Breaking Out

Day One (Friday): Last night, as we were wrapping up dinner, I said I wanted to have a quick staging conversation about vacation (which was about thirty hours away) as I felt like we weren’t even ready. My sweet husband responded with something along the lines of ‘it’s only going to take me like ten minutes – I just have to put my clothes in the RV.’ The only reason I didn’t jump across the table and throat punch him is because I could see the very honest and innocent look in his eyes that indicated that he really did think that’s all it took to be ready for a week long, out of state camping trip. Yup, just count out the number of days – make a matching numerical pile of underwear (plus one in case of accidents) and off we go! Sigh…. in the interest of full disclosure, I’m starting this blog while sitting in the Kroger pick up lane after a stop at the liquor store after spending the morning carrying other non-it’s-my-underwear-pile items out to said RV, such as towels, cooking items, fishing poles and linens. The kids were supposed to help me with those carries – except that I’ve only seen the one and while he did carry a single bag out for me, he then disappeared. The other kid is likely in a ‘but today’s my birthday’ work protest. Always a favorite of mine – ‘right, I know it’s always a surprise when your birthday/Christmas/Easter/Name an Annual Event pops up’ protests. Sorry, kid, you still have to do your weekly chores…if you didn’t want to do them on your birthday, you shouldn’t have waited until your now 18-years-in-a-row-birth-date, which, this year, also happened to coincide with the day we’d all be doing the last minute packing. I file this in the same category as “but I didn’t know it was Fathers’ Day” or “I didn’t realize Christmas was so close” or “my teachers only announce tests when I’m in the bathroom.” All real live statements in our household.

In fairness, we’ve been told for nearly four months now to stay put. This was cancelled and that was cancelled and the other thing was postponed. Until two weeks ago, even I assumed this trip really wasn’t going to happen with the rising Covid numbers nationwide, but especially in the south where we’d be headed. When it became apparent it was happening, I felt such an enormous sense of relaxation and excitement and (a very rare) ‘just pack whatever, we’ll pick everything else up when we get there!’ Like we needed to vacate the house asap and hit 85 South before our slot was filled by another family wanting to vacation. I even convinced the house to leave a day early – breaking our trip to Georgia into two parts – getting us that much closer to something normal a full 24 hours early. We had an RV – we could sleep anywhere the first night – why not? I assigned a 10:00am Saturday departure goal (knowing that would get us on the road by 11:00am).

Day 2: I’m writing by fake candlelight while parked in a Walmart parking lot in nowhere, South Carolina – our more than halfway point on the road to Stone Mountain. Yes, that Stone Mountain. The one in the news. The one with militias of many colors allegedly parading around each other while the police keep them apart. Before you ask what side I’m fighting for – the answer is, this vacation was planned well before BLM or George Floyd or Covid or school closings. And, dammit, we are going. So, while my teenage freedom fighters are mortified and blocking their friends from knowing where their uneducated parents took them…we know. And, frankly, I plan to enjoy the heck out of the week with family we’ve been missing while ignoring reports of rising numbers or rising temper. Heck, if I plan this right I can have this very blog post on its own eliminating any need to log back into the real world (side note…once we arrived we learned the militia events weren’t nearly as dire as reported. Thanks again, news, for making something out of nothing).

This morning, my family was trying to figure out when the alien mom arrived. Typically on go day, I’m up early, clipboard in hand, whistle at my mouth, directing participants to and fro in an effort to leave at the predetermined time. This is not a Barlow strong point as some of us think the drive is the start of vacation and the (correct) other person knows it’s the arrival. Instead of my clipboard, I was up early, with coffee in hand, tracking the UPS driver who was bringing an order days earlier than expected. A new purse, specifically, that required a signature that I had lined up to happen after vacation. Except here it was, already in my town. Sure, I could have just waited to collect it when we returned…but knowing it was just up the street at 8:30am sent me straight out of bed. As our departure neared, I figured ‘how long can it actually take for UPS to get three miles to my house?’ and made as little noise as possible with hopes that no one would notice 10:00am was looming. In fairness, the delivery window was between 8:30am and 12:30pm.

The kids appeared first. I sheepishly told them we may have be delayed and why. Sort of. I told them I needed to sign for a package. Rich arrived next, confused that I was still sitting with my coffee…no rush to be found. 10:00am came and went. The kids began to exchange looks – they would be driving Rich’s car in their first (baby) road trip. Playlists were ready, GPS queued…and they were stuck waiting for me? This was not normal. Where was the task master shoeing everyone out? At 11:00am we sent them ahead. Still no UPS – how many deliveries did this truck have on a Saturday in tiny town, USA?! 12:00pm nothing except a super patient husband with a full understanding of what it’s like to wait for a delivery window. Especially when said window was closing.

