My Family Vacation: Day 2

I’m learning a few things about myself.

I’ve boasted–for years now, based on my trip with Birthright Israel that I took in ’01–that I’m a carefree traveler. I’m wrong about that.

I don’t know if it’s the place, or my age, or my baggage (figurative) or just that now I have kids who are desperate to get seriously maimed and/or fall off a mountainside, but I’m totally on edge. I can’t relax, I look for any route into an argument, and I hover enough for an entire fleet of Boca helicopter moms.

I’m serious about the perpetual suicide attempts–Lucy walks, literally, with one foot on the edge of every cliff we hike. And she can’t be bothered to pay attention, singing Let It Go remixes to one unfortunate snail after another (that she finds resting contentedly on a plant, takes because she wants to ‘find its family somewhere else’ and then throws it into a river. Or at a tree trunk. Or off a mountain.) Jack is like a windup injury doll, and Mila’s not nearly scared enough about the legion of copperhead waiting underfoot.

So it’s taking me some time to decompress. I’m a far cry from that 21yrold Birthright, whose only preoccupation, whilst gazing at the desert starscape from beneath a Bedoin sleeping tent, was how to best melancholize my latest journal entry.

That said, Day Two was pretty sweet.

We woke up to a country breakfast of eggs and bacon and bitter coffee, and then piled back into the Tahoe with the dogs and headed to Greenbriar, a place of many hiking trails. There is also a river of the freshest water ever, and tiny little rapids that make the most wonderful gushing noise. We decided against the ‘beach’ for the moment–which was a terrible mistake. It would have been the perfect spot for the kids–and drove to a less populated trail alongside an accessible ridge to the same river. And then we parked and let the dogs out, and they were in heaven. It may not look like it here, but please chalk that up to my mediocre journalism. After this ‘I don’t think we’re in Boca anymore’ moment, they did a lot of frolicking.

But do you know what? Frodo–the big one–he’s old. And I’m really sad about that. I got him when I was twenty-one, and from the very moment I saw him he was my earth, moon and sky. I took him everywhere, I spooned with him every night–he’s run the gamut on difficult-time companionship with me. And he’s been an angel to every one of my babies. And now he’s old, and I’m just really getting that, and I’m really sad about it.

IMG_4248Once it was so easy for him, slamming into the mudpits behind Antrim Park, Ohio. He’d wriggle out of the leash and chase nothing through the woods for hours, scare every fisherman in sight with me in his wake, apologizing for his indecency and my law-breaking leashlessness (though really, I was in on it all along). And then he’d flop into the passenger seat, all muddy and stinking to high heaven of goose poop, not giving a sh*t about a thing.

Now he’s struggling. He navigates uneven terrain like a geriatric crone with a walking stick, bulbous, arthritic knees trembling, tumors erupting in shallow swells along his thighs. It’s so so sad. He’s still happy, and he still loves to hike, and he still looks really great for his age, but now he needs help up the river wall, and once he made the saddest crying noise that I’d never heard him make before. We ran to find out that he wasn’t hurt or stuck, just in a spot from where he couldn’t see any of us and had gotten frightened. That might not sound worrying to you, but it wrenched my heart into knots because he’s so independent. He used to just go, ignore me, have his fun and then come to find me. Now it’s like he knows that if he gets into a bad spot and we’re not there, he’s screwed.

I’m so sad. I won’t take his passing well.

IMG_4253Anyway, the girls had a blast. They followed Rich across the boulders and into the frigid water much more gamely than I would have imagined, squealing at the long-legged water bugs and occasional fish.

Jack screamed bloody murder when Rich dipped him, torso deep, into the water, and when he attempted to run for safety in my direction, it was a pathetic sight–like a baby sealion trying to get through rush-hour traffic.

Not one to keep his distaste a secret, he wailed ‘upoo!’ until I picked him up, and then we parked ourselves on a flat boulder to watch the family explore. It wasn’t so bad–I was a little peeved to be reminded that now I’m The Mom who has to do that sort of thing, and that Rich is The Dad, who still gets to do his sort of thing, but whatever, that’s how things go. It was still fun to watch.



Because he’s good at the mountain nature stuff. Look, doesn’t he look like he belongs here?





And with him, the girls are brave. They never would’ve followed me out there.




Afterward, we went back home and had dinner. Earlier that morning Rich, REALLY gung-ho about this whole country thing, had gone into town on a grocery run and returned with a lot of things on which were printed ‘Just Add Meat’. So we had our first of what would be several weeks of high-sodium meals–Chili and Chips. I don’t have many spices here, so I don’t hold myself at all accountable in this kitchen. It’s a grocery crapshoot.


We wound down by playing Mila’s new favorite game–Dominos. I have no idea if we’re playing it correctly, but it doesn’t matter. She loves it.

We found the domino box in the game room here, and it’s called ‘Mexican Dominos’. There are no instructions, and it comes with a tiny red traincar and six miniature dominos, which Mila always has to have in her possession. It’s a lot of fun.

Around 9PM, Rich and I got a wild hair to drive into town and surprise the girls with Ripley’s Haunted House, something we’ve been geeking out about since seeing it online. It was awesome, driving up on Gatlinburg at night, thousands of tourists milling around eating fudge and nursing their weird tan lines. There is a TON to do there: restaurants and live music, museums, motion rides, miniature golf, cowboy shops, laser tag, ziplining, craft stores, picture studios…you could spend a lot of money there.

You want to know where we couldn’t spend money? Ripley’s Haunted House. You have to be six to get in, and the guy wouldn’t budge. We were PISSED.



The kids were cool about it, though. I took them instead to the ‘largest mirror maze in the world’ and it was AWESOME. It gave me the chance to prove how terrible I truly am at finding my way to safety, to the delight of a few ticket guys in the ticket booth. I led everyone back to the entrance three times before Mila took over and got us out. It really was a lot of fun.


Jack got so disoriented he just up and sat down, and stared around like someone had slipped LSD into his chocolate milk.



So it was a good fail, the Haunted House. Rich said it was nothing to write home about, anyway (I let him go while we got lost in the mirror maze). Afterward, we hit up regular Ripley’s Odditorium, which Rich wasn’t overexcited about, but I was because it reminds me of being a kid. I always loved Ripley’s.


This one was super interactive, good for the kids. There was a big candy shop on the way out. I got a rock sugar pop for Jack, and he went to town on it while sitting on Rich’s shoulders. It was a few minutes before Rich noticed the river of blueberry drool snaking around his neck and into his ear.


Mission: My First Family Vacation, Day Two.

Succes! Goodnight, people. See you tomorrow.