Trying our best NOT to be the Griswalds.

conkle's hollow, hocking hillsFor the first time in 3 years we were able to take a vacation with the entire family.  We’ve been so many places in all this time, mostly it was just Bryan and I and occasionally Dylan.  Each of the little ones had been with us on a trip once before but never together.  One of the things holding us back is always time and schedule (having no flexibility or understanding in a custody arrangement makes it difficult).  Once we became five, the other was simply space.  Dylan is quickly approach 6’….putting him in the back seat of a Mazda 3 with two other small people for 3-5 hours at a stretch?  Not really an option.  So, this year?  We got a mini-van.  No, I never wanted a mini-van.  I abhorred the idea.  Then again, I never expected to have a family of 3 kids, either.  Besides,  it does have a DVD player built in.  Bonus!

So, the plan was 4 nights in a secluded cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio.  The arrangements had been made for months.  We had been making lists for the trip for only a slightly shorter period of time.  The weekend before the trip it seemed like time stood still – things were moving so slow.  That Sunday at 7PM when we picked up the last child for the week we could breathe.  All were accounted for – no shenanigans had ensued.  We were actually going to be able to enjoy this.  No we had to get our shit together – quickly.

Obviously, we have a tendency to go a little overboard.  The first thing we did when we started getting down to business was discover that Bryan was going to have basically a half day off the Tuesday before we were leaving.  Hmmmm….it was only going to be a 3-4 hour drive.  So, if he was getting home by 12:30 or 1:00PM we could TOTALLY pull off getting to the cabin by 5:00PM.  The night was still available – we booked it.  We now had a 5-night vacation.  (Of course we wouldn’t actually wind up getting there until after 8PM since everything we do has to take twice as long as expected, but that’s a whole other story.)

We filled those days and nights, on paper, with ideas for games, fishing, playing badminton and basketball on the courts provided, hiking, shopping, and mini-golf.  We needed food for 5 for 4 days because we didn’t want to spend a lot of money eating out.  There was crazy grocery shopping, the dying of hair, packing, laundry and the list goes on.  Come to find out, the van is a wonderful, spacious thing for transporting people.  People and all of their stuff, though?  Not so much – next time we will invest in one of those luggage things you can strap to the roof of your car.  Anyway….

I shopped like crazy, chopped vegetables, made things ahead….and at the end of the day we forgot most of it at home.  That Monterrey/cheddar sting cheese you asked for at the last minute?  Yep, it’s in the fridge.  But those 5 different card games that we all talked about?  Totally made it in the car.  It was less than perfect.  What would you expect from us, though?

It was an amazing trip.  No, we didn’t get to play all the games we wanted to.  We’ll make plenty of time to do that at home though.  What did we do?  And what did we take away from it? A month after the trip, here’s what stands out:

– Take the scenic route even if it takes longer.  We drove down through Amish Country and it was a hit.  Not only do we find places closer to home that we want to visit another time, we enjoy taking in and talking about a simpler way of life.  Someone actually asked to turn the DVD player off and it stayed off the whole way down (I think it really only played about 30 minutes in total) traded in for music and conversation.

– In this area, everything is at least 20-30 minutes from everything else.  Plan for lots of car time if you want to get out to the parks and hiking trails.  Driving (and an extra grocery trip) sucked up so much of the time we were hoping to have for other things.

– If you plan to take in the antique malls, give yourself a whole day.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that our entire family was able to spend almost 2 hours just going through basically 2 of these places.  Each of the kids enjoyed it. The constant, “oh my gosh, look at this!” was fantastic.  So much so that we’ve added it to our list of things to do back home, too.

– Mini-golf is always a hit no matter where you are.  We played twice, once in a little too much heat and sun and a second at a leisurely “pay once, play as many times as you want” course with only 2 other people and all the time in the world.

– Gem mining is a horrible tourist trap but the kids will always love it – no matter how old they are.  My 14 year old had a blast.  He knew the secret but had fun playing along for the little ones.  And he still started to pout when he was the only one who didn’t find an arrowhead.

– Hiking is good for everyone.  No matter how fit, tired, hot, or young, once you’re engulfed by the cliffs and trees it’s magical.  Everything falls away and little explorers start to emerge.  One thing we did that turned out fantastic?  Don’t be afraid to split up.  Bryan and Dylan decided to come back on a different trail at one park while I stayed with the younger kids.  It was a great idea.  They got to do a more challenging trail while the younger ones got to feel a little more grown up on a hike of their own.  When we were only planning on going to a couple of parks we actually wound up doing almost all of them because everyone enjoyed it so much.

– Spend cabin time being silly.  There was one evening where we had a chance to sit down and play some games.  By the end of the night I remember everyone running around and laughing to the point of falling over – and I mean everyone.  I can’t even remember now how it started but it was a highlight of our time there.

– Get up at 5:30 in the morning so that you can have adult only time in the hot tub.  Not for what you’re thinking necessarily.  But for relaxing – in the quiet.  Without having to answer any questions.  With coffee.

– Of all the stuff you’re planning to pack?  Take all the real food, half of the “fake” food (snacks, chips, etc.), half of the stuff you think you’ll need for entertainment, and all the shoes you think you might want (that’s my rule at least – it never fails that once I’m hours from home I want the 3 pairs of shoes I don’t have with me).

The hardest but most important rule?  Remember that this is a family vacation.  It will be a lot of work and will not be like any adult vacation ever.  There will not be all the time in the world to read or watch movies or relax with a glass of wine on the rocking chair on the front deck.  The cabin may not be everything you expect and there will definitely be moths and spiders at every turn.  It will be some of the best moments you remember – the best time you can spend together.  It will be crazy and challenging and exhausting.  And when one of your kids draws a sad face on a cinder block by the fire pit with a piece of charred wood, choking back some tears, and says, “I’m going to miss the cabin,”  it will be worth every minute.


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