Summer, as always, has passed in a flash. We’re now at that time of year when family vacations have ended and frazzled parents are catching their breath.
I know just how they feel.
It had been a long time since my family had taken a vacation with a dog and a small child in the car. This summer rekindled memories of those days. Nothing like 600 miles with a toddler and a puppy in the back seat to bring back memories of relaxing, restorative family road trips.
The logistics of this year’s jaunt to the family cabin in Washington state were a bit out of the ordinary. One difference was that instead of making the drive with us as usual, my wife joined us a week later. The reason was a potentially fatal conflict between — this is not a misprint — a dog and a lizard.
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My wife has a pet lizard named Max. Our older daughter has a puppy named Roux. (A Cajun name; she got it from a border-terrier rescue group in Louisiana.) Like all puppies, Roux likes to chew things. There was no way my wife was taking a chance on Roux using her beloved Max for a squeaky toy, so she spent a week making incredibly complicated arrangements for his care, then flew over to join us.
This should have saved space in the car. My wife typically takes Max, Max’s oversized terrarium and heat lamps, coolers, boxes, bags and suitcases containing everything from puzzles to pie crusts. Her idea of packing light is leaving the lawn chairs at home.
“What’s this?” our daughter asked her as she handed her a package to put in the car as the rest of us were about to pull out of the driveway.
“A mop? You want us to bring a mop?”
“It’s a micro fiber mop. I thought it would be nice to have one of those at the cabin.”
Moments later, she returned with a quilt-sized piece of folded plastic.
“Here, see if you can fit this in.”
“What is it?”
“A portable mattress. I thought it would be nice to have over there.”
“A mattress? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
My wife’s and Max’s usual places in the car were taken by our 3-year-old great-grandson, Grayson, and his mother. We hadn’t even left yet when the bickering started.
“Where’s Grayson’s video player?” my daughter asked.
“I forgot it,” Grayson’s mother replied. “I’ll have to go buy another one.”
“You forgot? That’s his entertainment for the next 11 hours!”
Unsaid was that it was also a factor in the grownups’ peace of mind for the next 11 hours. Grayson is a good kid, but like all 3-year-olds he gets antsy when stuck in a car all day.
“I can’t believe you forgot it!”
A spirited exchanged followed, the two of them standing in the driveway exchanging verbal haymakers while I waited in the car.
“This could be a long day,” I grumped to myself.
“Why?” came a small voice from the back seat.
It was Grayson, who I’d forgotten was ensconced in his kid seat behind me. Leave it to an innocent 3-year-old to lighten a moment.
While his mother went to buy a video player, my daughter fumed about leaving later than planned. She gets it from me. I used to be fussy about leaving on time, too. Years of family vacations changed that. Now I’m happy if we leave at all.
We were still in the driveway when the first mishap occurred, accompanied by shrieking that was audible in the next county.
“Grayson dropped his breakfast on the floor and Roux is eating it.”
Finally on the road
By 9 a.m., a mere hour behind schedule, we were underway. At approximately Ontario, the youngest member of the expedition made the first of an uncertain but large number of identical vacation wishes:
“I wanna’ feed the animals.”
This was a reference to a previous vacation, during which he had fed bread to animals at a game park. The animals poke their heads into your car windows to beg for food as you drive through. The prospect of bison slobbering on my grandson did not warm my heart.
Somewhere between La Grande and Pendleton, Ore., Grayson spilled a just-opened bag of potato chips on his mother, the dog and most of the car.
“Grayson, you need to be more careful!”
“I wanna’ feed the animals.”
At The Dalles, we stopped for gas at a station that had a single, unisex restroom with a waiting line stretching roughly to Portland. It also had a grassy area with shrubs, where Grayson and I took Roux to do her thing. Almost instantly, a belligerent-looking employee emerged from a back door to stand guard, as if I’d planned to beat the line by doing a poo in the shrubs. She loomed over us — glaring, all but snarling — until Roux finished and we returned to the car. Only then did she go back inside, looking disappointed at missing a chance to bark orders. Or possibly tase us.
“That lady wasn’t very nice was she, Grayson?”
“I wanna’ feed the animals.”
The last stop before reaching our destination was a supermarket.
“We have food at the cabin, so let’s make it quick,” I pleaded. “Just a few things to get us through the week.”
A few things turned out to be bread, milk, orange juice, lunch meat, butter, mayonnaise, bananas, frozen berries, fresh berries, lettuce, kale, carrots, celery, three kinds of cereal, four quarts of kefir, 36 cans of soda, cookies, NutriGrain bars, chicken, turkey burger, peppers, fajita seasoning, asparagus, yams, salsa, spaghetti sauce … $200 worth of “a few things.”
“What are these?” the checkout woman asked, eyeing the yams as if they might leap from the counter and attack her.
“Hmmmm. Guess I’m the wrong person to check out vegetables. I only eat vegetables if they come out of a can.”
By the time we made it to the cabin, we were the ones who felt like we’d been in a can all day. Eleven hours on the road will do that to you. I ached in more places than I thought possible. Roux, Grayson and Grayson’s mother were doing a reasonably good imitation of coma victims.
We still love going to the cabin, though, and a good time was had by all once we settled in and our dispositions returned to normal. We’re already looking forward to going back again next summer.
The airfare will be well worth it.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com.