Wildlife Refuge). I got to listen to my stepdad be silly and goofy with the girls. I even heard my mom willingly call herself a grandma—something she swore she’d never, ever, ever in her lifetime do. She took us to Savannah and a specific gallery where I bought myself a Pete the Cat print for my new office. My brother, who is on the autism spectrum and generally dislikes talking to people he doesn’t know, opened up just enough at the tail-end of the trip to roast one of my kiddos in a hilariously well-timed joke. I even got to contribute my first ever points at a trivia night with the family. More importantly, even though the loss of my mom’s dog was and will continue to be devastating to her for a long time to come, I was able to hug my mom on the day her dog died, and Emma waited until the final day possible to give us as many happy moments together as possible. Being able to provide any degree of comfort in person to my mom was deeply meaningful to me; grief is meant to be shared.

So, was this the worst vacation I’ve ever had? Oh, it’s close. Still, I’m going to try real hard to focus on that giant list of wonderful moments I just wrote out. Besides, Marmy, who is sitting beside me in our incredibly comfortable rental van, had a good vacation. And if a beloved stuffed animal can have an excellent vacation when he was grabbed by one of our girls who used (in pretend!) the newly acquired stuffed turkey vulture, henceforth named Vulchy, to decapitate him and to eat his innards, well, what can I really complain about?


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