Thursday, April 16, 2009

Traveling light

Mr. Blandings and I just returned from a fantastic few days away. The weather wasn't perfect and the vacation house had a few little flaws but, yes, we were away from it all for three blissful nights.

Well, away from everything except the five children and most of our earthly belongings which, for some reason, had to be transported with us.

Maybe it was a vacation from our dog? I don't know ... I think he was about the only thing we left behind. And truthfully, I missed him loads because really, you never appreciate the living vacuum cleaner until you realize that all of that food that landed under the baby's seat at dinner time is going to have to be picked up. Probably by you.

We started out on Easter Sunday, having booked a trip without realizing that it was Easter Sunday. Woops! Who knew Easter was so late this year? Anyone not using the iCal on their Mac to plot out vacations, I guess. But that was not us, and our trip was already planned and paid for, the dogsitter already lined up and the days off of work approved. So vacation on Easter Sunday was a go.

I knew we were in for a rare treat when I realized how stressed Mr. Blandings seemed when he scanned my packing list a few days before our planned departure.

"Sugar? Salt? Pepper? What, are you just going to bring the entire contents of our spice cabinet, too" he asked, shaking his head.

"No, silly. But I am going to be cooking, you realize."

"Yeah, I know. That was the whole point of getting a house instead of a hotel room. But seriously? You're going to be bringing all of this? Can't you just cook without it?"

"Sure," I admitted,"but what if it tastes different and the kids won't eat it?"

He thought for a moment. "Ummmmm .... they'll be hungry?"

"Yes, and?"

He thought again and drew a blank. This is the difference between mothers and fathers. If you are a father, you assume that hunger is just a state that children pass through until meal time rounds the bend again and is quenched with another eating opportunity. If you're a mother, you know:

"They'll be miserable. They'll snap at each other. They'll whine. And then, we'll be miserable, too," I reminded him.

"Fine," he sighed. "Bring the spice cabinet."

Saturday night, as the non-essentials were being loaded into the car, Mr. Blandings again exhibited signs of stress.

"A roasting pan? MG, why on earth am I packing a roasting pan?" he called in through the open front door.

"For the ham," I reminded him.

"Seriously? I mean, we can't just eat sandwiches for a couple of days?"

I was tempted not to answer, but that would have been rude and unseemly and just plain old not wifely. Plus, chances were good that it would lead us back to the place where he was trying to leave behind the stockpile of cereal bars, yogurts, pretzels, and other snacks I was bringing along. So instead, I gently redirected him.

"Remember to save space for the playpen for Manolin. He'll need it in the morning, so we can't pack it until almost last. I don't want that to throw off your packing."

Mr. Blandings blanched.

"Tell me again why he can't sleep in a dresser drawer or on a pallet on the floor like we did as kids?"

"He's a foster child. Do you really want someone to find out that you let him sleep in a dresser drawer?" I asked. He admitted that he did not. Packing resumed.

As we readied to leave for church on Sunday, the final items were transferred to the back of our Suburban. Have you ever seen the trunk space in a Suburban? It's mammoth. Cavernous. So big that it's an American embarrassment, really. In Asian countries, entire families ride on mopeds. Three children cling to their mother's coattails and stand on mufflers with their bare feet next to exposed, spinning spokes. But here? Here I've got this just for my stuff:

By the time the bags of food, extra blankets, playpen, etc., etc., etc. were packed the mound of stuff reached to the ceiling. Literally. As in Mr. Blandings could not see out of the rear of the truck.

In my defense, we do have a family of seven. And again, in my defense, two of those people are small and require that things stay fairly status quo in order to maintain their state of happiness. This would be why Manolin's sound machine, blanket, Bandito the Raccoon, and an entire bag of fresh fruit came along for the ride. This would also be why Oliver's favorite truck, a Wiggles video, a blanket and three separate pairs of jammies had to come along as well. Got to cover the bases, you know?

Mr. Blandings and I have always differed on what constitutes preparedness versus overkill. Clearly, as we set off on a four day vacation with a Suburban (a Suburban, people!) crammed full of everything that could possibly be squeezed in, it couldn't have been more apparent. Why? Because of the entire contents of our vehicle, the only things that directly related to Mr. Blandings were a pair of hiking pants, hiking boots, a pair of jeans, three t-shirts, some socks and underwear and his contact solution.

Sure, you can count the food he consumed but seriously ... he really would have made do with exactly 12 slices of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam. He wouldn't have even needed a knife. This is the kind of guy he is when it comes to traveling.

God made him this way for a purpose; the truth is, Mr. Blandings is exceptionally well-equipped for the field work portion of our nonprofit's mission. He could get on a plane with the shirt on his back and be at ease. In a few months, he'll be heading out again, this time into an Asian country that he's never visited before. He'll be staying with some friends of ours who run an orphanage and Bible training school. He'll be in country for two weeks, spending much of the time hiking through hills to meet with pastors that we can then hopefully match with sponsors here in the U.S.

And I guarantee you that he will leave this house with exactly one backpack full of gear.

But four days at a furnished beach house requires our family to travel with the modern equivalent of a caravan.

Did we use pretty much everything that we took along? In truth, yes. As I mentioned, the weather wasn't the greatest the first full day at the house and that Wiggles video and the board games I brought just in case were a lifesaver. We ate the ham on Easter Sunday, then snacked on sandwiches for the rest of our stay. Mr. Blandings turned out to be supremely thankful that I'd had the foresight to bring along extra pants for Atticus, who eschews all but the cleanest of clothing and yet managed to wade waist-deep into the freezing waters of the Pacific not once but twice. And, of course, I had sugar for my coffee. Can't stress how important that is to the overall vacation satisfaction scale.

Still, it makes me think. How comfortable do I have to be in order to be happy? How many of the layers of "necessity" can be stripped away before I succumb to dissatisfaction? How little can I truly live with?

I like to think that the answer would make me feel like someone who can truly cope with the rubs and bumps of a less pampered life, but this recent trip has me wondering. Do I really need all that I have? And if I don't, why do I have it?


The Small Scribbler said...

We went to the Atlantic last fall with a Suburban...packed to the roof and TWO car top carriers ON the roof. One night somebody needed cornstarch. Of course I had it. Oh, and we returned with more than we left home with. Seashells and great thrift stores, you know.


~ Angi :) said...

{uproarious laughter} "Mr. Blandings blanched."

whoooboy!! {wiping tears of laughter from my eyes.} I can *so* envision the moment! :D

Personally, I'm most like Mr Blandings, my husband the planner/packer extraordinaire . . .but he's rubbed off on me. I at least think a moment before taking off into the wild blue yonder . . .


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I read this aloud to my husband. We can really relate.

Thanks for the laugh!

Cristina L said...

You're kidding right? You look like the Amish compared to the rest of us. Give anything else up and I'll come out there and swat ya one! :)

The Hayes Zoo said...

This was hilarious!!!!

My husband sounds like yours in. so. many. ways. :) I just can't emphasize that enough. WHERE is the italics button????!!!!

A funny - a girlfriend was helping us with the last loading before we left for Mexico and I was lamenting how much stuff we had (the back of our truck full). She almost smacked me. Then said "Most people take more than this camping!!"

Aaaahhh - perspective.