Months, you guys.
I spent MONTHS planning a 4-night-5-day camping trip that was supposed to be the bomb-diggity for my little fam.
A trip up the west coast of the mitten; stopping to walk the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, skipping stones and splashing in waves. A cute little family of five stopping for lunch & a growler souvenir from the local brewery. Campfires with marshmallows and laughter. Starry nights snuggled up next to my Boog while our babies snoozed in the nearby tent; dirty and happy from all of the fun in the sun. Days spent perusing the nearby marinas and building sand castles on the beach. A long, quiet drive home with napping worn-out-happy-little-campers. No screens. No laundry. No stress.
Pinterest basically guaranteed all of it. Excuse my language, but I pinterested the shit out of this vacation. Right down to how-to dry my camping dishes.
I saved dryer lint and toilet paper rolls for 8 weeks to use as kindling.
I bought a special pop-up baby bed for the littlest one and never-say-never Crocs for the older two.
I made lists and spreadsheets.. meal plans and route detour plans. I had a binder. A BINDER, you guys. And the holy grail of my purchases? A *DOUBLE* PIE IRON. Oh, buddy! It was going to be GRAND!
I vacuum-packed towels & sheets. I created hourly busy-bags for the girls to open en route. I literally thought of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Mind you, I’m no fool, and 100% planned to expect the unexpected. Kids rarely care about any predetermined agenda; and it was something I was fully aware of as we set off on our venture to Northern Michigan.
It took the cleaning efforts of my mom and the shopping expertise of my Grandma to get us out the door with a ready-to-return homestead… this vacation was a major production.
Look at these oblivious morons!
Brandon likes to remind me that I am now an Obenour. That I’ve somehow married into his perpetual cycle of Murphy’s Law happenings. I’ve always rolled my eyes as his banter and “psh’d” him away. But this trip… this trip might have made me a believer.
I lost count of how many times this happened.
I’m not going to rehash every single trial about the various mishaps of our vacation. I’m not sure I ever want to relive the finite details of taking 3 kids 4 & under to a campground. But I will tell you this: I fully believe that had it been Mother Teresa and the Pope who had filled our roles as traveling parents – they would have found themselves at the local pub putting back shots of Tequila faster than one can say “Hail Mary.”
Our vacation was a whirlwind of potty trips and sandy sheets, bloody knees and make-shift meals. The only words that ever left our mouths seemed to be warnings for safety like, “please don’t try to catch the ‘fireflies’ that are coming from the fire” or “Bug spray is not a baby teether.” Each time night fell, the kids went in rounds waking up one another until we were all too exhausted to keep going. We eventually just all cried ourselves into a state of something resembling sleep.
Pretty sure we were in the middle of a conversation here…
The mornings came early and the days were a blur. Our trips into town were met with tears of tired/hot/hungry passengers and a poorly-stocked diaper bag. We changed diapers on the busy public sidewalks of downtown Charlevoix. We let them drink 20 oz bottles of straight juice. We paid California prices for trendy iced coffee. For four days, we existed in a state of survival mode that I’ve never known.
When one kid wanted to swim, the other wanted to eat. When we were ready to relax, the baby was ready to fuss. The girls fought about which stick belonged to who and which rocks were deemed untouchable. It felt like someone was *always* crying… them or me, me or them.
Rock on, my littles. Also, four.
At the end of our third day in paradise, we agreed to call it quits and head home the next morning. Neither of us had the wherewithal to weather another bedtime… another tantrum.. any more tears. So on our last night there, with the kids all temporarily asleep, Brandon and I stood at our fire pit under the stars while I ugly cried in his arms about my botched vacation.
I wanted so much for this trip… and I was utterly defeated.
On our last day, Quinn and I got up before the rest of the campground and headed into town for coffee. I felt oddly optimistic about our impending drive home and was looking forward to the adventure it would be (although I prayed it would go faster than the drive up.) I stopped in town near the marina and watched the sun finish rising over the misty waters of Lake Charlevoix.
She sure is cute for a little rooster.
Scrolling through my phone in the sunrise, I reflected on pictures from the previous few days and found my face wet with tears. My girls – our girls – looked SO happy. I remembered Vaida seeing the lake for the first time and beaming, “IT’S JUST LIKE MOANA, MOM!” as she sang and danced on the shoreline. I pictured Claire at the foot-wash cracking up when she turned on the upper shower instead. And Quinn, happy as a clam just rolling around eating sand… After a few deep breaths (and the realization that Quinn was peacefully sleeping in the backseat), I headed back to camp with the strength to begin packing up our site… It was a task that would require more patience than I had within me, but I felt ready to tackle it.
With the intention of letting the family sleep as long as possible, I rolled the windows down as Quinn snoozed and started moving everything to a tarp near the van. The tent would have to wait until last, but I was certain I could make a dent in everything else.
As the kids woke up one-by-one, I realized that Brandon and I were in way over our heads. There was so much to pack – and we had to be mindful of what we would need to access during the drive home. Our stuff seemed to have multiplied and the van most certainly shrunk. We had too many children and not enough arms. I was ready to light a match to it all and just drive off into the hills when this angel of a woman appeared.
Oh, Miss Vicki.
Vaida had introduced herself to “Miss Vicki” the day prior as she was making the trip from her campsite to the bathhouse. Vicki and her family were the camp hosts at Young State Park; responsible for organizing camp activities and outings, and making rounds to the campsites daily. That particular morning she was on her way to the pond to take her son his feeding pump for his J tube when she saw us packing to leave. The girls were delighted to see her again and Vicki knew that we had a rough go at our first camping trip. She joyfully offered to let them walk with her to the pond and play Candyland back at the host site while we packed.
For the second time in a matter of hours, I was crying happy tears.
TAKE THE DANG CHILDREN, VICKI.
The woman who saved the day: Miss Vicki
I know some of you are thinking “WHAT? YOU SENT YOUR KIDS WITH A STRANGER?!” but let me shut you up right there. We don’t parent in fear. Brandon and I both have “guts” that we listen to more often than not. Vicki wasn’t a stranger. She was a shining example of the village that we constantly rely on to help raise our kids. In the few hours my girls spent knowing Vicki, they learned about compassion for others. They learned about the beauty of unexpected friendships. They learned about adventure and laughter and gratitude. The time Vicki spent with our big girls gave us all a chance to reset. They had a break from their stressed parents, and we had time to recoup and shower. My gratitude for this woman is beyond measure. It hurt my heart to leave her so soon, as she bonded with my girls instantly, but we knew better than to try to stay.
It took nearly five hours to get our site packed up and our wheels on the road. For the first time on our whole vacation, we didn’t have a plan. There was no scheduled time of departure, no predetermined route home… It was us, our kids, and the road. A rest stop visit, dinner at big boy, and a few mishaps with Claire’s dream for pink eyebrows and we were home.
Funny thing about this vacation… We’ve been home nearly a week. I’m still playing catch up with laundry and unpacking, but my memories of this trip today only bring me joy. I left all the stress and the disappointment in my starlit campfire tears. If you ask the girls about the camping trip, they’ll gleefully tell you about the pink marshmallows, and Miss Vicki, and the Moana Beaches. They’ll model their $4 sunglasses from the burger joint and proudly show you the painted rocks they collected (which we have yet to re-hide).
The kids don’t remember the frustrated momma and zombie dad.
They don’t remember being tired… or hungry…
or that one of their parents might have accidentally run over their leg with a stroller at a high speeds.
You guys… My kids remember the marshmallows.
Let that be a lesson.