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So Happy Together

It’s good to get away.

The family unity experienced at the start of a vacation is a thing of beauty. The sense of expectation is high and positive attitudes abound. There is no fighting, no crying and very little whining.

We try to vacation at least once a year. We usually go to beaches because I’ve been on a quest to find a conch shell on the beach for the last 40 years or so. We’ve been to Maine (no conch shells), Cape Cod (no conch shells) and North Carolina (no conch shells).

With each conch shell failure, I become more dejected. It bothers my husband almost as much, I think. He hates to see me sad, because he loves me and also because my clutter tends to worsen. “Hey, here’s a thought!” he helpfully chimed in during this year’s planning process. “Let’s find out where the conchs are and go there!” I ignored his sarcasm and booked a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida.

We flew down to Fort Lauderdale, picked up our rental car and drove across the Tamiami Trail to the other side of the state. We were all excitedly spying alligators in the canals. We found our condo without issue, and the kids were thrilled to find their room equipped with two double beds and a television. This last piece was huge, since I won’t let them have TVs in their room until college. I’m a mean mother.

We were close to the beach, where I found my beloved conch shells. The kids played in the surf and splashed in the condo’s pool. They stood side by side on our sightseeing cruise to find dolphins and were darn near holding hands at the awesome spectacle of the manatees just offshore. My son was protective of his little sister during the airboat ride in the Everglades. (“Sophie, get your arms INSIDE THE BOAT. That alligator next to you thinks you’re an appetizer.”) It was lovely.

Oh, sure, there were the usual little squabbles: “Mom, this cricket is the size of my hand! Why did we come here, anyway?” Or, “Mom, I have sunscreen in my eyes! Give me a towel! Give me a towel!” Or the ever-popular “Mom, we’re being attacked by mosquitoes! Did you even research this place?” But for the most part, everyone got along famously.

Then it was time to leave.

Let me say this: In my experience, vacations should, by law, end the day before they do. However long it is scheduled for, it should end the previous day. Every vacation I’ve ever taken has turned out to be one day too long—sometimes two. If your family is spending seven days together in a new place, you will find that patience starts to ebb by day five. By day six it is common to be snapping at each other. And by day seven you’re wondering how you ever loved these people.

For our trip back to the airport, the parents’ front-seat conversation was two hours of something like this: “Honey, there’s the turn—honey! There’s the—OK, you missed the turn. Now where are you going? That’s a Home Depot parking lot. We’re going to the Home Depot now? Are we buying tools?”

The kids’ back-seat conversation was no better. I caught snippets of their bickering, culminating in my daughter taking a stand. “Hey,” she warned, “I’ve got lip gloss here and I’m not afraid to use it!” She was holding her pink Hannah Montana tube in a very threatening fashion, if that’s even possible. My son rolled his eyes and pretended to sleep.

The rest of the ride was spent in an uneasy silence, punctuated only by the ding of the gas light going on and my husband arguing with the GPS system as to the nearest gas station. Even our typically calm if a tad pretentious Brit-accented dashboard dolly was at her wit’s end. I fully expected her snide “Recalculating” to be followed with “You insufferable boob.”

We ultimately arrived at the airport and returned home at 11 p.m. I unpacked my shells as the husband and children fled to their respective caves. Through her closed door, I heard my daughter’s goodnight to me: “All of my friends have televisions in their rooms! It’s not fair!”

And I thought, “Wow. It’s good to be home.”

Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at maggiesimone@verizon.net.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York