When I was a child, my family used to take huge trips during the summer. Lengthy and carefully planned, we would pile into the minivan and drive to places like Yellowstone Park, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the Badlands. Sometimes these trips stretched into ten days or more, testing our ability to tolerate each other in the car and stamina in hitting landmark after landmark. But I did see many different parts of the country as a result.
I knew that I wanted to do the same for my kids, with a long bucket list planned to hit all corners of the United States, including some I have never seen. The trips would get more elaborate as the kids got older and their endurance became more reliable. I thought that our first trip would be in the summer of 2016, when Nelle would be 6 months old. Instead, she died and Iris died.
We still could have traveled that summer, perhaps, but I wasn’t in the mood. I couldn’t focus on anything other than my grief, let alone planning and pretending to enjoy a trip. Then last summer I was pregnant with Autumn and there was no chance that I would voluntarily travel any distance from the hospital, always fearful that something would happen and necessitate us rushing to the emergency room.
This year, with Autumn turning one year old, we decided that we could manage a family trip. I went back to my bucket list and found the first on my list, thought to be the easiest in terms of a car ride: Door County, Wisconsin. Approximately 4.5 hours, knowing that we would likely also have stops that added to the time. Autumn is at an age where car travel can be fairly straightforward (or a complete scream fest).
I had activities planned each day, moving among the various tiny tourist towns. I knew that the car time between attractions would likely be her naps for the day. I also planned time to return to our Airbnb midday, every day, so that everyone could decompress a bit.
It was still exhausting. Autumn predictably slept in the car, meaning that when we arrived back at the Airbnb for “quiet time” she was ready to party. I would take her out on walks while Ger and the big kids napped. She was just on such a different groove than the rest of us.
There was a twinge of “this isn’t what I thought” as I pushed her up and down the sidewalk in the heat one afternoon. 8, 6, and 1. I thought that my kids would have been 8, 6, and 3. Such different ages in terms of attention spans, schedules, and needs. We went to a place called The Farm, which had all kinds of animals, farm buildings, and equipment. We had to rush toward the end because Autumn started squawking. She was done for the morning, and the big kids were a bit disappointed that they didn’t get to see everything.
But that’s life, I told the kids. We have to do what Autumn needs for now, and she couldn’t handle a longer outing.
After arriving back at our Airbnb for the afternoon, I walked her over to a store that sold locally crafted wood pieces, like cutting boards, bowls, and utensils. The shop owner asked about Autumn’s age and I replied that she had just turned a year. The next comment was that I “looked good” for having a baby. I turned away, cringing a bit. I spent 18 months pregnant in total since 2015, and still don’t feel back to myself, physically. I don’t know if I ever will. The shop owner was only commenting on the end result she saw. Not what it took to get there.
I took my wood bowl and cherry pie and walked to a children’s shop across the street. I found a sweet butterfly onesie. That was a way to celebrate my rainbow baby and remember her first family trip.