When my sisters and I used to beg my father to take us on a family vacation, his response was always the same: “We live on vacation. When people take trips, this is where they come. Aren’t we lucky?”
At the time, I felt anything but lucky, but now that my husband and I have six-year-old triplet boys—George, James, and John—the truth is our sons know about distant places via games, maps, and books rather than through travels of their own. If you’d been in the car with us during North Georgia Scream Fest 2004, when the trio cried all the way from Atlanta to Chattanooga while I read Brown Bear Brown Bear on a repeating loop, you’d understand our homebody ways.
The boys are older now and fascinated by geography. If I had the money, I’d love to take them to all the places their gummy fingerprints have marked on our globe, but then again, could reality ever match their wonderful misconceptions? To land in Wisconsin and see people walking around without wedges of cheese on their heads just may break their hearts. To see Washington’s Mount Rainier and its plain white cap without flocks of goldfinches (the state bird) swirling across it would be a let-down of mountainous proportions. George counts beavers among his favorite animals and found out that there is, in fact, a Beaver, Oklahoma, home of the Floris Grain Elevator and the Annual World Cow Chip Throwing Championship. I think it might make a pleasant trip, but I know what the boys’ first question would be: where are all the beavers?
Illinois is John’s favorite state because it’s where Abraham Lincoln once lived. Yet what kind of mother would I be to pull off I-55 and up to a Hampton Inn rather than a log cabin? A trip to California could heal the wound. He wants to go there to “watch movies.”
There are places I think we would enjoy as a family: James wants to go to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and Wyoming to see Old “Filthful.” And they do seem to have a small but growing inkling of some of the more resort-like destinations. “This feels good,” John said the other night as he lay back in the bathtub. “It reminds me of the Bahamas.” When I asked why, he said, “Because it’s warm and relaxing.” Last year while tailgating at a football game, George’s folding chair happened to tip back into a cute coed walking by. He blushed and asked to get his picture taken with her. The nice girl obliged, and after she left, he seemed lost in thought trying to come up with the right words to describe the whole experience. “She reminded me of Hawaii,” he said.
Distant places and people may be only abstract notions to my stuck-in-South Carolina brood, but what wondrous notions they are: lands where moose live peaceably alongside lobsters, cities where jazz musicians are saints who never sin, and a house where the President is always there to greet visitors. They’ll have chances to discover real places soon enough, but in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy their more imaginative travels.
And like my father told us antsy girls, Charleston is a destination unto itself, making it the perfect place for the license plate game the boys started to see who could spot the most out-of-state cars. We’ve now seen them all, including the whoop-inducing Hawaii and Alaska. On Easter morning, as we eased up East Bay Street on our way home from church, the boys saw Maine, Ontario, and New York plates, among others. My husband asked them why so many people from so many different places came to Charleston. “The College of Charleston,” said George. “Easter vacation,” said James. “This is a great town!” said John.
Driving over the bridge home to Mount Pleasant, enjoying the expanse of blue water, the rooflines of downtown, the sprinkling of small white sailboats, and clusters of friends and families striding past on the pedestrian path, I had to agree. The world can wait. For now, aren’t we lucky?