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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Long Drives, Laughs and Lasting Memories...

Challenging Mountainside Roads
If not for a speeding ticket in Northern Georgia on our way back, our family vacation to North Carolina last week couldn’t have gone smoother or been more enjoyable.

Sure, there were the occasional flare ups in the minivan over a toy, book, pillow or blanket, and my wife had to pinch and poke me from time to time to make sure I was awake, but overall, our drive was a lot of fun and, more importantly, gave us plenty of family bonding time.

Yes, despite the stigma, I love driving our Honda Odyssey and, although my wife’s initial reaction to owning a minivan was unfavorable (to say the least), after our third child and hectic soccer and ballet schedules, the once I’ll-never-be-caught-dead-driving-a-minivan hipster mom now loves to drive it too. In fact, I drive a Honda Accord, so we’re a two-Honda family (that’s a direct/indirect plug for a close friend who owns Brickell Honda on SW 8th Street, just blocks from Downtown Miami. Tell them Carlos sent you).

Our Trusted Steed
After the short commercial break, let's get back to our vacation. Two years ago, we went on the same trip to Hayesville, North Carolina to a cabin owned by friends and had probably our best family vacation ever. However, this time, it was even more amazing because our kids are older (our son was just 18 months old on our first trip) and we planned more activities.

We went tubing down the Chattahoochee River, visited one of the biggest Civil War battlefields in the nation (Chickamauga, where over 4,000 Americans soldiers died, and 23,000 more injured, in a two-day battle that was the Confederate Army's last major triumph). We also drove through scenic, albeit somewhat scary, mountainside roads of Tennessee, had lunch and briefly walked around Chattanooga, which was very quaint and made us want to go back, and toured the Cherokee Indian Reservation on the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

By far, probably the highlight of the trip for our kids was going down the Chattahoochee on inner tubes, especially considering the comic relief I provided.

About 25 minutes into our two and a half hour run down the river, my six-year-old daughter’s cord unlatched from my inner tube. I had to chase her down in about knee-deep water, while battling the current, carrying my tube, a waterproof camera and a bag of water bottles (which ended up spilling and floating away). I chased her for about 50 yards.  It seemed as if the more I ran, the farther the current took her before finally reaching her.  Meanwhile, my wife, older daughter, and son were in hysterical laughter about 100 yards ahead of us. Good thing that this year we went prepared with water shoes. Two years ago, when my older daughter fell and couldn’t get back on her tube, I was barefoot. I had to go after her, slipping and sliding on the smooth and slick river rocks and tearing up my feet, chins, and knees in the process. I was hurting!

Kicking back before "the fall"
 Later on, about halfway down the river, my older daughter, who switched with her younger sister after our “incident” and latched on to my inner tube, was going down one of the many short waterfalls with me. I was backwards as we approached the fall and as my inner tube went down, it hit a large rock and came to a complete halt.  Needless to say, the jolt tossed me, flipping me in the air legs over head, like a back flip, into the cold water. Another moment of pure joy and bliss for my family. In fact, several other people on inner tubes around us had a good laugh as well. You can just imagine what a chunky guy in the Hawaiian shorts flopping around in the air and landing in the water may look like.

The kids loved the adventure so much, that I went back with the girls another day on a shorter run, since my son was feeling sick and had to stay with my wife in the cabin. The shorter run was not as eventful, since I kept twirling in my inner tube to keep facing forward and the only spill we had was when my older daughter flipped three quarters of the way down the run.  

Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, for me, the most important and fulfilling part of our trip was the quality time spent with my family.

As a man, husband and father, there is nothing more important in my life than my wife and children (and despite what they may tell you, that includes the Mets!). Even so, I don't show it as often as I should because of my constant bouts with selfishness, self-centeredness, and laziness.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.”

I wholeheartedly agree. The best part of our vacation was spent, not in seeing new places and doing things we don’t usually do. It was in little moments with my wife and kids.

Our home away from home
It was in teaching and playing ping-pong with my oldest daughter in the North Carolina cabin, or playing catch with her in the hotel pool on our way back to Miami. It was in wrestling and making my younger daughter fly in our hotel room or pushing her on the swings set on the hotel grounds. It was in playing dribble-less Nerf-basketball with my son and tickling him on the floor. It was in hearing them laugh with wild abandon, as only children can laugh, or my son making everyone laugh with his unceasing antics, faces and booty-shaking dances (he loves to be the center of attention!).

It was also in having my older daughter cuddle up next to me on the couch to watch American Pickers one night, my younger daughter coming up to kiss me on the cheek without me having to ask for it, and my son climbing on top of me to kiss and hug me.

It was in sharing a laugh with my wife, while having drinks (she a sauvignon blanc and me a Glenlivet 15) and lounging around, or holding her, as we watched The Next Food Network Star, the first part of Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary, or suffering through the Miami Heat’s collapse in game six of the NBA Finals (fortunately, it didn't damper our mood).

It was in the many meals we shared together (my six-year-old loved a restaurant named The Rib House on our first night in Hayesville, and wanted to go back every time we would drive by it).

As many studies show, the meal is the foundation time for families; a time to gather and talk, pray, share and love, which is why Christ would often gather and talk to his disciples during meals and was known to enjoy food and drink. He told parables of great feasts and gave His Apostles, the Church, the greatest gift imaginable, the Eucharist meal, His Body and Blood, which is God's "Family Supper" and the Church has been faithfully celebrating it at every Mass (known in Biblical times as the "breaking of bread") ever since.

Playing house inside the van  
During our tip to and from Hayesville and the long hours of driving, we prayed together, talked about random things, laughed, listened to countless Country Music songs (which was on every other station along the way), stopped still to listen to the instructions of our GPS, which two years ago my kids named "Rosie," whenever we approached a change of roadway or turn, spotted Baptist churches (I'm convinced there is a Baptist church for every ten residents in the Northern Georgia/ Southern North Carolina region) and, of course, broke up fights. But, most of all, we made memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.

It was only fitting that after attending morning Mass with the family last Sunday, that I spent the rest of Fathers' Day driving back from Ponte Vedra, near Jacksonville, where we had stayed for a couple of nights, and then unpacking after finally getting home. I have to admit, it was not the most relaxing Fathers' Day I have ever spent, but it helped me get outside my "self" and reflect on the most important purpose in my life, which is to rear Godly children. And, in order to do that, I have to first and foremost serve my family in whatever little way I can (even if that means driving all day on Fathers' Day!)...

By the way, for those interested, I was clocked going 82 in a 65 MPH zone, a fine of $175 bucks, which is not as bad as I thought it would be. In my defense, I was going with the flow of traffic and the speed zones kept changing from 65 to 70 MPH every several miles (not that 82 would have been within either speed limit but unfortunately, I didn’t have the cruise control set at that particular time).  We live and learn...


Alex said...

Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for the plug...

Carlos Espinosa said...

My pleasure... I'm still going through emails!