My First Family Vacation

Rich works for the Sheriff’s Office. Rich has access to a departmental Classifieds. Rich comes home one day, breaks the at-moment toddler volcano with a sentence to which I might have responded differently, had I a moment to think.

‘So I saw an ad for a cabin rental in Tennessee. What do you think about a two-week family vacation in the Smoky Mountains?’

I really can’t ask for much more in a man. He works hard, he tells me I’m sexy despite all evidence otherwise, he can fix a car, and if he gets up first he makes the coffee. NOW he admits to spending extra-curricular hours diagramming memory-making potentials for the entire family. Amazing.

Hang on, though. Let’s examine those last four words for a moment: For. The. Entire. Family.

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for fourteen hours.

One: I make a ‘somebody just farted’ face when people over the age of twenty-three tell me that–even though flying is an affordable option when you get down to gas and incidentals–they’ve chosen to drive a long distance to a vacation destination. I say things like, ‘I don’t get why you would do that. Why would anyone choose to do that?’

Two: I’m old. My bones hurt. I don’t like to spend large amounts of time in small spaces.

Three:  I am not a planner by nature. I have award-winning discipline for procrastination. I’ve garnered a generous levy of similarly-themed panic attacks, and still I remain solid in my one true purpose: to not get anything done before the VERY LAST SECOND.

And a trip like this takes PLANNING. When you spend any real time with one or more toddlers, you assume that things are going to go to sh*t at any given moment. When you’re someone with an overactive inner dialogue obsessed with apocalyptic disaster imagery, not only do you assume that all toddlers will tantrum and diarrhea at once, but also that a neglected Chevy recall will cause all doors to open simultaneously at any speed over 82, hurtling all riders into antipodal time loops.

Why would I choose to spend a straight fourteen hours that way? Why would anyone do that?

So, anyway, I started packing twelve hours before the trip.


IMG_4143For twelve hours, my house was  declared a Hard Hat Area. Step within my ten-foot proximity radius and be subject to violence of chupacabra proportion.

IMG_4145Between fits of hysterical ululations, I laundered and packed every last article of clothing in existence. I compartmentalized my entire pantry into small Ziploc-bagged ‘snacks for the car’.


For The Kids
For The Kids

For The Kids:







For Me:   (Yes, this is a 20-piece box of Publix Chicken Wings. You can shut up if you’re under 30, because if a carb enters my stratosphere I gain three pounds instantantly. So I’m on a diet until the end of time, which is how long it will take for me to lose the fifteen pounds of     happy fat that I blame on Rich.)

IMG_4151 The dogs, not understanding that they would be joining us on this adventure, were inconsolable. I suffered a full day of sad eyebrows, bloated sighs and sorrowful glances at the growing pile of suitcases .

After a few hours of exchanging verbally abusive, pent-up declarations of total partner inadequacy and pointlessness of existence careful consideration, Rich and I decided that the kids would spend half the day with the neighbor kids and half the day with my mom. Rich would sleep and I would finish packing, and we’d hit the street at 11pm with the feeble hope that the kids would be SO TIRED they’d sleep through the overnight leg of the trip.

So after piling everything that we know and love into the Tahoe, we set off.

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And check it out: fifteen minutes in.


Also, check out how excited the dogs are now that they know. They turned alien.


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So Rich drove through the night and it was totally fine. Fiona the bulldog waged war with a few semis along the way, wrenching Jack out of sleep for a few fitful seconds, but other than that things went very well.

In the morning (around 10am), we stopped at a Cracker Barrel. Because everyone knows you have to do that on a road trip.

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It was a first for the kids. The rocking chairs and table games were a big hit.


And Jack had a serious poopy dipe, so Rich took the opportunity to humiliate his only son in public. The stop was a respectable two-fer.

The rest of the trip wasn’t quite as pleasant. The kids were still really well-behaved–which I guess is all you can really ask for–but I’d had about three hours sleep in two days, so my turn at bat wasn’t easy. I tried to drive as much as possible so Rich could get some sleep, but he took the wheel after only a few hours, and it was he that was behind the wheel as we descended upon the most horrible place in the world.


A tiny little ‘zoo’ on the way to Gatlinburg that houses (imprisons) six adult bears, one bear cub, a giant iguana and a variety of lemurs.

We were hopeful. Rich wondered, ‘Maybe they are rescue bears? Maybe they’ve been hit by a car, or orphaned or something. Let’s give it a chance.’

Which we did. But it was, truly, the worst of realities. In an unrewarding conversation with the ticket master, I discovered that these bears are born and raised and left to die in these enclosures–uninhabitable concrete boxes full of feces and nothing enriching whatsoever.

You’re offered a plate of ‘food’ for 1.00–lettuce, apple and bread–to throw at the  bears, who’ve learned to sit up and beg. It’s the only activity, apart from whatever is elicited by the allure of variously-placed, disintegrating kid toys (like a baby pool and half a fisher-price car) nailed to the enclosure walls. Maybe a defeated swat or a sniff here and there, who knows.

The lemurs are housed in tiny habitats and left to make more lemurs. There were several babies. You are not allowed to feed the lemurs.

It was the saddest place I’ve ever seen.

But we Castleberrys are adept at turning a fail into a learning opportunity, so the children left appropriately mortified. Mila understood that this Bear Zoo was a bad place, that these bears would never hunt or reap the benefits of untouched nature just yards from their enclosure. She got that the Bear Zoo deserved no monetary recompense at all. So when we passed through the gift shop, she turned her little nose up at the cashiers and walked out without asking for a thing. Not even a ring pop.

And so, nonplussed, we piled back into the Tahoe and continued to our long-awaited destination: Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

This is what Gatlinburg looks like:

It is like the Disneyworld of Tennessee. I had no idea.

We didn’t stop, though, because we would not be staying in a hotel. Rich had rented us a place in the middle of nowhere, on a street without a name, up three miles of pitch black, near-death cliffside backroads.


It’s beautiful here. I’ll be posting a video tour tomorrow of the cabin and the spectacular views, but for now let me say goodnight. The kids have eaten dinner IMG_4229and we’ve taken the obligatory fireplace photo. We’re going to play one very tired game of Dominos and then go to sleep. For days, maybe. Goodnight.