Yesterday, I had to take the kid to the grocery right after school. I needed several things for our upcoming road trip to Myrtle Beach and to stock the vacation condo we’ve rented, which is a BYO-everything from linens to towels to paper products, and of course, food. While we will certainly dine out, my childhood memories of family vacation have cemented some ways to try to save money on these trips and still rule the day. As a single mom with an aging and awful car that’s constantly plagued with problems, our road trips are fewer and further between than when he was a baby because of the cost and the crap vehicle, which is fine.
My family vacationed at the same place every year when I was growing up. A little, picturesque town on the other side of Lake Erie called Leamington, in Ontario, Canada. I think my dad’s brother had vacationed there once and came back and told everyone how clean it was, and manageable, affordable and nice, with access to the beach, cheap lodging, and some good, inexpensive restaurants and diners in the town. We fell in love with it and it was our annual road trip, just far enough to feel like you’ve gone somewhere, but not so far it was a horrible eternity in the car. We’d detour through Detroit each year to stop and see my aunt and her family—horrible people who went on to treat me and my sister like sacks of dog shit once my dad died, and then we’d proceed across the Ambassador Bridge cheering and waving our little Canadian flags: we’re officially ON VACATION!
We always stayed in this little motel that had a couple of units with an efficiency kitchen, and mom would make us breakfast each day to save money. We’d bring sandwiches and snacks for the road since our parents knew fast food was garbage and it was cheaper and better to bring your own food. The room we had was divided by a partition but there were no doors—mom and dad slept in the bed on one side, me and my sister in the other, and then the little kitchen and a dining room table and bathroom, and that was the room. My sister and I always woke up before our parents, and we would quietly sneak out in front of the room, propping something in the door so it wouldn’t slam shut and lock, and we’d sit on the cement sidewalk and play in the sun while we waited for them to wake up. Cards, jacks, whatever we had with us. The work whistle would go off around 8am at the Heinz plant that’s near the motel. Leamington is the “tomato capital” of Canada, and as we played, the smell of tomatoes began to permeate the air. This usually meant breakfast was imminent, and it was exciting.
Why? Because for vacation, mom let us each go to the grocery with her and pick out a whole box of cereal that would be just for vacation, and it could be ANY KIND OF CEREAL WE WANTED. She was not allowed to veto it, no matter how unhealthy or gross it was. I always picked Count Chocula and my sister usually picked Apple Jacks. So when I took my son to the store yesterday, I told him the deal. He was pretty excited. He picked Froot Loops, which I put in my cart and the cart did not catch on fire next to the other healthy food I’d selected. I decided to go whole hog on some of the junky stuff and bought some packaged cookies (I NEVER buy stuff like this) and some various types of chips and salty snacks as well.
I took my son back to Leamington when he was barely two years old. The town has changed dramatically, of course. Lots more commercial buildings, big Walmart and homeless people living in the parking lot of same, generic strip malls. Few of the places we used to go as a family were still there, but there was a cute, free splash park at the beach near the shore, and that was fun. He was a cranky baby and slept like shit, and we cut the trip short early and came home because nobody was really loving it. It still smells like tomatoes.
We were late getting home last night because of the grocery, so I rushed through getting us both some dinner, and then we watched a little TV and it was time for him to go to bed. Tonight is going to be busy. He wants to get pizza and watch a movie, but we leave in the morning and I have to do some packing, I need to get the food together for the road and make some sandwiches. I can’t sit around and watch a movie for two hours. Plus I’m spending enough on vacation I don’t know if I want to do our usual Friday pizza night, though it would be nice to not have to cook again.
That being said, it’s also the last day my son is in second grade, and it would be nice to mark the occasion with a fun night. We’ll have to see how things go. He’s already reached a new behavior level at 8, as if someone flipped a switch. He no longer wants to spend any time with me and is irritated with me a lot. At the store, he insisted I take him to the cereal aisle first so he could pick out his cereal, and then go to the store’s daycare so he could play the basketball video game they have there. It’s hard, him wanting and needing me less, but I know this is normal so I let him do it. At least he still tells me he loves me. I know that will go away, too.
I really want this to be a fun trip and realize that’s mostly on me, to relax and not push an agenda or a schedule. I’ve built in lots of time so we don’t have to rush, and have no set itinerary other than going to the beach a lot. I have some ideas and coupons but haven’t made my usual day-by-day list of suggested activities for each day. I just want us to relax and have fun and make memories.
Hopefully they won’t be memories of our car breaking down in the mountains and waiting for someone to come in from god knows where to give us a tow. Or someone getting bitten by a shark or something. Yeah, I have anxiety.
I’m grateful I can take this week off from my job and have paid vacation, and know so many others don’t. I’m grateful my kid has easily and capably completed second grade, and that I have the money together to take this trip thanks to my tax refund. So we’re already starting out lucky.
Maybe I’ll eat those Froot Loops too.