No Place Like Home

In 2007, my family and I took a spring vacation at a beach resort in Cancun, Mexico. It was a timeshare we’d purchased years before the kids were born, and we were going for the first time as a whole family. Our youngest, Fiona, would turn four that summer, and we reasoned she was now old enough to tolerate the intense heat and sunshine.

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Royal Resorts, Cancun, Mexico

I had an uneasy feeling when we arrived at O’Hare that Saturday morning. It’s one of the world’s busiest airports, but I’d never seen it more chaotic. By the time we’d checked the luggage and wended through security, we had to sprint the length of two sprawling concourses to make the flight. In our seats at last, we then waited on a departure slot, parked on the tarmac, for 90 minutes.

Based on the madness at O’Hare, I should have predicted what came next, but I was still surprised when we landed in Cancun without luggage. Even more unsettling was the airline didn’t seem to know where the lost bags were. I learned an important travel lesson that day: always pack an extra carry-on filled with a day’s worth of essentials for this very scenario.

It was another long wait in a cramped airport office to report the missing luggage, but I marveled at how well our 3- and 6-year-old were handing the delays. When we finally arrived at the resort, our first stop was not the swimming pool, as we’d promised the girls, but a trip to the resort’s pricey boutique for some clothing and toiletries.

Yet even in the best of times, young children have a fixed amount of patience, and I could see mine were reaching their limits.

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Cancun, 2007

Where was her Finding Nemo swimsuit, Fiona demanded. She didn’t want to wear that stupid pink flowery thing. She wanted her swimsuit. Hoping to avoid a full-fledged tantrum, I did what any sensible parent would do, and bribed my preschooler with a sugary treat.

Unfortunately, it was only a temporary fix. The meltdown eventually came at bedtime, when Fiona refused to lie down.

“I don’t want to sleep in that green bed,” she wailed. “I want my blue bed at home! My home!”

My heart ached for my baby girl. The vacation we’d long anticipated was finally here, and all she wanted was to go home.

Spring break is now our annual tradition, a week that signifies the end of the brutal Chicago winter. Our only requirement is the destination must be sunny and warm. This year we spent the school holiday in Southern California.

But even after a week in the sun, we look forward to coming home. Chicago is not a pretty place this time of year. Still recovering from the ravages of winter, the trees and flowers have yet to blossom, and our sodden lawns lie dormant, the color a washed out hue of Dijon mustard.

Nevertheless, I’m a proud Chicagoan. I love my hometown, and it’s where my heart will always be. There really is no place like home.

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , | 43 Comments

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43 thoughts on “No Place Like Home

  1. katiewritesagain

    Gwen
    Traveling with toddlers isn’t always a “vacation” is it? I admire your tenacity and commitment. They will tell stories of those trips all their lives-usually wildly different from your own memories!
    I work a week on, week off job. I pine for my own home every week. On Tuesday, when I get off, I can’t even stop to buy groceries or cat food…I need to get home! I have worked hard to make this place for myself that I yearn for when I’m away. It’s one of the things I’m so grateful for. In fact. I don’t have much money, but I’m wealthy in the sense that I have a warm, peaceful haven that truly is home. I wish everyone had that. Obviously you and your children do. It will serve them as a solid foundation in their lives. Good for you that you miss it when you’re away!

    • I love the word “haven,” Katie, because that’s truly what it is. Over the years I’ve learned that home is what you’ve said — the place you yearn for when you’re away. It doesn’t matter where you live. Nothing feels more comforting than walking through that door.

  2. kingmidget

    We went to Santa Cruz (south of San Francisco) years ago when my oldest was four years old. When we got there we walked along the beach for a little bit and he loved it and never wanted to go home. The next day, there were jelly fish scattered around in the sand, so we had to keep telling him to be careful and stay away from them. By the end of the day he wanted to go home and never come back. Four year olds can be finicky, can’t they?

    • The terrible twos, the horrible threes, and the finicky fours — I like that. Santa Cruz is lovely. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s precious moments like these that we parents will always remember.

  3. Wherever I go on holiday Gwen, I too have that yearning for home after about a week. I guess we like what is familiar and only feel truly comfortable in our own surroundings.
    I can so sympathise with you and your girls – the best laid plans often go awry and that flight/lost luggage sounds like the one from hell!
    Please please can we have a view of Chicago from your own perspective sometime? I’d love a trip round your home city :)

    • A walkabout of Chicago? What a great idea, Jenny, and I’m flattered that you’d ask. I so enjoyed your tour of your hometown. I’ll see if I can pull something together, perhaps by next week! Thank you for the suggestion.

      • I’ll second the call for a walkabout. I visited Chicago once and found it fascinating.

        I could feel the tension in your post! Which of us mums hasn’t been in that position where we are willing things to go right when everything is falling apart around us?

