Now that December is here and the season is officially underway, I'm starting to miss all the past preparation our family needed to go "over the river and through the woods" to visit grandparents and extended family.
We never lived close enough for it to be easy. When we called the coast of North Carolina home, we could make the trip to middle Tennessee in one (very long) night. We would load the minivan to overflowing with our two kids, two big dogs, snacks for both, blankets and toys, along with wrapped gifts for everyone. In those days, my husband and I would save the trouble and expense of a motel, and would leave in the early evening and drive all night while kids and dogs slept. When we arrived at Grandmother's house, we'd head to a back bedroom for sleep and the children would be ready to play.
When we lived in Washington State, it was impossible to drive to Grandmother's house, so we began what evolved into a regular routine -- we began flying.
Preparations for Christmas became even more difficult. We had to board the dogs, buy little gifts that would fit into suitcases but wouldn't break, and leave well ahead of daybreak to take a shuttle to the airport and get the cheap flight. We had three small children then, so we had to pack plenty of fun things to keep them occupied.
A move back across the United States put us much closer to Tennessee, and we enjoyed three years of easy travel when we lived in Columbus, Ga.
All we really needed to take was the kids, dogs, and gifts. Since we only went for a couple of days, anything we forgot we could do without.
After moving to Germany, the trip became much more complex. Luggage was limited, airline tickets were expensive, and getting to the airport sometimes took half a day.
The up side was, the children were much more self sufficient and could pack their own bags and prepare their backpacks with snacks, games and books.
We didn't make it back every year when we lived overseas, but our family did fly to see us several times. It was great to have them come visit us, so we didn't have to undergo that long and tiring trip too often.
After the terrorist attacks, new security measures complicated airline travel even more. We lost a couple of Christmas gifts to inspectors (I'm sure someone is enjoying the deluxe manicure kit and mini tool box we bought for Christmas gifts), our planes were delayed and we missed flights, and my fresh-faced teenage daughters were inevitably pulled out of the long line of travelers to have their bags personally inspected while nefarious, shifty-eyed passengers moved quickly ahead. After four to six hours of pre-flight tasks along with a 10-hour flight and the adjustment from jet lag, we were always exhausted when we arrived. I was glad to leave the airline travel behind when we moved to this area.
Last Christmas we enjoyed a houseful of guests, and we didn't have to travel. It was wonderful.
This year we are again planning to have company, and everyone else will do the traveling. I feel like I have a bank account filled with many hours of hard holiday travel, and I'm just starting to spend it.