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“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

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My mom and I took a vacation “Up North” in Michigan in June of 1990. I had completed 8th grade, and was due to change buildings to start scary high school in the fall. My 80’s perm that I had finally gotten caused my hair to become dry and frizzy, and I didn’t have the good sense yet to cut it of. My hair would never be as long again until my future wedding. I still toted my New Kids on The Block book with me, and of course my stuffed animal Barfeys.

Turning in for the night with the essentials

Turning in for the night with the essentials

We were only going for three days. My mom decided we would travel up the west side of the state. This was a change from trips we had taken Up North in the past. Usually we were gone for four days, to allow for more sight-seeing, and we usually traveled up the east side or the middle of the state.

“We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

This was my mom’s statement, over and over again, as we planned out the trip. Mackinaw City, and with it the Mackinaw Bridge, are two of my mom’s favorite things in the world. We had been there before. But I think she made the statement for two reasons.

  • I think she wanted to see something new we had not seen before, which is why we went up the west side of the state.
  • How she travels, then this took longer, and I don’t think she had enough money for us to have another night’s motel stay.
  • And she did not want to drive all the way home from Mackinaw City in one day.

Wait. That is three reasons. But they are all related to each other.

We headed off at the end of June. My mom must have thought I was old enough to pack for myself, because I went without a jacket. It is summer! It is June! Who needs a jacket!

That was the gloomiest, rainiest, coldest end of June, until 2015. Since then, I have learned that it is always colder the further north you go, and near the water. Either way, it was still colder than it should have been. My mom told me to layer my T-shirts, so I did. It did not really help to keep me any warmer.

Our first major stop was Holland, Michigan. It was really awesome to see an actual Dutch windmill. There were dancers who wore wooden shoes. They were impressive. Even with wearing layers and layers of socks, I still figured that must be the worst summer job in town.

We traveled through Muskegon that day, and spent the night in Manistee. I kept thinking how much it sounded like “manatee.” We went to sleep and dreamed of warm days and sunny skies. But the dawn brought only more clouds and rain.

In the morning, my mother reminded me, “We are not going to Mackinaw City. We need to start heading back down for home tonight, so we will not have a long drive tomorrow.”

We traveled through Frankfort and spotted a lighthouse across the water. Lighthouses are my favorite. If I recall correctly, my mom found a condo parking lot she drove through to get a better look at it. The Frankfort light may have been the first one I ever saw with a breakwater attached to it. The way the rough waters splashed up against it was impressive. I could have captured it better with a digital camera, but they did not exist yet.

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

Frankfort Breakwater Light, Frankfort, MI 1990

We stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes, another of my favorite places. Not so much when it is blowing and cold and rainy though. The first time we had ever been there, I was like eight years old. My mom wasn’t spry enough to climb the dunes with me, and I was too young to climb them by myself. Now, I was old enough to go up myself, but the weather was just too crappy. We bought me a souvenir T-shirt in the gift shop, to add to my layers of warmth. (I was wearing all the shirts I had brought for the entire vacation every day.) It was neon pink and three sizes too big, because I was not done with 80’s fashions yet.

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else...

The wind is blowing my shirt, but it looks like something else…

If you think this is just a post about me whining about a gloomy trip, please stick with me. I am almost to the part where the cloud bank lifts and the angels sing. Actually, it was a band playing, but you get the idea…

We went to Traverse City. We drove out on Old Mission Point and found another lighthouse. We couldn’t go inside or climb this one either, but at least we could take pictures out front.

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Old Mission Point Lighthouse, near Traverse City, MI 1990

Then a strange thing happened.

My mom got on the road to Mackinaw City (Route 31, most likely). We passed through little towns. We passed by convenience stores selling fudge. We passed through the big cities of Charlevoix and Petoskey.

She kept driving. I kept quiet. Sure, I was the navigator with the map, but she had to know we were headed for Mackinaw City, right? After all, there were road signs that indicated we were nearing it. Billboards advertising the various ferry companies, Arnold, Sheplers, and Star Line, became more and more prominent.

Another funny thing happened. The clouds began to clear.

But she was the mother, the adult, and she had said, “We are not going to Mackinaw City.”

Had she lost her mind? Taken leave of her senses?

Either way, I was keeping my mouth shut, because I really really DID want to go to Mackinaw City. I figured if I didn’t say anything, we would just end up there and it would be too late.

And that is just what happened. We rolled into Mackinaw City. And while I wouldn’t say the sun came out, the rain stopped.

The weather improved enough that the kite store was flying a long string of colorful kites up into the sky, all tied to one another. It was like a fabric rainbow after the rain. The scent of fresh fudge hung heavy in the air. Next to the Straits of Mackinac in the park at the end of the street, a huge band started to set up. When they began to play, the music drifted down the street, where cars were parked along the center boulevard as they probably had since the 1950’s, and souvenir shops lined up next to each other. Since the 4th of July was only a few weeks away, they had many patriotic songs mixed into their selections. I guess it made sense that they were playing in the town square, since it was a Saturday evening. But I was on vacation, and had lost all track of time.

Actual program from that night's performance

Actual program from that night’s performance

I just think back on that night so fondly. It is one of the moments in my life that I will cherish forever. That may be one of the most relaxed and happy times of my life, right then. My mom and I walked the shops until the lights shined brightly inside and the sun fell below the horizon, in the shadow of the giant bridge, connecting the the two peninsulas like a neck connects a head to a body.

