“Open the windows!
“Kids, look straight ahead at the seats, not outside!
“Baby, turn off the music!
“Pull over when you see a garbage can!”
His sharp glare, like a swift dog bite, silenced the orders. We would likely see a UFO before a garbage can.
With wind in their faces and heads propped up, the kids’ eyelids drooped. The once sickening curves now gently rocked them to sleep.
My husband relaxed too, and I became the racecar driver winding through the misty jungle. Still learning Spanish, I inquired about a word under wavy lines on a yellow sign. “What’s a vado?”
“A vado is—”
A river flowing over the road! Eager to wash away the sierra’s challenges, our Mazda splashed happily through the vado and began the descent toward the coast.
Someone turned off the fog machines and opened the curtains letting in the hot afternoon sun. The road finally flattened, leading to a line of cars stretched ahead to a checkpoint. To protect local mango crops, officers ordered us to declare all fruit.
I displayed my lovely assortment of apples, pears, plums, strawberries, and other healthy goodies. Instead of applauding my stepmom efforts, he pointed to a garbage can.
Garbage can! In went the double-bagged puke. Then his gesture sunk in. How could he strip away my only legitimate mom-kit supplies?
“Can we at least eat some fruit here?” I begged.
“Yes, but whatever you don’t finish, you must throw away.” I envisioned his combat boots stomping viciously to destroy the enemy, juice splattering out from the pile of pulp.
My eyes welled up. I had painstakingly chosen these fruits to positively influence two kids accustomed to candy, chips, and pop. Seeing his new wife on the verge of tears, my husband barked orders.
“Kids, pick a fruit. Everyone must eat at least one.” Forced consumption turned my loving gift into a stepmom-inflicted punishment.
Protests flowed, “I’m not hungry. I don’t want fruit. Can’t we eat something else later?”
Tears were about to jump from my eyes as I nibbled the edge of an apple. Only tiny bites could squeeze past the growing lump in my throat.
The Rottweiler returned. “Eat fruit! NOW!”
Jerry grabbed a plum, and Michelle, a pear. The four of us stood around the garbage can eating fruit, watching other cars pass.
I bet they have mom-kits. I bet their cars smell clean and sanitary. I bet they knew about this checkpoint and brought crackers and trail mix. I sighed as the rest of the fruit joined the puke in the bottom of the barrel.
The sun shined low and bright in our faces as we passed trees adorned with juicy mangoes on the outskirts of Mazatlán. We had made it.
The kids are now teenagers and I recently asked what they remembered about the Mazatlán trip.
“Pooping in the woods on a steep hill!”
“Almost setting the hotel on fire and taking turns fanning smoke!” (That’s another story…)
They laughed and recounted many memories. But what I remember most happened just beyond the mango groves, when we finally reached the coast.
“Hurry, baby, we’ll miss the sunset!”
Crossing the city seemed to take longer than the entire rest of the drive. At last, the hotel.
The kids sprinted awkwardly in pajamas and flip-flips through the hotel, past the pool, beyond the beachside restaurant, and finally…
There before us the ocean was turning pink and orange while gentle waves sparkled under the lowering sun.
“Can we touch the water?” the kids asked excitedly, already halfway across the sand. We nodded.
They screamed and shrieked, splashing in the ocean for the first time. Michelle’s nightgown draped over her like a wet rag and Jerry hiked his drenched pajama pants high above his thighs.
With my husband’s arm around me, I smiled at the kids and reflected on our travel adventure together. We had successfully completed the first leg of a challenging journey from strangers to family; no experience necessary, no mom-kit required. I don’t know which was brighter that evening: the brilliant sunset shining on the ocean, or the kids’ eyes, beaming with joy back at their loyal dad and fun-loving stepmom.
What have you learned about traveling with kids? Have you ever been afraid that starting a family will put a damper on your travel lifestyle?