I am sitting at a Holiday Inn, chasing cold peanut butter toast with thin coffee. Behind me, I hear my five-year-old grunting and growling. There are intermittent high-pitched squeals and smacks against a pillow or maybe the mattress. I can’t be bothered to turn around. Then the crying begins, building in intensity with deep, dramatic inhales to catch his breath and long snuffs of snot being sucked back into his head. He is expressing frustration over his breakfast.
This angry little person was given half of a cinnamon roll from the sunrise buffet, but alas, he was expecting to eat an entire cinnamon roll this morning. This would not do. My child sat in the hotel lobby, arms crossed and a dirty scowl. He refused to eat until the other half was returned to his plate. I urged him to be thankful for what he was given. Could he appreciate that half of a cinnamon roll was better than none of a cinnamon roll? He could not.
And so, he was marched back to the stale air of this hotel room and sits crying on the bed while I stare into my laptop, knowing our vacation is officially over. We are still a full two days from home, but our trip has come to an end.
This is not solely because of the howling child in the background. I felt it from the moment I awoke with that familiar scratch in the back of my throat after a night of post-nasal drip. The front of my brain keeps tightening and pulsating against my skull. I am getting sick. The vacation is over.
My husband’s face has started to irritate me. The way he breathes. The sound of his cough. How he jumps to disagree with everything I say on this sleepy morning. The vacation is over.
When my middle son woke up, he batted my hand away from his head. He did not want to be touched. Yesterday, he woke me by petting my face and kissing the tip of my nose. Yesterday, it was still vacation.
Even our youngest knows the fun is over. When the others finally return from breakfast, he bellows because I can’t find Paw Patrol on the hotel flatscreen. We redirect and get out the box of Legos. The youngest starts to dismantle a “boat” the oldest built yesterday. The oldest then dismantles the “car” the middle one is trying to construct. Meltdowns everywhere. The blocks go back in their box, and the oldest goes back to time out.
By the grace of God, Paw Patrol comes on, and I get 10 minutes of reprieve.
I still need to pack us up. I haven’t showered in two…nope, three days. My head itches. I should shower. I’ll wait. Who is there to impress? I’m sick of my husband’s face.
An hour later, we are packed to start the trip homeward. My husband pulls the truck up while I wait with the kids. My five-year-old shoves his hand at me and gasps, “What is on me?” He’s covered in cream-colored paint. The wall he’s been leaning on has a fresh coat and now, so does he. I use a wet wipe and some spit to shine him up, but this just pushes the paint deeper into his clothes. “Oh well,” I think. Those were hand-me-downs, and the vacation is over.
The first couple hours go smoothly. For the price of a gently used vehicle, we pick up Panera for lunch. The kids argue over the one juicy apple, yanking it out of each other’s mouths as sweet spit dribbles down their chins and onto the backseat.
We stop at a gas station to use the bathroom, and a guy with strong arms chats with the boys and me for a minute. At the register, he hands the kids two big bags of candy he’s purchased for them. They look at him, then at me, asking with their eyes what they are supposed to do in this situation. Do they, in fact, take candy from this stranger?
“Go ahead,” I tell them, and explain this is okay because I am there, and it is safe. I thank the man for his generosity and think, “I’m getting hit on. Yay, me!” Back in the car, I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview and realize it was pity candy. I look rough. I look like the vacation is over.
I am bloated beyond recognition. I have eaten my weight in seafood, tacos and key lime pie. I sit in the passenger seat, disgusted with myself as I toss back another handful of the pity candy. I’ll get on track in two days when I’m home. My fridge is empty anyways, so I’m off to a great start.
It hits me – how much I miss home. My empty fridge where I won’t find a stranger’s long, black hair like I did in the last hotel. Where the water pressure is just right for when I finally take that shower. Where my child can sit and pout over half a cinnamon roll and not have an audience.
Gloriously, the realization our vacation is over usually corresponds pretty closely to the moment I start aching for home. The smell of the timber walls, the sharp cracks and pops of the wood shrinking back from the winter air, our own beds nothing short of heaven after nights in unfamiliar hotels. I love to wander, but only because we have a place waiting to welcome us home, a place that refreshes me in the same way the road does when the smell of those cedar logs starts to become suffocating again.
I think back to my twenties, to a time when I thought I would roam free forever with nothing to hold me down. But I didn’t have anything to hold on to either. That kind of wandering felt more like searching or hunting – for love or some kind of purpose. It was exhausting in a way that an afternoon coffee and bag of pity candy doesn’t fix. The vacation is over, but I get to go home. With my purpose tucked safely in their car seats and my love sitting next to me, I think, “Maybe I’m actually freer than I ever was before,” bouncing back and forth between the pull of the road and the comfort of home, each building my appreciation for the other.