Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Prepare for departure

Almost every year, the kids and I take a short trip together during April vacation week, and almost every year, I wonder if packing might be the best part of the trip.

Well, not really, because our destination is usually the homes of one or the other of my sisters, one in Pennsylvania and one in Washington, D.C., and we always have a great time once we’re there. But for these trips as well as our longer summer visits to Colorado, Maine or other destinations, I’m always amused by how jolly the kids become when it’s time to pack.

Even though they won’t put away their own laundry without a struggle during a normal week at home, the idea of selecting and organizing clothes for a journey seems to inspire new maturity in them. Even though Holly still won’t dress herself without my help on a typical school day morning, when it’s time to get ready for a trip she’s suddenly focused on questions about climate and recreation. “Should I bring one sweater or two?” she’ll ask me. “Did Sarah say we might go swimming? Can I wear flip flops on the train? I’m bringing my new toothpaste and four pairs of socks.”

For Tim, too, the act of packing for a trip seems to bring out his more responsible side. He finds the right sized backpack for the amount of clothes he wants to bring; he counts t-shirts and underwear with care. When it comes time to add the non-clothing items to the mix, both kids give serious thought to how many books they hope to read during the trip and whether they should bring games to play with their cousins.

I enjoy this proactive surge of energy on their part as we prepare for departure, and I sometimes find myself doing the same thing: feeling uber-organized just before the trip begins, as if having all the right clothes and just the right suitcase could guarantee a successful travel experience.

I know that it can’t. There are too many other variables that determine whether a trip will become a wonderful memory or one we’d rather forget. And conversely, forgetting specific items of clothing or an extra book has never ruined a vacation. Packing is ultimately incidental to what actually happens between the time that you leave and the time that you return.

On the other hand, it’s something you have control over. You can’t guarantee safe travels, good health while away, or even that your presence will bring pleasure to your hosts. Bringing the right clothing for the weather seems like an easy challenge to meet compared to those factors. Even though Tim and Holly surely do not think it out to this extent, they too seize control of what will go into their luggage as if happy to feel a sense of control over anything at all.

If recent history is any indication, we’ll have a wonderful trip. We always do when we visit either of my sisters and their families. And if a bathrobe, my running shoes and a reading light turn out not to be quite what I need, I’ll resolve to pack even more meticulously next time.

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