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TODAY

Friday, December 14

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Airbags

We've been in Iowa and Michigan vacationing. We are fortunate to have lakes on both sides of our family, which means a lot of sun and water mixed in with family visiting. Sometimes it's hard to be on vacation, and remember that relaxing is good, that not every minute has to be an engaged one. We are getting good at long drives and being with each other. By the time we come back from West Virginia, we should have it down pat, and be good and sick of relaxation and fun in exotic locales, and ready to get back to relaxing and having fun at home.

Leaving Chicago is akin to escaping a many tentacled sea creature with vacuums on the end of each appendage. Something always comes up. You have one last errand to do, one last thing to take care of, check, purchase, mail, deliver. Leaving around the 4th of July had the extra added obstacle of not wanting to miss out on any good parties. We went to the parties, bought the junk, handled the big issues, took care of the details and left for Michigan, finally, only three hours after we planned to do so. By the time we'd crept from Irving Park to Division we had a barfer in the back seat. New rule: No Nintendo in traffic jams.

The soundtrack for the ten days in Michigan, thanks to an extremely bossy 4-year-old, consisted of four songs: "The Tornado Song" and "Scuba Diver" by King Kong, "Step Into My Office, Baby," by Belle and Sebastian and the theme from Star Wars, as performed by The Bordens, a Canadian family ensemble, circa 1980. After you've listened to these four songs over and over in various combinations, and sometimes just one, usually the Star Wars theme, repeated several times, you'll come to see all there is to love about it, too. Or hate. Sometimes I felt hate for the Bordens. Especially Mother Borden, keyboardist. Occasionally we were able to sneak in a few chapters from The Borrowers, or some old-timey tunes, but only when the beloved royal pain was asleep or not paying close attention to the iPod operator.

I am really, really looking forward to not traveling with a child under five. Almost there, knock on wood. Not that I don't love the little chap to bits, but enough already, let's all move on to a place where we can kill a few hours listening to a book on tape. The thing about very young children is that they are still so in their brains that concepts like "waiting," or "other people's needs," or "let's listen to a different song" just don't compute. That's cool, I can do it for a few more years, but I'm definitely looking at the light. Constantly being in the moment, as one has to be with small children, doesn't allow for much time to space out, do what you prefer to do, or putter, all things which my husband and I are fond of doing, particularly whilst vacationing. So, no matter how many times you say, "I'd rather sit in that lounge chair out there than play slap jack," it doesn't really click until age seven or so.

And then they are seven or so, maybe almost eight, and cannot, for the life of them, stop asking questions. In Iowa my dad endured a 10-day interrogation, almost exclusively about fishing. When everything — and I mean everything — is interesting, there's always something new to find out about. Here's how many questions I'd like to answer when laying around on the swimming dock: zero. Here's how many I did have to answer: one million. Despite that difference of opinion, the kid and I had some pretty intense talks out there — the big issues, death and infinity and growing up. Vast amounts of water and sky tend to bring that on. One of the things I learned out on the dock was his concern over what other kids might think of him. He said that there was one thing he would prefer that I not call him: Honeybunch. "Why's that, Honeybunch?" was, of course, my reply. But I know why. What self respecting kid wants to be called Honeybunch? Which I'm certain I've let slip in public, though I have no recollection of any particular time. Ah, well. I guess I can live with that.

Every year for the past ten years, my daughter and I have made a fairy house together in Michigan. The boys have joined in as they've gotten old enough to help, but she's always been the mastermind. My mother-in-law has a couple of woodsy miniature houses that she keeps on her front porch, and every year we've decorated them and prepared a feast for the fairies, gathering all manner of leaves, flower petals, pebbles, shells and bits of driftwood. This year the boys and I got wrapped up in driftwood boat racing in the tiny stream that runs into the lake. The stream flows from a spring, and the water is icy cold. Normally the stream is overgrown with forget-me-nots, but it had recently been cleared, perfect for boat racing. One thing led to another and before long we were planning fairy summer camp. My daughter strolled out to check on what we were doing, but had no interest in any fairy plans, and gave us only a cursory hello before heading off for a swim. You can't force someone to make a fairy house, even though my inclination was to run after her and drag her back into childhood for a little bit longer.

This is also the summer for the end of something else near and dear to the hearts and minds of all of us: the last Harry Potter book. We scheduled our traveling around the release of Deathly Hallows, making sure that we were in close proximity to friends and festivities. It was devoured in one six hour period in which our girl sat pretty much motionless in the brown chair. I occasionally brought her snacks, and took her picture a few times. Seeing her read this last book, and watching her get dressed up to wander around the doings in Oak Park with her girlfriends on Friday, has me spiraling down memory lane. I can see her at six years old, sitting in a lawn chair at a central Illinois wedding, thick Harry Potter book in hand, ignoring all around her. I see her with her girlfriend at seven, wearing their Hogwarts capes and ties on the Quidditch field, goofy and grinning. The transformation is complete. They definitely weren't playing Quidditch this year, and their costumes were more groovy teen witch than Hogwarts student. Now they are on the far edge of childhood, and not looking back. Harry, Ron and Hermione have accompanied us for just about all of this ride. A brave boy, a good-hearted friend, and a whip smart girl have been excellent companions. The Harry Potter generation of kids has had a thorough education in defeating evil, using their wits and staying true to what's right and good. Who knows what this will lead them to do as adults? Lord knows there's plenty of evil in need of an ass-kicking out there.

We've still got a little bit of this summer left, and one more trip away from home, off to the mountains of West Virginia for some camping and delicious food, rhododendron-lined paths that lead to waterfalls, and a thousand people playing variations on the same old songs, until, usually in the middle of the night, it all turns into one song. Thus inoculated, we'll travel home, hang the tent out to air and turn our attentions to August, which belongs to Chicago.

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About the Author(s)

Lori Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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