Mini Vacation

Family Man®
By Gregory Keer

Four years ago, I publicly admitted to being in love with my minivan. Especially when it comes to road trips, nothing could replace her. An RV is too scary to maneuver, not to mention a fortune to gas up. A station wagon is a wannabe minivan. A sedan feels like an overstuffed clown car when you pack in a family of five.

In preparing for our latest minivan excursion, I opened the hatch and admired the ample storage room.

"The marriage between you and this blue whale is stronger than ours," my wife said.

"It’s because the minivan lets me do all the talking," I cracked.

That didn’t win me points, but I knew my four wheels of cargo heaven would carry us on a vacation during which I would have plenty of time to make it up to my wife. So, I finished loading 10-days’ worth of stuff for a three-day trip, coaxed our boys into their seats – far enough away from each other to prevent felonies – and drove off.

After an hour of horrible traffic, we had only progressed 30 miles, yet being on the road helped put my cares in the rearview mirror. My wife was already reading a book. Benjamin, who’s 9, was attacking aliens with his thumbs (on his Game Boy), 5-year-old Jacob sketched a beach scene on his Magna Doodle, and Ari, our 2-year-old, sang the ABC song while making a mound of cracker crumbs on the carpet.

"I’d be satisfied with driving up and down the highway for the next three days," I said.
"You’re a sick man," my supportive wife responded.

Eventually we arrived at our destination, a hotel on the bay. It was hard to leave my minivan alone in that cold garage, but it was time for us to go off under the power of our collective 10 legs.

Without a tight timetable to follow, we lazily strolled along the boardwalk, skipped stones on the quiet harbor water, and went to dinner. Later, we quarantined ourselves in the bathroom to read and wait for the children to fall asleep. That’s the price we had to pay for using a discount hotel Web site and refusing to pony up the dough for a two-room suite. Still, we were content, with no carpools to drive or work clocks to punch in the morning.

The next day, we opted for the hotel brunch where the kids’ food was free. As we ate, the children spilled juices and yogurts, but the serving staff laughed it off. When you’re paying good money, people tolerate you a lot more. No one even said boo when Jacob and Ari ran in and out of the restaurant, shouting, "They have ducks! They have a pool!"

We headed off to a giant park, where I betrayed my beloved minivan in favor of taking a trolley around the acres of green grass and beautifully designed museums. Jacob said that the park wasn’t really a park because there were no good trees to climb, but he managed to scale a fence around a construction area. At a science museum, Benjamin loved the IMAX movie on the Alps and the exhibit about gross things human bodies can do. Ari made us chase him around science-themed playsets, and we had to break up a fight with a second-grader who tried to steal his toy train.

On our last day, we spent the morning splashing in a saltwater pool. The sky was overcast, but the heated water inspired swim races that I purposely lost and underwater leg tunnels Wendy made for the kids. We then hopped back into the minivan and drove halfway home before surprising our sons with a stop at an amusement park. There, we tackled roller coasters, junk food, and spinning rides that made me a lot more nauseated now that I’m middle-aged.

Late at night, we cruised home, with the kids dreaming in the backseats. It wasn’t a long vacation, but Wendy and I felt it was the kind of family time we needed to appreciate each other.

"Honey," I said wistfully. "I love – the minivan."

She smiled and said, "Me too."