If we leave in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness, maybe no one will discover we're missing. But, more importantly, maybe the children will sleep and we may reach our destination without watching "Barney" on my husband's new portable TV/VCR (How's that for optimism?)
I think I speak for most families when I say that narrowing down three to five consecutive days (there's no hope beyond five days) with white space on the calendar is harder than it was to find a show on television that didn't have a clip of Mike Tyson ordering a take-out portion of Evander Holyfield's ear earlier this month.
The packing ritual
We soon discover a quiet escape is impossible because the next stop involves neighbors, family, friends and strangers helping us pack the minivan. There's a ritual to packing for our vacation. I decide what goes with us and my husband decides how to pack it. Since we have a baby in our family, all porta-stuff goes with us. We need the porta-crib, porta-highchair, porta-walker, porta-potty, etc. The older boys need everything from bikes to Batman.
Neighbors, family, friends and strangers stop or pass by offering minivan packing tips and looks of sincere and utter amazement. (We, of course, interpret the gestures and stares as signs of jealousy.)
The day and night before vacation, everyone wears the same thing, because I've washed, dried, folded, fluffed, stuffed, crammed and jammed all the clothes that two adults and three children could need for a six-month stay in four different climate zones. In the meantime, my 5-year-old won't go to bed without his favorite train shirt - buried, at least until month three of vacation.
Departure time finally arrives. Everyone and everything is in place. We exit our driveway for our adventurous camping vacation! With the kids, the dog and all the gear, the driver of this one-car moving company has just enough room to see traffic in the rear-view mirror, if it happens to be just 1/4-inch wide.
Yes, we are on the road. One block from the house, the baby lets out a scream. We turn the vehicle around and head home to retrieve a forgotten critical piece of equipment - his pacifier.
I reach over and turn on the TV/VCR.
Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three boys. She is a freelance writer and owner of a home-based marketing and public relations business.