I’d been stalking the MyUPS app since I got up – watching the truck creep through the local neighborhoods. Finally, I told Rich ‘screw it, I’ll be back’ and went off in search of the truck. Yes, I’m that lady, app in hand, driving from street to street looking for a big brown…success! I found the truck stopped a few blocks over. The driver didn’t even seem to think I was crazy when I told him why I was basically blocking him in – he hopped into the back and grabbed my package. He admitted to still being four stops away – having to deliver all the air shipments before the ground. I triumphantly headed back to the house, ready to launch. After we found the RV keys. Then we’d be ready. And after we stopped for gas. Then. Three hours late. With a cute new Burberry.

Day 3: Now writing while tucked into our RV in a beautiful park, surrounded by water and next to said mountain. It is more of a burp from the land’s formation past (ref JJ) – either a hiccup of an attempt of an actual mountain or maybe a test run for something else – but a beautiful granite dome. Despite leaving from three different states on two different days and with zero ‘what time to get there’ plans – my family all arrived within thirty minutes of each other. Campers were checked in, a tent site number was given to the teens and off we went to settle in at our various spots. Rich’s phone rang almost immediately. It was the younger teen. He was in danger. His sister was going to kill him. How?? We just got here?? You drove nine hours in a car together over two days with intentions of homicide? How??

The younger teen had been assigned one responsibility by his sister in getting ready for this trip – he was to pack the tent and sleeping bags. And he did. What he didn’t do was pack the tent poles. This is a giant tent. There would be no tying it to a tree her or there. This was a fail on many levels. No tent poles meant no tent meant no RV to our grown up selves meant no privacy for the new 18 year old – pretty much the main bribe we gave her in exchange for her presence. Before we could say ‘there goes the chance of any hanky-panky..’ the elder child announced her departure to Walmart for a tent. Another phone call. They only had one person tents. And by person, that meant ONLY a person. No fans or electronics would fit in there after the sleeping bag and pillows were stuffed in. This was not going well. The younger child was basically hiding behind a tree at this point to avoid the side-eye daggers being thrown. Oh boy.

They returned with two one person tents, then returned from a second trip with a two person tent. It was evident this was only a band aid as neither tent allowed for standing or space or air. The tent site was also fairly poor – basically on a 45 degree hill – and there was clearly a meltdown in the works. We weren’t sure when Zoe would just up and take the car, point it north and leave – but finally opted on spending some extra cash to get them in the campground’s available ‘safari tent.’ It had one bed and a fan and the stinking boy child could suffer on the wood floor while wishing he’d remembered those pesky tent poles. Sadly, we were past the time of being able to get our hands on permission to move from the office, so it would be one night of sleeping on an angle in tiny tents for those two. Or for the one that refused to stand down on the privacy bit – the other one ended up on the RV couch at 2:00am after basically rolling down the hill in an attempt to get comfy.

Day Four: We have relocated the kids into a safari tent. We’ve had a tour of the entire area for recon. We’ve had lunchtime cocktails and, more importantly, appetizers that were very close to being two minutes too late in the life of the lost and hangry. I’m sure we’re mostly exhausted after only 24 hours because it’s our first real jaunt into what we’re told is the new normal. Park the car. Walk to any entrance. See the ‘Masks Required’ sign. Walk back to the car. Dig out a mask from under the seat, hanging from the mirror, inside a purse, or from a pocket. Walk back to the entrance. Pop on mask while entering. Inhale a piece of lint. Step back outside while choking and coughing while assuring people it’s not Covid… so this is the new normal?

Typically, I spend the first half of vacation swimming in a low to moderate level of anxiety. Is everybody happy? Are we all getting along? Should I be making plans or stop organizing? What if whatever I cook is terrible? Please don’t let (insert name) say anything that will offend (insert name). Also, sometimes it’s my own name. There is a noticeable difference this year – I feel it, to my kids and husband, see it, maybe even my family notices. I don’t know if it’s that my casual mom genes have come in, as Rich says, or if, after months of intensity via quarantines and school struggles and riots and job fears and, and, and…I just don’t sweat the small stuff like I used to. I spent months on high alert, dreading the daily news (which I eventually stopped reading…the world may have ended a week ago, wouldn’t know). At some point I turned my efforts inward to relishing the day to day of the inside world and ignoring the drama of the outside. And now, I’m just a girl sitting in front of a mountain asking it to love, oh wait, wrong memory.

But I am, well, just much more ‘not.’ And by being much more ‘not,’ I’ve become more ‘am.’

And I realize that hardly makes sense, probably, to anybody but me. But it’s working.

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