I am driving southbound on Interstate 35 through Iowa, returning home from a family vacation in Minnesota, "the land of 10,000 lakes." And though there were about 9,992 lakes we didn't get to see (gas prices, you know), we still had a great time.
My husband dozes in the shotgun seat. My adult children are out like lights in the back. I am alone with my thoughts and the scenery: picturesque red barns, acres of white wind turbines (way to be green, Iowa!) and cars with bumper stickers sporting witty sayings like: "So many pedestrians, so little time," "I'm not as think as you drunk I am" and "Tell me to 'stuff it'. I'm a taxidermist!" And I think to myself, "Taxidermy. Such a proud profession."
We are returning from a resort we have visited off and on since the kids were little. It's a lot like the place featured in the "Dirty Dancing" movie, offering activities galore to keep families staying in small cabins from killing each other. There is Bingo, yoga, beach volleyball, watercolor classes, water skiing, bonfires, horseback riding, golf and nightly entertainment in the lounge. The dancing, however, is clean, except for those beer-sodden polka people who stormed the floor one night in the Northwoods Lounge. (It wasn't exactly the bump-and-grind, but there were a few elbows thrown during the "Beer Barrel" and I'm sure Lawrence Welk would call THAT dirty dancing.)
This is the first time we've vacationed with the kids since both became fully legal adults. As the miles and bumper stickers roll by - "Keep honking, I'm reloading," "Agnostics Against Bush (Some things we know for sure)," "Montana: At least our cows are sane" - I reflect on how our trips have changed over the years, making a "then and now" list in my head.
Essential supplies for peaceful 9 1/2-hour car ride:
Then: Books, crayons, candy, Etch-A-Sketch, Auto Bingo, Disney movie soundtracks, candy, Barbies, action figures, Travel Yahtzee, puzzles, cards, stickers, candy, pillows, sleeping bags, boxed drinks and candy.
Now: iPods, pillows and Cosmo magazine
Number of bathroom stops along the route:
Then: 7 -10, depending on number of boxed drinks consumed
Most popular lunch on the road:
Then: Happy Meal with small fries and Sprite
Now: Quarter Pounder with cheese and a Red Bull chaser
Most frequent phrase spoken by kids on journey:
Then: How many more minutes?
Now: Can you keep it down? I'm trying to sleep.
Kids' vacation beverage of choice:
Then: Shirley Temple with extra cherries
Now: Whiskey and Coke with extra whiskey
Kids' favorite vacation dinner:
Then: Grilled cheese with fries
Now: Surf 'n' Turf with Pinot Noir
Indoor family activity in inclement weather:
Now: Texas Hold 'Em
Back-up plan when rain doesn't let up:
Then: "The Cosby Show" on TV Land
Now: "Flavor of Love" on VH1 (If you don't know, don't ask. I couldn't explain it if I tried.)
Kid's favorite recreational activity:
Then: Water sliding
Now: Bar hopping
Kids' vacation bedtime:
Then: 10:30 p.m.
Now: Who knows? I turned in at 11 p.m.
I sigh and think, "Those were the days. But, hey, these are good times, too! Besides, we're lucky the kids want to spend 6 nights and 7 days in close quarters with their parental units. (Of course, when the units are footing the bill, why wouldn't they? We didn't raise a couple of idiots.)
As we cross the line into Missouri, a string of cars passes us on the left, treating me to another wave of bumper sticker credos: "I fish, therefore I lie," "Never thought I'd miss Nixon" and my personal favorite: "Dyslexics are teople, poo."
Finally, a big black Lincoln Continental zooms by with a sticker that reads, "We're spending our kids' inheritance." I glance at the couple traveling together, alone in the car. For a moment, I am envious. Especially of the money they're saving.
Then, in the rearview mirror, I catch a glimpse of my two not-so-little babies, fast asleep, their angelic mouths half-open and drooling onto their stained pillowcases. And I think to myself, those folks in the Lincoln don't know what they're missing.
Because you haven't lived until you've sipped a whiskey and Coke and played Texas Hold 'Em with your kids during a Minnesota rain shower.