As the kids and I headed north to Portland, Maine, yesterday evening, I couldn't help thinking of the famous Norman Rockwell diptych: the first illustration showing three generations of an American family looking fresh, crisp and excied as they drive off in the station wagon for a day at the beach; the second illustration showing the same family tired, sticky and sunburned.
But what I kept thinking as we left Massachusetts and passed briefly through New Hampshire before reaching the Maine Turnpike was how I feel like we embody that story only in reverse. We're grubby and disorganized as we leave for our trip, not as we return. At least we were yesterday.
The vicissitudes of Tim's summer baseball schedule are such that the best time for us to get away is midweek, leaving after a Tuesday evening game and getting back in time for his Thursday evening game. Of course, this leaves out Rick, who has to be at work during the week, but since Tim has baseball games both Saturday and Sunday, it's our best chance to get away for two consecutive nights.
Still, it never seems easy. It still takes me about half the day to pack up for a two-night trip, and it's not exactly like I'm stocking campground essentials: in Portland, we stay in my parents' well-stocked condo. So it doesn't matter if we forget milk or shampoo or paper towels. But still, packing my clothes, reminding the kids of what they'll need, collecting materials for any work I plan to do while I'm away, gathering cameras, sandals, bike helmets. Facing the challenge of putting the bike rack on the car and then attaching the bikes. Fitting the cooler in the storage area in back of the car. Making sure that everyone's frivolous-but-necessary electronics are charged (or else that chargers have been packed).
So once we finally hit the road, we're already tired, not to mention the fact that Tim has just finished a tough six-inning baseball game. We stop at MacDonald's, a very rare indulgence in my family but worth it when it's seven o'clock and I want to get to Maine more than I want to maintain our usual nutritional standards.
Fortunately, I remembered to pack a whole wheat bagel with Cheddar and cherry tomatoes for myself. As we drive, the kids get French fry grease all over themselves and the car, and I'm not doing much better: two bites into my bagel, a cherry tomato squirts all over my shirt.
I make the slightest hand motion toward my phone, and both kids perk up like terriers. "I get to call Daddy!" "No, it's my turn!" I listen to them argue about it for thirty seconds or so and then ask, "What does either of you have to say to Daddy?" Nothing, as it turns out. They both saw him less than an hour ago. What matters is being the one deemed important enough to dial his number. (Of course, I too saw him less than an hour ago, but I already have several things to say to him: I haven't fed the dog yet, and could you wrap those loaves of banana bread that I left cooling on the counter in Saran wrap, and what do you think we should do about the problem with the washing machine, and sorry that you have to be at work tomorrow while we're out boating.)
Finally we arrive, sticky and a little greasy with a couple of arguments already under our belts, not fresh and crisp like Rockwell's beach-goers. But maybe we'll complete the reversal and return home that way, rather than tired and sunburned. If the journey is more important than the destination, we've completed this one safely and successfully, and I'm very happy to smell the ocean.