I used to travel often for work. I learned how best to pack light and travel lean to reduce costs and crap for which to be responsible. The less you have, the less you lose.
With a toddler, my packing skills are pretty much moot.
One suitcase, one overstuffed diaper bag full of snacks, one laptop bag, one collapsable storage cube full of toys, a booster seat, a sleeve of diapers and a doodle board that didn’t fit in the toy cube filled my in-laws car to nearly full alongside their luggage.
I did successfully pack all of my clothes and the toddler’s clothes into the smallest suitcase we own. A minor victory.
Loaded into my in-laws car, we left at 9 a.m. Saturday, July 26, and set off on a two-day road trip to South Haven, Michigan, for family vacation.
We, as in the toddler and me. Not we, as in the toddler, my husband and me.
Daddy stayed home for work during this family vacation. Poor man. It’s a sacrifice I appreciate him making.
The first leg of the trip was only a seven-hour drive. We turned it into a longer leg thanks to the need to stop for diaper changes, food and general toddler tantrums.
Our first stop was in Emporia, Kansas. My son already needed a diaper change, and I had had several cups of coffee before leaving the house.
There’s a historical marker at the rest stop. My husband’s parents used to stop at every historical marker on road trips with him and his sister. Largely because it drove them crazy. I fully intend on continuing this tradition.
Throughout the drive, my son refused to take a car nap. (I know, right?!) When he finally did fall asleep, we enjoyed a blessed 47 minutes of silence.
The second leg of the trip was much shorter. Only five hours, which of course took much longer due to driving with a toddler monster — and Chicago.
We arrived in South Haven just a half an hour too early to check in, so we went to Meijer (Super Target on steroids, according to my sister-in-law, and she’s not wrong), and my son promptly threw a huge fit. When we finally got to the house, the toddler was salty, I was salty — and we were both done.
I put him to bed at 4:30 p.m. He didn’t wake until the next morning at 8 a.m. I might have a toddler monster, but I have a good sleeper. (Knock on wood.)
We stayed in an adorable converted school house, which — what luck! — has a historical marker.
The rooms were themed! We slept in the Music Room. Grandma and grandpa were in the Principal’s Office, and the four cousins and their parents enjoyed bunk beds and a spare bedroom in Detention.
The bathroom was very cute, too. My child wanted to spend an unnecessary amount of time in its shower. And I had to go with him, for some unknown reason.
I made Zuppa Toscana for dinner Sunday night — without the appropriate ingredients or cookware. You see, I forgot to pack several things, including the Instant Pot in which I usually cook Zuppa Toscana.
It was still pretty good.
Our first morning in South Haven was a bit of a blur. My son ate like a starving man — famished from refusing to eat anything but applesauce and cheese crackers for two days in the car. He had toddler tantrums, and we had to go “relax” in bed until he calmed down. Often. We climbed and played on the most epic playground equipment ever (just down the street from the house) for the better part of an hour.
There’s nothing between the playground and Lake Michigan, which made for beautiful views. My son said, “Wow,” in his precious toddler way when we walked to hill overlooking the lake. He’s never seen a body of water bigger than a friend’s pool.
My father-in-law’s brother and his wife joined us for dinner — Honey Garlic Shrimp and Roast Vegetables from my sister-in-law.
I will be getting that recipe.
My son immediately fell in love with his great uncle. I think most of the littles have.
Tuesday was beach day, and not a moment of it was blurry. I waded the toddler into the chilly water of Lake Michigan and let the waves crash on his feet.
He. Loved. It.
My fearless son dragged me through the water, trying to go farther and farther in, and pitched a hot fit when I carried him back up the shore to start all over again. He clung to me. He tried to escape from me. He jumped into the waves with eyes closed tight, teeth showing in a wide smile and arms open to welcome the force of the water. He giggled and squealed and just loved it.
That night, he slept early and well. Too tired for dinner of burgers, brats, corn on the cob and salad under the pergola.
I woke up late Wednesday to the sounds of my toddler jabbering at nothing about everything. Neither of us were really ready to get up, so I pulled him into bed with me to cuddle. We get so few moments of happy cuddles that I couldn’t waste the opportunity.
We went to lunch and shop along South Haven’s main drag.
South Haven has a Farm Market to rival any I’ve seen. Blocks and stalls of berries. Blueberries, blackberries, cherries and raspberries. Wichita’s has garlic, greens, onions and root vegetables more than anything else. Not bad, but I’ve never seen so many fresh, plump blueberries in my life. I wish I had brought a shopping bag with me and cash to buy pounds of what were probably the best blueberries ever.
Missing his normal nap time again, the toddler lost energy and patience quickly. He rode grandpa’s shoulders nearly the entire time and fell asleep just as soon as we got to the house.
We celebrated grandpa’s birthday that evening with chorizo black bean quesadillas (I will be getting this recipe, too) whipped up by the littles’ great aunt and uncle, pineapple salad (and this one) and chocolate cake.
I got my father-in-law coffee for his birthday — our go-to gift for him. Bought it right in front of him at the Farm Market because I don’t prepare well. We both love coffee and were the only drinkers in the house. Lucky us, we had a 12-cup drip coffee brewer to share.
And we drank all of every cup.
After the toddler went to sleep Wednesday night, I walked back downtown in search for a brewery where I could get some cans to take home to my hubby and Gnomies at my favorite Wichita brewery, Hopping Gnome. (Have you noticed my #AGnomeADay attire? I entered the #TaketheLongWayGnome social media competition by accident.)
I missed my first choice, Harbor Light Brewery, by 27 minutes. Walking downtown, it looked like the entire city shut down at 9 p.m. Luckily, South Haven Brew Pub was still open and serving up mix-and-match six-packs to go.
I greeted another late morning with my son on Thursday. He spent the majority of the night in bed with me, snorting and coughing himself awake. We Gnome-a-stayed in that day — this is my Gnomaste shirt — so he could rest and recover enough energy to make the drive home Friday with as little discomfort as possible.
While he napped, I did what any red-blooded vacationing woman would do. (I’m sure.)
Thursday night was a rough night. My son was up and asleep and up over and over again feeling terrible. Toddlers are contagious little boogers. (Of course, I’m a terrible parent and just wiped his binky off every time it fell out of his mouth… and then I gave it back to him.) Fingers crossed none of my sister-in-law’s kiddos caught his cold RIGHT before school starts for them.
Because Thursday night was horrible, Friday morning was difficult. I had to drag myself out of bed late to help load the car for the drive home.
And what a drive it was.
And then we got home. He happily jumped up and down in our driveway. Daddy was a sight for sore eyes — for me, for sure — but it lasted about 20 minutes before the toddler hated everything and everyone.
He slept until 9 a.m. Saturday. (Again, knock on wood, y’all.)
Going places with a toddler is a pain. They’re nearly never satisfied, and you — as a parent — NEVER have the solution to whatever problem has popped up in the last five minutes.
But my 2-year-old gleefully jumped into the waves of Lake Michigan. He wildly explored a strange place, excited about every cranny, nook and turn. He challenged me, and he tested his limits. Pushed boundaries. Found obstacles. Needed me to help. Didn’t need me to help.
Going places with toddlers might be a pain, but I can’t wait to take him on every adventure we have. No matter his age. I loved watching him experience more than I wanted to experience. Such a strange feeling.
We’ll be hunting down historical markers and taking the long way home from now on.
And I will likely be in a Gnome shirt.