Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Northern Exposure

"We're heading up north for the weekend." If I had a dime for every time I've heard a Michigander say that I'd probably have enough money to buy myself a place up north. But growing up in this fair state I often felt like I was the only one who didn't head for that geographically vague location as soon as the sand dunes or ski slopes started calling. The trend was especially prevalent in the summer. My friends and I would play together all week and then suddenly around 3pm on Friday they would vanish into this northerly void, only to reappear (usually a few shades darker) on Monday. They tossed around names that sounded so unfamiliar, so exotic. Charlevoix. Leelenau. Benzonia. What was this "up north" place, and why couldn't I go there, too?

In no way do I mean to imply that I was deprived of fabulous summer experiences. My parents came to this country from Egypt in the 1960's, and that meant our summers typically fell into three categories: church camp with other Egyptians, long road trips to explore the USA with other Egyptians, or going back to Egypt to be with, you guessed it, other Egyptians. At the time I didn't appreciate it, but looking back I know what a privilege it was to have seen so many wonders of both the ancient and modern worlds (that big ball of twine in rural Ohio really did make me wonder) before I even hit puberty. So while I had sailed down the Suez Canal I had never so much as dipped my toes in Lake Michigan. But Egyptians are not exactly "lake people" (not surprising, considering they grew up in the middle of the world's largest desert) and I don't believe the thought of vacationing right in our own state ever crossed their minds. So that quintessential Michigan experience: packing up the family car and jumping on I-75, leaving for the cottage or the lake or the campground is one we never had.

So now that I have my own family, we own a Michigan home, we pay Michigan taxes, I figured it was high time we partake in this most Michigan of family endeavors. With a toddler and a newborn in tow we knew there probably wouldn't be much "vacation" for us, but there was one place we could go. That's right kids: jump in your car seats, fasten those 5-point harnesses, and pack up the Pack and Play, because the Shands are going "Up North!"

We rented a condo between Petoskey and Harbor Springs for one week at the end of August. With visions of cascading waterfalls and shimmering sand dunes running through my head I frantically packed for our Pure Michigan vacation. And then I packed some more. Then just a few more things. We might as well have been heading for Cairo (or for a nuclear fallout shelter) given the amount of gear I felt compelled to take. There's something about traveling with kids that brings out my inner pack rat. Even though I was really certain the great unknown Up North land did in fact have stores, everything in the house suddenly seemed essential. How could Noah survive the week without his favorite book? Or these other 12 books? If Cecilia goes through an average of 3 onesies/day, then for 1 week I should probably pack.... 247. Math was never my strong suit. Still, we managed to cram it all in the car and point ourselves in a northerly direction.

Whoever said life is a journey not a destination clearly did not travel with kids. My vision of a luxurious travel nap was rudely interrupted by reality: active 2-year-olds do NOT enjoy being strapped into car seat purgatory for hundreds of miles at a time. After 4 hours of appeasing him with games, snacks, toys, and songs, Noah finally fell asleep. Of course this was about 5 miles from our final destination. But no matter, we had arrived Up North! And it was.... raining.

Aside from one, beautiful sunny day, it rained the vast majority of our week Up North. Not a nice gentle rain but a cold, angry downpour. 60 degrees in August cold. We did our best to get out during the breaks in the deluge, strolling the streets of Charlevoix, gazing at the boats in Harbor Springs, savoring Polish goodies at the odd but charming Legs Inn. And Mark and I even had one "grown-up" date alone together at Chandler's in Petoskey, thanks to a visit from Grandma and Grandpa Shand (wouldn't you know it, I married into a family that regularly goes "Up North"). Perhaps the most memorable moment was the first time Noah set eyes on the beach at Petoskey State Park. While he traveled to Florida and South Carolina beaches as an infant, this was the first time he really understood what he was seeing. I knew the trip was worthwhile when he grabbed my hand, those blue eyes big as saucers and said "Look, Mama! A sandbox!"

Mostly though, we spent the week in our condo. With a newborn who still only sleeps a few hours at a time, dinner to cook and laundry to do (turns out we probably needed 485 onesies) I can't say it truly felt like a vacation, at least not the kind I was used to. I won't hold it against Up North, given the unseasonable weather and the fact that it was our first major foray with both kids. We had a lovely time and made plenty of memories, but most of them were within the walls of the condo. From building Lego towers on the floor with Noah (of course I packed them!) and hearing him giggle every time he knocked them down, to seeing Cecilia's first tentative smiles (maybe that was just gas?) turn into all out gleeful, gummy grins, those are the moments I'll cherish.

Watching my kids grow and seeing the world through their eyes is by far the best trip I've ever taken. Despite the baggage (emotional and physical) I may drag along, it continues to take my breath away. The road certainly isn't easy, but whether it leads "Up North" or any other direction, I feel blessed to be along for the ride.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this after returning from "Up North" made the post that much better! I hope this is the first of MANY trips for you and that beautiful family of yours... :) There are plenty of Pure Michigan moments to cease!