Every year growing up, our family spent a glorious week in Long Beach Island with my father’s brothers, sisters and all 17 of our cousins. We stayed in one crowded beach house, and each one of us with our freckled Irish skin went through bottles and bottles of sunscreen.
On the drive down to LBI, my father used to remark jokingly that the drive to vacation is the best part, full of anticipation for the fun to come, and the drive home is miserable. Driving home you’re sunburnt, broke, tired, and too aware of the impending doom of returning to work and school. Dad deemed Parkway South as the happy side, and Parkway North the “depressing” side.
It is ironic that my father said that the drive there is more pleasant than the ride back, because for as long as I can remember, every trip we have ever taken begins with the same exact argument between my parents. The scene is all too predictable. Dad wants to take just one more work call, or fix the leaky sink just when my mother has planed for us to leave. She says “No Tom, we’ve got to go, come on Tom,” and he rubs his forehead and widens his eyes. When we are finally in the car and Dad’s behind the wheel, it takes about an hour and two Diet Cokes for him to actually settle into the moment and enjoy it.
My favorite picture of my father enjoying a rainbow in our backyard.
As everyone grows up it has become difficult for all six of us to get a week off from work, especially in the summer. My mother, who scours the internet for affordable family fun within driving distance, will not be denied at least a two-day family getaway. We tease her intentions to preserve just a percent of family trips in these busier times, but appreciate her efforts to make it happen. So these past few summers, we’ve enjoyed a weekend at a cabin, nestled in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, and earlier this week we took a drive down to Washington D.C.
Fam road trip…!
My mother planed for us to visit the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, because my brothers are “interested in history.” I was not at all excited about going. I anticipated the museum being upsetting and intense, and it was. I wondered why, for our one annual trip away together, she decided on this particular spot. All summer I’ve been wanting to enjoy a nice hike, or swim in a lake, so in the character of a complaining child I begged my parents, “Whyyyyyy? Why can’t we do something fun and happy and light?”
My request was unmet and to make matters worse we visited Arlington National Cemetery as the main attraction of day two in DC. My brothers, “interested in history” as they are, wanted to see John F. Kennedy’s grave, and wander the historic grounds. I sobbed ceaselessly throughout the entirety of the tour through the cemetery, at the sight of endless fields of tiny graves of men and women who passed in combat. This is not cool or fun this is tragic and ridiculous, and I want to leave, I thought. I dubbed the weekend “sad-cation.”
The last thing I ever want to do is sound ungrateful, because I truly enjoyed the time my family gets to spend together, no matter where we go. I know my gratitude to be true because somehow, my favorite part of “sad-cation” was the four hour car ride home. With plans originally to sleep off my food coma from lunch and two desserts we ate just before heading home, I placed my head on a makeshift car pillow of bundled sweatshirts and closed my eyes.
Driving through the outskirts of DC, my parents and brothers and sister began discussing what they were surprised to learn in the museum. My brothers explained what they learned in history class about the second World War, facts that informed their experience walking through exhibits. I asked about their teachers, and remembered my last experience in a U.S. history class in high school.
Hearing my family talk confidently about WWII and history made me glad we had visited the museum together, and that my younger brothers and sisters could discuss history. It’s not as if we were having heated scholarly debates, but just having an informed discussion with them was enlightening. We eventually wandered through other unrelated topics, and before I knew it we were on I95 in New Jersey. While I grew up remembering the drive home as the low point of every getaway, this drive was quite pleasant. The drive home was my favorite part of our trip together. Perhaps with the pressure to enjoy a museum that I was not particularly thrilled about visiting and monuments that upset me behind us, I was able, comfortably spread in three rows of our Suburban, to simple take delight in the company of my family.
Maybe it is because I just didn’t really enjoy DC, (sorry Mom) but I found it ironic that the dreaded drive home, the “depressing side,” of the highway, as my father might say, was actually really great. Maybe my childhood idea that “real life” was something dreaded to return to after the bliss of escaping is totally false (yay). Or maybe the drive home was the only place where all five of my favorite people sat within inches of each other, with nothing to do but talk, laugh and eat Reece’s peanut butter cups. We can entertain ourselves for hours with our own jokes and banter.
Uhh you can’t swim in the WWII memorial monument.
My friend Jack, who is the youngest child of his family with sisters much older than him, asked how it felt to be on a trip with my family at this point in my life, at 22, just after graduating from college. Besides feeling cranky in a freezing cold museum surrounded by heartbreaking and horrific stories, or a cemetery full of men and women who lost their lives to war, two places that I wold happily never visit again, it felt awesome. I felt full from gratitude, and thankful for the time to laugh with my family, especially throughout the drive home.