Every summer when my brothers and I were growing up, our family took a vacation to Minnesota. We drove six hours to spend a week at Sunset Lodge on Potato Lake, and they were some of the best days of my childhood, filled with endless hours on the sandy beach, good friends, corn on the cob, water skiing, and plenty of late-night Yahtzee games.
But those couple of days before the five of us piled into the car and headed down Highway 2? My mom used to drive us crazy.
We had to clean our rooms. Straighten closets. Make our beds. Vacuum. Make sure not one single dish was left dirty in the sink when we finally—finally—were ready to leave that Saturday morning.
“But Mo-om,” we whined. “It doesn’t matter if our beds are made, we’re not even going to be here to see them!”
We didn’t get it, the ridiculous need to have everything in its place at home ahead of our departure. We heaved big sighs as we begrudgingly did as we’d been told, of course, but we grumbled and bickered and complained all the while.
(Have I mentioned, we didn’t get it?)
Well, now that I’m a mother myself, I finally get it.
I understand the difference in how a mother and the rest of her family views vacations. When kids think about an upcoming trip, they only see the fun that lies ahead: the swimming, the ice cream, the mini golf, the nights staying up way past their bedtimes. When moms think about that vacation, they have a giant hurdle to clear before they can begin to see the same: packing.
I’m not talking about the physical act of filling suitcases. That’s the easy part. It’s the mental maneuvering that goes along with it. What shoes do the kids need? Does everyone own a bathing suit that still fits? Who’s going to pick up the mail while we’re gone? Where did the camera charger end up? Do we have enough milk to last until we leave so I don’t have to buy another gallon that’s just going to sit in the fridge and spoil while we’re gone?
I understand now how it wears on a woman’s sanity.
I understand that, yes, Mom would have seen those unmade beds after we had left them behind. I understand how her mental cataloging of what each of us needed wore her nerves raw. I understand the pressure she felt to tie up loose domestic ends before leaving town. Mostly, I finally understand why getting ready for a vacation made my mother frazzled and a little bit frantic.
We had a framed poster hanging in our kitchen when we were growing up, one that’s now hanging in my own kitchen. It shows a mother hen, cartoon arms on her aproned hips, fuzzy yellow chicks looking up at her, the words “I’M THE MOMMY, THAT’S WHY!” in bold letters on either side. And that’s it, plain and simple. When you’re the mommy, you feel responsible for taking care of your brood in every way. Feeding them, clothing them, creating a childhood for them that’s filled with memories, happiness, wonderful vacations. So sometimes, an unmade bed or a dirty cereal bowl in the sink could have made it all too much to handle, silly as it sounded to my brothers and me at the time.
So, for all those hours of work you did while we were blissfully unaware and boorishly ungrateful; for the late nights washing and organizing and sorting; for thinking ahead; for anticipating our needs; for laying the groundwork for the happiness we took for granted—thanks, Mom.
Better late than never, right?