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How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

We've Got a Lot of Kids

Our family recently took a camping trip for our summer vacation. Circumstances make camping an attractive option for us, as it is for many families: low cost, low hygiene requirements, and all outdoors, those fields of the Lord, in which to play.

My wife Maria had actually never been camping before, which left no one else in our family to be a know-it-all about camping except me.

Maria’s ancestry is mostly farm-girl German; my side of the family tree is all dour Scotsmen with huge drooping moustaches or equally dour-looking clean-shaven Swedish Finns, with decades of brutally hard work etched in their faces.

Consequently, our idea of a good time usually includes labor of some sort. The Pottinger family motto, "Virtus in Ardua", could be translated as "Better living through drudgery".

So we don’t take many vacations, but when we do, we tackle them with gritty determination, as if splitting a half a cord of wood before breakfast.

I had planned a week of easy car-camping in a few different campgrounds in North-Central Washington. Even in late June, our wet side of the state is still often gloomy and damp, while in late June the dry side, east of the mountains, hasn’t yet turned into a parched, hellish inferno.

It turns out that Maria loves camping. Her only requirement was that she be comfortable at night; there would be no sleeping on the dirt in some ratty sleeping bag. We packed an impossibly thick, queen-sized foam pad for Maria and consort, and lesser, thinner pads for the children. Even rolled up tightly, the queen-sized demi-mattress took almost all of the room in our new Craigslist camping car-topper.

Yet every bit of overstuffed-ness was worthwhile. My Illinois farm girl was comfortable under the stars, amid the bugs and raccoons and the slithery things that slink after the sun falls behind the mountains and all the campfires fade to ash and embers.

For a respite from camping, I’d booked a room in a cabin resort with actual beds and running water for one night. Plus, just in case things didn’t work out with camping and the bugs and slithering slinky things, we could abandon our tent and extend our stay at the resort.

At the resort we were enthralled by the soft beds, the smell of onions frying in the restaurant, the hot showers and bars of fragrant soap. Over cups of coffee we planned a delicious day of biking, hiking, fishing. After a few days in the dirt, the nice, soft beds were swell. A couple kids shared a clean, airy futon. We washed all the campfire smoke out of our hair. We gorged on nachos and ribs and mac-and-cheese in the restaurant.

After falling into dreamy sleep in the sweet-smelling feather bed, I was jolted awake with shouts from the other room, lights blazing, our oldest girl screaming, and the tortured groans of our youngest son retching and heaving, and Maria desperately trying to get a wastebasket under his blowhole before it blew all over everything, which it did anyway, and our youngest girl, irrevocably disgusted, joining in the retching, a tag-team sympathy-barf. All the kids were crying, and I could have sworn a fire alarm of some sort was ringing outside in the hall.

We put the two older kids in the bedroom and shut the door, blinders against the awful sounds and smells, and cleaned up the mess as best we could, using stacks of the resort’s clean, white bath towels.

According to our custom, I stayed up with our afflicted child, who retched every twenty minutes until dawn, when he finally fell fully asleep until late afternoon.

We called the front desk guiltily, and described the scene vaguely, and presently a wary-looking high-school girl arrived to trade the load of towels we’d wrapped tightly in a garbage bag for a pile of fresh, clean ones.

We weren’t going to let a little, OK a lot of vomit spoil our fine vacation. We left the resort by the back way and wandered the desert. We camped in a mosquito-infested campground in the foothills for a couple days, where we discovered several of our kids were carrying head lice.

Plague, pestilence.; the next moment the skies might have split, raining frogs.

I imagined the head lice and the mosquitoes, both hoping to suck our blood while we weren’t looking, squaring off in a rumble for turf, which in this case were expanses of our warm, tender flesh. When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way.

And our youngest son was still barfing, but only at night, after we were all soundly asleep, in the tent. Maria was adept at unzipping the bug screen with a single hand while thrusting his retching head through the opening, like some foul Jack-in-the-box.

We weren’t going to let head lice, clouds of mosquitoes that partially blocked the sun, lack of sleep or barfing children spoil our fine vacation. And as we eased our bug-spattered minivan into our driveway, it was indeed good to be home.