2 03 2011
Dyin' From Vacation
From the book Spider’s Night on the Boom
My parents visited from Oregon this summer, and we saw more of Iowa than we’d seen in all the years since our own arrival. It was a perfect excuse to visit places we’d been meaning to see, but somehow had never gotten to. But the pace began to take a toll on my kids and yesterday my son began to complain. In my “philosophical father” voice, I said, “Just relax and enjoy yourself. We’re on vacation.”
“I can’t,” he lamented, “I’m DYING from vacation!”
I instantly flashed back to my own childhood, and I understood exactly what he was saying. There are times when every kid feels like he’s dying from vacation. For me, those times usually began about three days after school was out for the summer.
I joyfully kicked off my shoes after I’d leaped off the school bus for the final time. Except for church and an occasional trip to town, those shoes and I would remain strangers the rest of the summer.
During the first two days of vacation, I could feel the chains of structure and obligation begin to melt away. Summer stretched out before me like an endless promise. But on the third day, the novelty began to wear off. (This was long before kids went to an endless series of camps, played little league soccer, summer basketball, baseball, volleyball and gymnastics. You stayed home and lived by your wits until back-to-school time finally rolled back around.)
But the endless hours of boredom took their toll. By the time school started again, I’d aged 40 years. Even so, there were a few things about back-to-school that almost made my abnormal aging seem worthwhile. One was the arrival of the new clothes we’d ordered from a mail order catalog. When those packages arrived, it was like a 95-degrees-outside, shorts-and-bare-feet Christmas. But it had its downside, too. Sometimes, the shirt that had looked so cool in the catalog made me look like a giant tree frog, eyes peeping out from a hole in a stump. Since no other part of my body as visible, sometimes it looked like my new shirt was walking around by itself. In fact, several older ladies in our neighborhood nearly had heart attacks when they caught a glimpse of my disembodied shirt floating across the cemetery next to our farm, taking a shortcut to the store.
I knew those baggy clothes were bound to be a detriment to my image. (This was long before kids wore tents to school in the name of fashion.) My mom’s favorite line was, “You’ll grow into them,” and I have to admit, she was right. Several of those shirts fit me pretty well today.
But the worst thing was the stifling heat of my new shoes. The salesman had made no mention of the fact that those shoes came with a built-in furnace; much less one stuck on the “middle-of-winter” setting all year round. Steam rose from my feet, and I fully expected my socks to catch fire at any moment. I could only hope my mom had anticipated that possibility and ordered fireproof socks. (Luckily, moms are pretty good at stuff like that, which probably explains why you so rarely see kids’ feet burst into flames.)
It seemed to me that shoes were unnecessary, since no one could see my feet anyway, what with my new shirt dragging in the dust around me. On the first day of school, I stood at the end of our driveway, trying not to be blown into Illinois by a having a gust of wind blow underneath my tent-shirt.
Then something strange happened. Even though I’d soon be seeing kids I’d been missing all summer, suddenly I remembered a thousand things I should have done during that endless summer! But now it was too late. There I was, a 40-year-old fourth grader in a tent-shirt, waiting for a bus, examining a wasted life … it all seemed so sad.
So I knew exactly what my son was going through. Sometimes it does feel like we’re dying from vacation. But sometimes, it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy the ride