In the morning, the sun shone brightly in the sky (of course!). We made one last visit to my mom’s favorite park by the bridge, then started off on our long trip home.

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City, MI 1990

Years later, I admitted to her that I knew where we were headed but I hadn’t said anything. “Oh, I knew where we were going. But we were that close, and I just couldn’t help but head up there.”

Still, I think she may have been in a vacation daze. If I had said anything, who knows, it may have snapped her out of it. Then we never would have gone to Mackinaw City. I wish I was there right now. With a jacket, just in case…

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When leaving on vacation feels like going to the hospital

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I just returned from vacation. As I was packing my little purple suitcase and my toothbrush to leave home at the beginning of my trip, I felt as though I had done all this before. Recently. But that was impossible, as I hadn’t been on vacation since July 2010, before my son was born. But then I remembered. I HAD done all this recently. Three times. For the occasions my son had to stay in the hospital. And maybe that was my first sign that this vacation just wouldn’t be all I hoped it would be.

A few posts ago, I talked about how well I was doing battling all my fears. When it comes to vacation, that all goes out the window. I worried that my car with 190,000 miles under its belt would not make it (that is before I realized we were going through the Appalachian Mountains with it). I worried that the dog boarding lady would come up with a reason not to take my dogs. I worried that my dogs would freak out at the boarding place and get bloat like Marley and die (I hate that damn book). I worried someone would break into my empty house. I worried my house would catch on fire (or get hit by a tornado, tsunami, etc.). I worried my son would cry the whole time in the car from Michigan to North Carolina (he usually only cries in the car when his future BFF is in the backseat with him). I worried he would cry when I took him in and out of the car more than three times in a day (this is a real thing that usually happens—he is a homebody, like his grandma). I worried the Fiesta factory would be closed when we got there. I worried that my new dress shoes I have never worn before would make my feet hurt. I was worried the rash under my eye would break out if I didn’t take my hydrocortisone cream.

I am happy to say, none of those things happened. My 16 month old son was an excellent multi-state traveler. Better than I ever could have imagined. Except the shoes did kill my pinky toes and I did get my eye rash. Can’t win them all.

I discovered traveling with a toddler makes a relaxing vacation rather stressful. He relies on us (his parents) for everything! He gets easily distracted and wouldn’t have eaten all day if I hadn’t made him. We have to remember to change his diaper at frequent intervals. Which, I am very happy to say, only once did his diaper overflow peepee, and that was on the very last day on the way home. Hey, no one is perfect. Although I wish I was.

The whole trip it felt like my husband and I disagreed about where to go. The purpose of the trip was his Aunt and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. Which is fine. We had visited them previously, so they were not exactly strangers. My in-laws went down too. And I love them (and I am not just saying that because they read my blog:). But we spent a lot of time with his family, and I felt like I should have had time to visit a couple places I wanted to. We did have an extra time cushion while we were there.

I did get to stop at the Fiesta Factory on the way down. Which is amazing. But I was so overwhelmed and felt so rushed that we were only there like an hour. And we hadn’t had any lunch at that point. (Did I mention my husband starved me? I’m joking. Sort of.) I really wanted to go to Tamarack, because twice before I didn’t get to. But we didn’t go. And I feel we could have spared like two hours for that. After two days of family events, on the way home we went to Saltville, Virginia, for some Civil War history. We were there for four hours, not counting the hour we went to find lunch. Then we went home through Pikeville, Kentucky, where some of my ancestors were born. Which is sort of my pick and we spent the night there. But there was no way there would have been time for me to do any genealogical research. What I really wanted was a picture of my son and I in front of the sign of the city where his great-great-great-great grandfather was born. But I didn’t get that. On the way home I saw a sign for a store that sells fireworks, moccasins, souvenirs, and (wait for it) FUDGE! How great would that be! In the middle of nowhere Ohio! I thought, if we could just stop for a few minutes, that would make up for a few of my other disappointments. After all, I love cheesy souvenirs and the only ones I really got were from the Museum of Middle Appalachians in Saltville. But no luck.

Wall of Fiestaware

Now I know I am being petty. And my frustration comes from being a bit of a control freak. And I have hogged previous vacations visiting numerous lighthouses that my husband could probably care less about. But I can’t help it. I am still a little bitter.


I really have no reason to be unhappy with the trip. My kid was the youngest and cutest one at all the family functions. I got numerous requests to make more cute children like him. I got told I looked thinner. I got compliments on my new fancy dress. I got a new bathing suit, which my husband seemed very fond of. I got a box full of Fiestaware. My son behaved extraordinarily well. Every mother’s dream.

Maybe I missed how it was to travel without a toddler. Or maybe I was bummed because I didn’t get to overplan the trip as much as I normally would have. Or maybe the image of packing for the hospital kept haunting me somewhere in the back of my mind.

My son goes to the specialist again on Wednesday for a checkup. I hope-hope-hope, pray to God (except I don’t—except when I am exhausted and need a hotel room in the middle of nowhere Kentucky) that we get good news. It would be cause for celebration! How best to celebrate? Hmmm…Maybe a trip?

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