Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
If you follow me on social media—Instagram and Facebook, especially–you might think that my life is one long string of happy moments.
For the most part, you wouldn’t be wrong. I wouldn’t mind a bigger apartment, a more adequate cushion between financial stability and financial ruin, and fewer incidents of my youngest pooping or spitting up right.after.his.bath, but all things considered, these are trivial wants. I’ve got pretty much everything that counts in life: good health; interesting and meaningful work; stellar, supportive friends; a partner who really does love me unconditionally (even when he probably shouldn’t– but we’ll get to that shortly); and children who are as smart, funny, kind, and good as they are cute. In short, what you see of my life online is pretty much an uncut version of my “real life.”
Most of the time, anyway.
Recently, we took a family road trip to the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It was, as most of our travels are, a jaunt I proposed and planned. I’d been to the Seneca and Keuka Lakes area while working on the New York State guidebook last summer, but that particular visit was a solo trip, and I’d been eager to return with family in tow because the Finger Lakes are just such an incredible destination for parents traveling with their kids. Francisco was enthusiastic about the idea, so we started finalizing all the details for a long weekend. We’d rent the farmhouse I stayed in last year, go for a walk in Watkins Glen State Park, take Mariel to a kids’ glassmaking class at the Corning Museum of Glass, and maybe see whether Francisco could get in on a glider ride at Harris Hill Soaring Center. I wouldn’t be doing any wine tasting, but he could, and we’d let the kids burn off their energy crawling and running around the grounds of picturesque vineyards overlooking Seneca Lake. Sitting at my desk in New York City, booking the rental car and rolling our pennies for the farmhouse rental, I could just picture it: the perfect road trip, the perfect family weekend getaway.
But this is my problem, you see: expectations. My active imagination can conjure up the most beautiful scene of natural and familial bliss, the very picture of perfection. But nothing in life is perfect, even my just-short-of-perfect family, and it seems that no matter how many opportunities life hands me to learn the lesson that I really (no, really) should just let go of expectations and roll with it, I never quite get it.
In some ways, I can be a very slow learner.
By the time we got to the farmhouse on Saturday night, we were all tired. The drive from the city to Dundee, New York is about five hours, and on the last of several potty, leg-stretch, and gas fill-up breaks we’d pulled into a town that had a disturbing number of Confederate flags and people who looked none too welcoming. Mariel had been chattering non-stop for nearly six hours and we were all hungry for dinner, already burned out on road trip snacks.
At home, I’d pictured our arrival at the farmhouse. Everyone would be thrilled: Francisco would love the spacious kitchen and Mariel would maybe try sleeping in her own bed. Everyone would love the view, especially as we sat on the front porch in the morning, having our breakfast. Because we’re an emotive bunch, their respective pleasures would be expressed verbally, and we’d fully inhabit the house for the two short days we’d have it.
Only it wasn’t exactly like that. We dropped our bags, everyone gave a cursory look around– no verbal feedback!–and after grumbling about being hungry, we decided we’d skip cooking (which we’d fully planned to do– it was one of the reasons we’d chosen the farmhouse to begin with) and go have an overpriced, mediocre meal at a restaurant where I’d had a much better dinner the summer before. The only one of us who seemed thoroughly content was Orion, who claimed the kitchen floor as his own and made music out of egg whisks and wooden spoons. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. Surely after a good night’s rest everyone would come around and see the charms of the Finger Lakes.
Except no one slept very well, so we started day 2 on a low note. Despite beautiful weather and occasional picturesque moments, we were mostly warding off frustration and fatigue. We’re not a fighting family, though, so we all just wallowed in our own sad state. I really wanted everyone to pull it together, though. We’d spent time and money on this trip, dammit, and it was supposed to be fun, and no one was really playing along.
By late afternoon, when Francisco finally cracked a bit and said he’d just as soon blow off the half round of mini-golf Mariel had left and go take a nap rather than let her finish the second part of the course (the one that, in my opinion, looked the most fun), I’d kind of had it. While waiting for overly large servings of what were supposed to be small portions of ice cream, Mariel was playing around on the uneven wooden floor and fell down, skinning her knee and howling as if an entire pack of banshees had inhabited her body. Taking a cue from her, I took the ice cream and put it on the table with a melodramatically annoyed flourish, and disgruntled sighs emitted all around. Once again, only Orion was non-plussed.
This was not the way things were supposed to be, I thought to myself, my inner five-year old having her hissy fit. I left my family at the table to eat their ice cream while I went to get the car because that was it. We were done with the day and going back to the farmhouse and as far I was concerned, everyone could eat a bowl of cereal and just go to bed. I’d think twice before planning another family trip, oh yes, I would. If they couldn’t get with the program, then we’d just stay home from now on.
I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that I didn’t really sit back and take stock until we were back in our tiny apartment in New York City. Once you’ve decided to see things a certain way, you tend to not want to see them any other way, even when doing so would actually be of tremendous benefit to you (not to mention to the people around you).
Why did I need my family to have a good time? Sure, I wanted them to, but maybe Francisco just needed to spend those two days at the farmhouse in the Finger Lakes laying around on the couch or a hammock with a beer in hand, with nothing firm on the itinerary I’d carefully (over)planned. Maybe Mariel was just fine cosleeping with us in the same bedroom, even though there were three other bedrooms where she could spread out and have her own space. And maybe we didn’t need to play the full round of mini-golf. Maybe, instead, what we all needed was to just be where we were: I in my state of Finger Lakes wonder, Francisco in his legitimate “I need some sleep, stat” space, and Mariel not strapped in a booster seat, being whisked off to do the next thing, but to just be let loose in the yard to pick dandelions for as long as she wanted to do so.
Those lessons– just letting everyone be where they need to be, realizing that every state of emotion is temporary, and accepting that our happiness enriches but does not depend upon one another, and that it flourishes when we just go with the flow– are things I know, and yet struggle, over and over again, to keep in practice. Family provides plenty (continuous, actually) opportunities to practice, and family travel–especially when it doesn’t live up to our expectations–can help us get realigned with our inner compass.
Maybe it wasn’t the weekend I envisioned, but it ended up being meaningful after all.