March can usher in violent tornadoes and sudden ice storms, but it also brings something even more terrifying to me: spring break.
That means my family of four boys, two dogs and one type-A husband will be hitting the road and driving each other crazy.
Unlike my carefree college days when spring break meant buying a new bikini and piling into a hotel room with six girlfriends, this seasonal tradition now revolves around spill-proof pants, DVD players and Dramamine.
I remember spring break a dozen years ago in Florida. At the time, my oldest son, James, was toilet training, and we found ourselves idling on a long layover in Tampa. He didn’t quite make it to the facilities but did make it to me.
Being a newbie mom, I had neglected to pack extra clothes for him or myself. We were forced to forage for a new wardrobe at the airport gift shop where the only clothes available were New York Yankees spring training tees. I quickly outfitted us in gray and navy pinstripes. My husband, a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, could only shake his head.
By the time my second son, Henry, came along, I was much better prepared. I knew the key to any successful road trip revolved around an ample collection of DVDs. We hit the highway to see family in St. Louis and popped in a succession of Godzilla flicks that lasted through most of Oklahoma.
Everything was going fine until about Joplin, when we put in Where the Red Fern Grows. Pretty soon, the sad tale of a boy and his coonhound had us crying so hard we had to pullover for group therapy and an extended hugging session with our own pups, two dachshunds named Oscar and Vienna.
But one spring break trip is unrivaled in its infamy. My third son, Will, was a toddler at the time and was prone to bouts of carsickness. We had barely made it to Airport Freeway when the first wave hit.
“Maybe it’s a sign,” I said. “Let’s go back home.”
“Come on,” my husband urged. “It isn’t really a family vacation until someone throws up. He’ll be fine.”
We kept going, and things stabilized a bit. By the time we made it to Austin, it seemed safe to stop for lunch. An hour later while traveling down a winding Hill Country road just outside Wimberley, things went south – literally. Will’s eyes widened, and my sweet toddler transformed into a full throttle Linda Blair a la The Exorcist.
We pulled over at a small church with a playground to regroup. The kids got out and hit the merry-go-round while we waited for Will’s stomach to stop spinning. Meanwhile I wiped down the inside of the minivan like a madwoman. Since then, I keep a bottle of Dramamine safety tucked into the glove compartment – just in case.
Now that we have a fourth son, Andrew, spring break travel takes on the aura and expense of a major rock tour. I feel like I need extra roadies to help me haul the required baggage; we all need personal assistants to keep up with our electronic gear from iPods to Sony PlayStation Portables.
All this hasn’t quelled my crew’s wanderlust, and now they’re pushing to visit various locales that require unlimited Visa card limits. My husband wants to see Rome. James prefers to go to New York City. Henry and Will’s idea of heaven is seven days Orlando, while Andrew dreams of playing at Legoland near San Diego.
Maybe they can send me a postcard. This year I’m thinking more and more like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
There’s no place like home.
Kathryn Hopper lives in North Texas with her husband, Stuart, and their four boys, James, Henry, Will and Andrew. Her favorite vacation spot is her backyard hammock.