      • Thanks, Denise! Now that makes two votes for the Chicago Walkabout, so I’ll aim to get on it this week. :)

      • I think Chicago encompasses so many different facets, archictecturally, culturally, climate wise, population wise. I find your weather fascinating – I went in summer but when the mist rolled in, it was freezing chilly like I’ve never known before.

      • Diversity in every sense, that’s true. And we get all the weather extremes, too. Keeps life interesting, to say the least.

  4. Perhaps that sugary treat contributed to the bedtime meltdown. :) I too have been the victim of the lost luggage nightmare. When we had to go to the “room” to file the paperwork, I was amazed at the number of people who were in the same boat. I used to fly with golf clubs, but not anymore.
    Adorable picture of the girls! :)

    • When I was a young adult, my roommate took a trip with some girlfriends to New York. Although they arrived safely, her suitcase did not. And it was never recovered! Many months later, she received a check for $800 from the airline, but still, can you believe it? I think you’re wise to not check those golf clubs anymore. Sad that we can’t trust the airline to do its job.

  5. Sometimes the horrific journey makes the best stories. I have a couple too! Glad you’ve had a great spring break since!

    • It’s so true, Susie. The bad experiences are told over and over, and this probably make them more memorable. Yes, spring break has only gone up from there. :)

  6. I’m not much for long vacations and I crave the comforts of home after about a week. Still, I hope you enjoyed your time in my local stomping grounds! What did you do while you were out here?

    • We had a great time in SoCal, and I considered mentioning to you that we’d be in your stomping grounds, but you’ve had so much stuff going on lately I figured that was one thing you didn’t need. But we are there often enough, as it’s one of our favorite places to visit…so maybe next time?

      We stayed in Pasadena, which I love. My sister-in-law came down from Sacramento and joined us for part of the time, and we did mainly touristy crap because we’re, well, tourists. We did a studio tour and got to see the set of Big Bang Theory (my favorite show!!); we went back to Knott’s Berry Farm, which my kids love, and also hit Magic Mountain for the first time. My oldest wanted to see the Divergent movie at the Grauman’s theater in Hollywood and visit the Hot Topics that’s in the mall complex there (she’s a teenager); but my favorite was the day we drove up to Malibu and had lunch at this wonderful little seafood cafe on the beach. Such a great trip.

  7. I’m with Susie on the idea that sometimes the most terrible holiday experiences turn into the best stories. When Bruce and I were first together and my kids were ages 11 and 14 (not so willing to be accepting of anyone in their mom’s life who wasn’t their dad) we took them on a camping trip out to the wild west coast. Of course it poured, of course the truck got stuck as we tried to make our way to a great spot on the open beach, of course Bruce spent the better part of two days trying to get it unstuck and a sleepless night hoping it was above the high tide line, of course the kids complained about everything. But if we look at some of those photos today – splashing in the waves, playing Frisbee on the open beach – seems some fun was had. But you know what the best part was – coming back to the cabin, a place the kids had hitherto not accepted. We all sat around the kitchen table and bonded big time! We had survived.

    • What a great story, Fran. Your kids then are the age of my children now, and speaking as the product of a blended family, I’m sure my two kids would be similarly unaccepting of a new partner in my life. Your kids have likely not forgotten this trip, and hopefully they remember the bonding that occurred. As you and Susie have both said, when things go badly we tend to remember.

  8. Nothing beats the feeling of sleeping in your own bed after a time away. I’ve only had my luggage lost on trips home, luckily–never on the way to my destination. That would stink big time!

  9. It’s been a few years since our last “sunny” holiday and I find myself yearning for the beach (even though I know with a 7 & 2 year old it would never be as tranquil as in my imagination). I find two weeks is my limit, rather than one, but I did have a good month in Australia / Hong Kong a number of years ago where I didn’t miss home once!

    • While living in Europe, I learned that Europeans have a different standard of vacationing than we Yanks (and a lot more paid vacation time). A two- or three-week holiday was not uncommon, and I often wondered how a family could stay away for so long. Traveling with a 2-year-old presents a unique set of challenges, but my kids were seasoned pros, having “crossed the pond” several times before they even entered preschool. The key is preparing for the flight with an endless supply of activities, and having realistic expectations when you arrive at your destination!

  10. I can sympathise, Gwen. I have many travel horror stories flitting back and forth between England and Australia stringing two tiny children along for the joy ride! I am now a true Melbournian and, like you, love my home. I’ve found my fit! Having said that, I long for travel when it’s been a while since I’ve escaped. The buzz of new scents, foods and cultures have always been a strong lure. But after a month of being away from home, I long to return again! I loved this post.

