Back in September of 2012, I declared to Matt that I would be going to Florida for Christmas. My primary motivation was that it had just been way too long since I'd seen my family. (Five years, y'all.) But there's an ever-so-slightly embarrassing to admit motivation.
I wanted to go to Blogworld (renamed New Media Expo-NMX). The conference is a story for another day. The reason it was motivation is because I promised myself two years ago that I wouldn't go to any US conferences before I went back to see my family. I just couldn't do it.
The only snag was that all - and I mean every last bit - of my travel documentation was long-expired. I needed a new passport. I needed a new PR card. But I don't need to go over my inability to complete paperwork in a timely manner again. I got everything in plenty of time to do both trips without any issues.
I was also really excited that Ford Ottawa granted me the use of the new Ford C-Max for the trip. Brandon has had anxiety when I've brought home strange cars before, so I told him it was our "Florida Car" and that is what it remained the entire two weeks it was in our possession.
In my typical last-minute fashion, I didn't pack until the night before. Unfortunately, I had errands to run in the east end of Ottawa after taking Brandon to speech therapy and everything ended up taking longer than usual. B and I didn't get home until very late and I'd frantically texted Matt to ask him to pull together anything he thought Brandon would need for the trip other than clothes. He did and it was impressively good!
I got everything packed away in our ginormous suitcase, leaving the mid-sized suitcase empty with the thought that we'd just put our gifts and anything else we bought in there for the trip home. Unfortunately, we ran into trouble fitting all of our suitcases in the C-Max. It's always fun to re-think your packing decisions 5 minutes before you're planning to leave.
At this point, I made a truly poor decision. I started using re-usable grocery bags. One for each use. This one for stops. This one for snacks. This one for that. I blame the poor decisions on my frazzled mind that was trying to keep a very excited little boy from bursting and maintain some semblance of organization. Ultimately, we got packed and on the road - we were only an hour or two late leaving.
Lesson 1 when traveling with a 4-year-old: Flexibility is key.
We made it many hours before we needed to stop. I think I actually waited until we got down to Pennsylvania. Driving the C-Max that first day was a dream. The sky was overcast (rain was coming!) and there was no precipitation (yet), so I got to know the car in easy driving conditions. Brandon loved watching the reverse camera. He'd have been quite happy to watch what was going on behind us the whole trip.
There came a point when I needed to take a break. Ideally one that would allow us to have food and a bathroom break. Brandon didn't agree. His view was that it could wait until we got to Florida.
Lesson 2 when travelling with a 4-year-old: Bribery is allowed.
I love road trips in the US because it means I get to eat at Cracker Barrel. The longer the road trip, the more Cracker Barrels I get to eat at. What I learned from our first foray into Cracker Barrel was that a) Brandon really loves rocking chairs and b) the bribery possibilities are endless - and affordable. Check out my first bribe - a violin that he'd been asking us to buy for months - $10. For lunch and a washroom, that was a bargain. No tears, no screaming, no fussing.
Too bad it required batteries. Too bad the battery case was closed with a screw. Guess what I didn't have: batteries and a screwdriver.
The first night on the road was rough. We stopped early because B got upset. He was hungry and tired of being in the car and it was raining out. We were just done. I stopped as soon as I could when we were almost at the Pennsylvania border. Three hours north of Richmond, where I'd booked a hotel.
Lesson 3 when traveling with a 4-year-old: Flexibility is key.
That was pretty much how the trip went while we were driving. Although, luckily for Brandon our hotel that first night was right beside a Home Depot. We got batteries and a screwdriver for his violin. The soundtrack of that second day isn't something you'd want to hear for 10 hours.
On the third day, we finally pulled into Tallahassee and I felt tears welling as soon as we got to the first exit on the opposite end of town from where my family lives. Despite my desire to just get home, I took a scenic route, telling Brandon all about the places we drove past, showing him where I went to school. It's a surprisingly emotional thing to share the history of your life with your child. This was my first time doing it.
We finally arrived at my dad's house and went in to see my dad, brother, sister-in-law and nieces for the first time in five years. It was my first time meeting two of my brother's girls.
One of the loveliest parts of the trip was seeing Brandon bond so quickly with his cousins. They played together so well, settling in to a normal sibling dynamic that was solid after just a few days.
Brandon made himself comfortable, especially with his Grandpa. Dad was a constant source of curiosity for Brandon - I believe his first words to Dad were "He has a mustache". He dragged his toys to dad's room and made himself comfortable, playing and talking with his grandfather. It was so good to see them together finally.
Christmas morning was certainly one of the most fun I've had. I haven't ever had so many kids around. Children really do make it so much more fun. My younger brother did lots of cooking while we were there - both of my brothers are far more talented at cooking than I am. They also both enjoy it. I do not.
My dad and brother both were amazed at the amount of technology in the C-Max. In particular, I think my brother was just stunned that I could kick my foot and the back hatch would open. Seriously, you have no idea how many times that was handy to have on this trip. Just as being able to voice text hands-free in the car (the texts were pretty funny - oh, Siri) was incredibly useful.
This was my first time driving such a long distance and having the GPS was so nice. I knew exactly how far I had to go at any given time. I knew I wasn't going to get lost either. And the gas. Apart from being in the US, where gas prices are so much lower than in Canada, I used roughly half as much gas just by driving the C-Max hybrid. By the end of the trip, I didn't want to give the C-Max back and I didn't want to leave Florida.
The important thing, though, was teaching Brandon about his southern heritage.
I got to spend one week. Just 7 days visiting, catching up, spending time in the same room as my family. It wasn't long enough. Not by a long shot. I don't want to go so long between trips again. Family is so precious. I want Brandon to know his family in Florida. Technology has made the world a lot smaller now. I can text my brothers without having to pay for it. I can call them on Facetime without having to pay long distance charges. But nothing beats sitting face-to-face with someone you love and being able to talk.
Coming home to Matt and Christmas #2 was every bit as good as seeing my family had been.
Dad, it took me long enough to write about our Christmas together. I think this one was our best visit ever. I love you and I hope you have a very Happy Birthday today!