I'm told that when you spend 48 hours cramming suitcases and food and toys and blankets into your minivan and then head out of town with your kids, it's not a vacation. It's a trip.
A vacation is for sipping drinks at 10 a.m. and taking those obnoxious pictures of the lower half of your legs while looking out onto palm trees. A vacation is for getting massages and eating nachos and overusing phrases like "beer-thirty." A vacation is for pools and sun and servants, lots and lots of servants.
Trips are just like that, except for everything.
We just spent a week at the cabin with Mary's siblings, spouses and their kids. That's six adults and seven kids ages 13 and under.
There were some magical moments, like each time we crawled into bed at night, and the unexpected seven-minute nap on Thursday. And the time the log jumped out of the fire and almost landed on the 7-year-old. Or the thousand times that the 4-year-old used the red and white plastic boat to mercilessly bludgeon his cousins. Or the time(s) the 10-year-old locked herself in her room and texted her demands. Or when our three boys threw a box of tampons in the toilet. Or every meal.
Perhaps my favorite was when the other 4-year-old punched me in the head while simultaneously kicking me in the wedding tackle, simply because we wouldn't let him ride back from the beach in "Adam and Susie's van."
By far the best moment every day was when the kids were finally in bed, and the adults all gathered upstairs to laugh, moan about our sore, aging bodies, and relive every precious part of that day. Our defenses lowered, the smiles came out, and we did our best to stay awake until 10 p.m.. These moments fooled us; they started to feel like vacation.
And then it happened.
The 6-year-old had somehow broken out of his basement prison and was now standing in the middle of vacation.
"Um, what are you doing out of your room?" My question was curt and demanding, devoid of any fatherly kindness or compassion.
"Ligey crawled into Ben's bed and started punching him, and now Ben is really crying."
That would never happen on vacation. But on a trip, it's on the printed out daily agenda that your kids give you upon arrival.
So I took the 6-year-old back down into his basement prison/bedroom, and began asking questions.
"Ligey, did you crawl into Ben's bed and beat him senseless?"
"No, Isaac did."
"I did not! I did not!"
After my riveting lecture on how we don't use our hands for hitting, I decided I needed to lay the smack down, but my mouth moved faster than my mind.
"Guys," I barked, "if any one of you gets out of your bed for anything other than going to the bathroom, then... there is going to be a terrible consequence."
"What consequence, dad?" The 6-year-old adroitly wondered.
But I didn't have a consequence. Damn you, Love and Logic, you always make so much sense when the kids are nowhere in sight. Don't think I can't feel you shaking your head at me, shaming me with your quiver full of appropriate consequences. But I say consequences are hard to come by after you have been kidnapped from vacation and transported back into trip hell.
"Something really, really, bad" is what I actually said, as I walked out of their room, shutting the door a little too firmly.
On the way home, both 4-year-olds fell asleep, but woke up about an hour into the trip because I broke the cardinal rule of road trips when your children are asleep: I stopped for gas. For a while, I wondered how bad it would be to simply run out of gas and sleep by the side of the road until the police tapped on the window with their oversized flashlights. But Mary wasn't into that, so we stopped.
4-year-old number one immediately launched into a blood-curdling scream, as if someone was jabbing his kidneys with a sharp metal object. The other one quickly joined, and our minivan became a concert of ugly. When combined with our razor-thin patience, we feared that someone might be going home in a body bag.
I took a long time filling up that minivan before I got back in. The sun may have set and risen again. But after we started rolling, and the screaming intensified, the first really magical thing of the whole trip happened: I actually started laughing. I looked over at Mary, my wife of 17 years and the most amazing person on planet earth, and she was laughing, too. Suddenly the whole week felt hilarious, and we remembered that we loved each other and we loved our kids and we loved our life.
We turned on some music to drown out the crazies in the back, and said a silent prayer of thanks for our life (not really, but refraining from losing it at your screaming kids while on road trips counts as prayer). There will be seasons for vacations, sometime in the future. But the season in which we live right now involves trips. And we will take more of them, to God be the glory, great things he has done.
So, let's raise a glass to ourselves, you brave warriors who made it through another summer trip with your young ones without eating them. You did it!
Stay classy, parents of small children. In it together.
This post originally appeared on The Actual Pastor