It is almost summer. We’ve made it.
As I’ve mentioned, winter here is long. And cold. And long. Invariably, people who can afford to, escape for a week or two to someplace tropical. They come back all brown and relaxed and remind the rest of us how cold and poor we are. So, we like them a little less for a while.
Summer is the great vacation equalizer. You don’t need to have disposable income to luxuriate in the sun. All you have to do is go outside. Everywhere is vacation.
Without the oppression of unforgiving coldness, with leaves on the trees and flowers sprinkled everywhere, the WHY AM I TRAPPED HERE?! hysteria that winter drives me to each year, gets replaced with geez, I’m so lucky.
Even if you don’t have time off work, summer is still more vacation-y. At the end of your day you go out to your car, put on your sunglasses, roll down the windows and turn up the music. And there you are, enjoying your sunny commute. Ahhhh. Life is good.
At least, that’s what I keep telling myself because I haven’t planned any big vacations for my family this year.
The thing is, like most Americans, we have debt. Not all of it is the good kind (if there is such a thing). I see our debt as a large, soul-sucking monster perched on my shoulders, digging its talons into my skin and breathing down my neck. I want it gone. Feeding the beast with a high-priced beach trip seems counterproductive.
Still, the idea of not going anywhere during vacation season kind of had me bummed until I visited a Marylander friend of mine, recently.
For breakfast, she took me to a restaurant called Miss Shirley’s Café. (I still think about that meal, by the way, weeks later.) She said it was the place she recommended to friends visiting the Baltimore area, her stomping ground.
She then took me to a nearby community that had a huge, resident-funded tulip garden.
It occurred to me on the drive home that I have no idea where I would tell people to go when visiting my area. We moved into our house when my daughter was three months old. I’ve spent the last ten years going to Target and the bookstore.
As my children got older and I was able to steal time for myself, I added Starbucks and my forest to the list of places I go.
The problem isn’t that I didn’t want to explore my own stomping ground, the problem is small children make going pretty much anywhere not fun.
It’s the ugly truth. When three members of your party are perpetually hot, hungry, and tired of walking, whining happens. Whining that could make your ears bleed. A trip that should be leisurely and relaxing becomes a PLEASE MAKE IT STOP! living hell.
When my youngest was not quite two, I took my children on a beach trip with my extended family. Having no fear of getting lost or stolen, little Charlie would run full throttle down the beach without ever looking back.
I spent the entire trip chasing him. Which is to say, I spent the entire trip running in hot sand. Yelling. In my bathing suit. In public. And, I’m not skinny. Can you say spectacle?
In the meantime, I had to depend on the rest of my family to make sure my older two children didn’t drown. I can’t even begin to explain how not relaxing that trip was.
But, now that my little angels are older, the fact that we live in an American tourist destination mecca is suddenly more valuable to me. We can take day trips to four major US cities*. We can take a day trip to the ocean and to the mountains. (Not big mountains, but still.)
I no longer have to fight with strollers and diapers and drippy cups and nap time and HELP ME FIND YOUR BROTHER!
Suddenly, the world around me has opened up again.
It’s no wonder every day feels like a vacation as long as it’s warm. Without really noticing, a weight, much heavier than the debt monster, has been lifting.
It occurred to me when Charlie learned how to make himself a peanut butter sandwich that there should be some sort of parenting badge for that. Come to think of it, each step toward preparing your child for independence, starting with the mack daddy of parenting hurdles: toilet training, should garner at least a gold star, if not an embroidered patch.
I guess the real reward is one more task I can sit out. Or, when it comes to vacationing, one more moment I have to relax. (And, yeah, yeah child development.)
This summer, I’m making it my mission to find my favorite (inexpensive) local spots. If I only make it as far as my deck, well, at least the sunshine is free. I can be brown and relaxed, too.
*If you were curious, the four major U.S. cities I can day trip to are Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and New York. I've never actually day tripped to New York, but I know other people around here who have. So, it's possible.
I like to throw things.