We're taking a trip. When we first dreamed up the idea of driving to Florida, I said we were "going on vacation," but I've since been corrected. My family is going on a vacation. I'm taking a trip. I'm driving down the East Coast by myself — with eight children. And then I'm driving home again. My friend Mary Ellen Barrett, the mother of seven young children, of whom the youngest are twin babies, set me straight on the difference between trips and vacations for mothers:
>A vacation is when you sit on the beach or at the pool and attractive people bring you pretty drinks with umbrellas in them. You get to dress nicely for dinner and eat with utensils.
>A trip is when you have a carload of children, a dump truck's worth of snacks, many blankies, loveys, binkies and bottles, and you cart all of this to a different location where you spend several days keeping track of it all.
>On a trip, children have great fun trying to stretch the limits of their independence (they get lost), they try new things (they jump into the deep end of the pool without an adult close by), they get to stay up past their bedtime (overtired and cranky) and they are outdoors all day (sunburn and bug bites).
>On a trip, Mom does everything she does at home but less conveniently in unfamiliar surroundings
>On a trip, Mom lives in stark terror of losing the 2-year-old at the beach while trying to dig the crying 5-year-old out of the hole his brother buried him in.
>On a trip, Mom is exhausted enough for bed at 5 p.m., but the children, who were too busy having fun to eat lunch, are starving and need to eat NOW.
>On a trip, the fancy dinner has you shouting into a clown's mouth and scooping ketchup off the car seat and smearing it on someone's fries.
>Trips provide wonderful memories of childhood for children and hives for Mom.
We haven't even left yet, and I have hives. Literally. Trips have the potential to bring out the worst in families. Family vacations have a real knack for pointing out relationship issues that exist daily but are more obvious on a trip. If Mom does all the work at home, she'll do it all on a trip, only the Mom who is doing it all at home and just staying above water will probably begin to drown when she must do the same thing outside of her carefully crafted environment.
If Mom struggles to be patient, there is a very good chance that her patience will be sorely tested when the 6-year-old who just went potty 20 minutes ago insists he needs to stop at the nearest rest station. And she will likely blow when she passes said rest station and he proves to her he needed to stop.
So what's a trip for a weary mother? A chance to listen to books on tape for over 24 hours. A chance to chat with my co-pilot, who happens to be leaving home for college in a few short weeks. A chance to learn how to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. A chance to grow in virtue. A chance to storm heaven and beg for an infusion of grace.
And when we get back, maybe I will sneak off for a two-hour vacation.