I am learning, as my parents before me learned, that you simply cannot control what memories will be made on a family trip.  That’s a good thing, because it leaves room for serendipity.

I was a child. We did family trips.

sort of remember Yellowstone; I distinctly remember my mother sobbing over the Polaroid of my sister clinging to a “Warning: Unstable Canyon Rim” sign.

I sort of remember Pismo Beach; I distinctly remember my father handing me the chalky pale weight of a giant clamshell.

I sort of remember Lake Superior; I distinctly remember the balding man with palsied hands who told me all about Thompsonite and let me hold a piece in his rock shop.

Children are small. Their schemas are small. Their memories, accordingly, are specific, and no less meaningful for that.

Bottom line: it’s a absolute hoot to learn what my children are actually remembering, versus what I, in my parental wisdom, planned to have them remember.

We had the luxury of wide-open solitude earlier this month, spending two nights in the Pawnee National Grassland.

I am deeply moved by the subtleties of open land. And, for children, big country is obligingly full of small things.

Child #2, closest to the ground, spied the first wildlife: a tiny horned lizard. Oh, that was a great event!

No, we can’t take him home. He is very happy right here.

But when asked what she remembered most about the trip, she reverently whispered, “Getting a whole Opal apple.”

I had to laugh.  I remembered that, too, but not in the same way. We’d just come back from a hike. Everybody was sweating, exhausted, and viciously hangry. While fixing the real lunch, I tossed an apple to each of the girls and ordered them to Sit. Down. Over There. and Eat. It.

At home, I am a compulsive cutter of apples. Intellectually, the girls know that apples are spherical. But I’m not sure they have ever held an uncut one under my supervision.

So, BOOM. Memory made.

Both girls will tell you about the “sesame seed bugs,” which appeared in a Disney-esque cloud as soon as we pulled up next to our fire ring.  About 6,000 of the tiny tickly critters made themselves comfortable on the shady side of the camper, the car, the cooler, and anything else that would stand still long enough to have a shady side. Including us.

Because my Colorado-bred progeny never had to so much as brush a mosquito in all their charmed lives, the “sesame seed bugs” made quite an impression. In fact, Child #1 was quite traumatized.

“Be patient,” I urged an eye-rolling DH after the bugs swarmed off on a cooler evening breeze. “Think of greenhouse plants. We started the children indoors. Now we’re hardening them off, preparatory to putting them outside full-time.”

But the best tale, which Child #1 will tell you — then tell you again — is “How The Kids Saved the Trip.”


Nobody knew how the RV got locked with all souls outside and keys inside. (I privately suspect that it had something to do with a large red lever and an inquisitive four-year-old.)

But locked it was, with sunset in progress and the prairie wind growing more chill by the moment.

“No problem,” I assured DH. “Boost me up and I’ll drop down through a roof vent.”

But the roof vents were locked. DH had already buttoned them down for the night.

Windows, locked, same story.

Underside, enclosed.

Cargo area, open. Open . . . and thanks to a fabulous security flaw, contiguous with the living area’s under-bench storage. O beautiful moment, realizing that only a chunk of Memory Foam stood between my children and their footie pajamas.

“Bring me a kid, quick-quick-quick!” I exhorted DH.  Cubs and husband came a-running. From there, it was easy as one, two, three:

One: Mission Briefing
Two: Insert Child “A” into Slot “B”
Three: Child, Victorious

That, right there, is her “I had an amazing time on my family trip” moment.

It didn’t come from an expensive excursion. Nor a sweeping vista, nor a perfect itinerary. Quite the opposite.

I’m so tickled that DH had the presence of mind to grab a camera; looking at this photo, I feel like the Universe is affirming that I’m on the right track.

Memories: made. Boom.