Note: This is part six of a seven part series about our camping trip up north during the summer of 2018. I had originally written this as part of a much longer memoir manuscript, but as I continue to rework what has been been written, the original is taking a different shape. However, I still wanted to share everything our family experienced and learned while on that vacation. So as I take a writing break so I can successfully make the transition back into my classroom over the next few weeks, I’ve broken down and revised the 2018 summer journey, which was a very different adventure from our 2019 vacation.

On our final morning in Wisconsin, I took a sweaty run around the park campground (thanks to unusually warm temperatures) and then the kids and Jeff cleaned up parts of the camper that had gotten out of control while I took a shower. We then hooked up and headed out of Wisconsin, away from quiet time together as a family and towards the chaos that would be the next couple days of extended family and wedding celebration. We pulled into the county park campground, Jeff parked the camper in a single try, and we got to work setting up camp, sending the kids off to check out the playground while we hooked up electric and water and got the air conditioning running. When my sister and her family finally arrived at the campground so that they could join us over the next two days, we figured out where to place the additional tent and then got the stuff inside our camper for three of their four kids so we could test the sleeping limits of our camper and cousins could get some much needed time together.

Over the next two days, we hung out with my sisters and their kids, happy to watch all of our offspring enjoying their cousins, while we enjoyed getting caught up with our large extended family. The first night we had most of my immediate family over for a couple of hours of campfire fun and conversation and the next morning we took advantage of the hotel pool where over half of the wedding attendees were staying. Our son and one nephew, who is six months older, and another nephew, who is six months younger, played like there had never been a gap in their time together. And each night we got to return to our home turf, not a hotel, and know that we were sleeping in our beds with our kids and nieces and nephew in the next room over, happily enjoying the chance to spend extra time together.

And even at a county park, during a camping stop when we didn’t have much time for “camping” activities, our kids still found the time to wonder at God’s creation.

Our son was four when we moved to Texas, so while he remembers events and people, he doesn’t remember the little things.

Like fireflies.

On our first night in Dubuque, after we caved and built a fire for the kids, all of them chased the fireflies that twinkled through our campsite. Our son decided to do what every Midwestern kid has done at least once in their lifetime: He was going to catch some and put them in a jar.

Going through our limited storage supplies, he found the small emptied and cleaned Gladware container that I had used to store French dip spices for earlier in our trip, put some leaves inside, punched a hole in the lid, and chased down and captured his very own fireflies. Our animal-loving daughter, who once carried around a June bug for an entire day before her brother decided it needed a bath and killed it, came up to me tired and distressed.

“Mom, tell him that he needs to let the fireflies go. It’s going to hurt them!”

Our son defended himself, saying “But Mommy, I want to take them home to Texas.”

After talking around in circles and me trying to not laugh at both of my kids for being ridiculous, I finally explained to my son that his plan, while a normal part of childhood, just wasn’t going to work. “Honey, I know that you want to keep them but you can’t keep them forever. They’ll die before they get to Texas. And Houston wouldn’t be a good place for them anyway.”

“They’ll die?!?!”

That sealed it. Lightning bugs were released, our daughter felt that she had saved another helpless creature, and our son was proud that he had at least successfully captured, and then released, nature’s little light show.

The night of the Friday wedding we had to decide if we were going to throw away our payment for the last night at our campsite. I had made plans for a 400-mile trek from Dubuque to central Missouri and Jeff made it perfectly clear that he was not ok with that. Our drive up had shown me that the ideal stretch was a maximum of 300 miles in a single day pulling the camper. Any more than that and Jeff’s stress level went through the roof. I finally suggested that we start looking for spots that were two to three hours down the road so that we could get a head start on Saturday afternoon before our Sunday drive to our next stop. While I was enjoying time with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, my parents and sisters were headed home, and we needed to think about our own family’s sanity. We ate a meal of wedding leftovers at my aunt and uncle’s house and then headed back to the campground to pack up and get a 150-mile head start on our Sunday travels.

When we arrived at the privately owned RV park, it was clear that vacation mode had started the family reset that we needed. As soon as we were parked, our kids didn’t ask if their Kindles were charged yet, they headed straight for the playground across from the registration office. While I was prepping dinner, I cleaned out the back cabinet with all of their books and told them they needed to sort through them and decide which ones stayed and which books they were going to get rid of. They not only sorted the books but my daughter started going through the “keep” stack, reading each book to her brother as they sat on the floor with their new piles. It was hot and as we left the grocery store to stock up on staples, Jeff quietly suggested to me that perhaps we could consider breaking out one of the movies we had allowed the kids to pack in case of bad weather, but when I told to the kids that we should get out our Oregon Trail card game for the first time, they jumped at the chance.

One week in and we were plugged back into each other. It was not something I expected to last permanently, but it was what we needed.

With the weekend activity, our laundry pile was back out of control, but this time I didn’t have to travel into town to find a laundry facility. The campground had its own. I welcomed the opportunity to decrease the pile and write at my computer before we got ready for another day on the road. Leaving family was hard, but getting back to just my family and starting the slow trek home, made the early departure worth it.

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