    • Even when we lived in continental Europe and would travel back Stateside to visit family, I was ready to go home by the end of our stay. And “home” at that time was Dusseldorf, Germany. The first year living there was hellish culture shock, the second was transitional, as we gradually accepted the cultural differences, and by the third year, I would have considered remaining long term. It was the only home my children knew, so their home became mine. When we returned to the States my oldest was nearly 5, and apart from speaking English she was a German, not an American. We experienced loads of reverse culture shock, and my oldest often cried for “home.” It was heartbreaking. It’s wonderful that you can consider yourself a true Melbournian. I’d imagine Oz is an easy place to live.

      • I think it’s wonderful you gave your daughter’s that experience. They will be richer in character because of it. How can we realise the things we are are lucky for when we have nothing to compare them to? But I can imagine, at the time, it would have been heartbreaking to watch your daughter struggle. (and yes, Oz is a fairly easy place to settle into :-))

  11. (ps you still considering coming down under??)

    • My daughter still brings up going to Australia all the time. Yes, it’s definitely on our bucket list, but I think we will wait until they are just a bit older (they are 13 and nearly 11). Just a few years, I think, will make a big difference in how much they will appreciate the experience.

  12. In my former life, I was an airline employee, and reduced (NOT free) flights were a perk—but only for stand-by travel. I learned quickly that standing by for flights for hours with two toddlers in tow was not a fun way to start or end a vacation! What I saved by not buying tickets was probably spent in airport food and entertainment to keep restless children from melting down (and like you, I wasn’t always successful). After a trip where we all slept in chairs at the airport because we didn’t get on the 11:45 pm departure and needed to standby for a 5am departure, I gave up!

    Cute photo of your girls! As challenging as those days were, I miss them, don’t you?

    • A friend of mine used to work for United and traveled the same way, always on standby. Just don’t go anywhere nice, and you’re probably okay planning a trip that way, but what’s the fun in that. Like the old adage says, we really do get what we pay for.

      Having preschoolers certainly presents challenges, but these days with a ‘tween and a young teen the challenges are still there, just in a different form. Just today, for example, I took away all my older daughter’s devices for her mouthiness. I’m glad I have that option as a punishment, but it’s going to be a long two days for her and me.

      • Oh, I feel your pain, Gwen. My daughters are two years apart, and although they’ve been out on their own for a few years now, I think I’m just starting to recover from their teen years! ;-) I’ll be sending lots of Mom Power and Patience your way!

  13. I have come to the conclusion that missing luggage goes to the same place that missing socks go to. To spend some time with Jesus. It’s either that or the Bermuda Triangle.

  14. Rajni

    What an adorable picture of Natalie and Fiona, Gwen!
    This Sunday we are heading to Hilton Head for Spring break and I am already missing home. I hope I remember to:
    a) Pack Leena’s Buzz Lightyear swimsuit for the trip. (We are driving so the luggage shouldn’t go AWOL, hopefully.)
    b) Stay calm in the face of melt down

    • Rajni I had a good laugh – thanks for this! Hilton Head is great. Enjoy your spring vacation (and yes, by all means, do NOT forget that Buzz Lightyear swim suit)!!

  15. One of the great things about getting away is coming back home. Everything looks and feels a little different and it makes you appreciate those things that aren’t normally noticed. Those pink bathing suits look like a lot of fun though too! Spring is definitely the best time to get away from the brown and the gray and it’s nice to get home in time for the blooming.

    • Every year I think to myself how perfectly our school district times the spring break week. It’s the last week of March, when we Midwesterners can’t take another minute of winter, and when we get home from our week away, spring gradually begins. Even in the few days since I wrote this post, I notice a difference. Ahhhh…

  16. Nothing worse than lost luggage to wreck an otherwise decent day. Where we live here in S. Florida it is warm about all year, so we like to get away to someplace cool now and then. But only for a few days. Apart from many pass-throughs to O’Hare airport, I have never really seen Chicago, and I am a native Midwesterner (from Iowa). I hear that it is a great city.

    • I think change is good, no matter where you’re from. Chicago is great, and for all the obvious reasons we see a lot of tourism here in summertime. The winters are tough, but that’s part of what makes us such tenacious people. When you have to get to work and public transportation is your only option — even when it’s 5 degrees outside — you learn to adapt (and bundle up)! I’ve also come to appreciate the change of seasons much more in my middle age. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

  17. I’m a horribly nervous traveler—did I take care of everything at home, will something terrible happen on the trip, what if I don’t like where we’re going…. Of course, I nearly always have a wonderful time, but the pre-arrival stress isn’t fun. And, like you, I also enjoy coming home. And I think that’s a good sign that we’re happy where we are.

  18. fransiweinstein

    I’ve had similar adventures, albeit without the children. To be honest, I felt like having a tantrum myself.

  19. Aw, what a tough first spring break. But it is an awesome family tradition. Hope your time in California was wonderful!

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