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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter, Contributing Writer

Vacations are dreams.

Most everyone fantasizes of getting away to the perfect vacation destination that is either a picturesque hideaway or the scene of party central.

My personal idea of an escape haven involves balmy weather near the ocean or a large lake with the scent of nature wafting in through open windows ruffling the curtains as the cabin cools. All I need is a book, a light lunch and a nap. Repeat activities upon awakening. Simplicity at its finest.

Of course, some of my friends have diametrically different ideas of the perfect holiday sanctuary: Going out to dinner, dancing, parties, shopping frenzies and visits to local museums. That would drive me insane. Regardless, a vacation by any other name is still a vacation.

Yet, ironically, preparing for any type of trip is always an exercise of stress and angst. I am incapable of getting ready for a vacation without piling totes, boxes, suitcases and clearly-labeled bags. I create a checklist for each family member. Then, to make sure I am as redundant as possible, I force each one to make a list of their own and I compare the two. It’s necessary to be comprehensive. I don’t want to miss anything.

Our destinations are usually within a five- or 10-mile radius of a Walmart or Target, but I don’t want to take chances. There is always the possibility that, with my infamous directional sense—or lack thereof—  I could always take a wrong turn on my way to the beach and end up mysteriously stranded on a desert island.

My diligence can sometimes be confused with over-packing. But I would have the last laugh when someone is begging for Windex® due to a rogue tropical sandstorm and no one can see through the windshield. Naturally, I would require the obligatory “You were right” as I hand over the coveted cleaner. I would be a hero. You may as well thank me now.

It just pays to be prepared.

Packing and planning are only the beginning of the vacation freneticism. After I stack the gear in the dining room, take a sip of water and wipe my brow, I am always overcome with the sudden urge, no, need, to clean the entire house. It’s one of those traditions handed down from mother to daughter. Before departure, the house must be immaculate. Otherwise, something dire may happen, although this danger has never been identified. It is necessary to return to an immaculate home. These teachings are not just modeled in action or shared over a cup of coffee, but DNA modifications actually occur within the marrow of the bleach must fill the air. If you are not nauseated and dizzy, then the job has not been satisfactorily completed.

Then, and only then, can a final walkthrough with the last checklist occur. The journey can begin.

My last family trip involved 16 hours in a minivan with my children, my husband and my father. None of these Y-chromosome passengers have any diagnosed illnesses that should cause traveling with them to be a hardship. But behavior that is somewhat acceptable at home can induce hallucinations and seizures while we are confined in a vehicle driving down the highway at over 70 miles per hour.

Singing all day long, quoting SpongeBob, and asking repetitive, nonsensical questions are all perfectly acceptable in children when I can run from the kitchen or lock myself in the bathroom while huddling in a fetal position. When the venue was condensed into an odoriferous, poorly-ventilated steel nightmare, I entertained thoughts of leaping from the window somewhere in the middle of Georgia.

One would assume that surviving the pre-vacation planning and the  actual road trip would ensure a week or 10 days of complete bliss. Unfortunately, the whining, tantrums and begging are always packed with the rest of the belongings and come out to play at inopportune times. None of that compares to the fits the children can throw. It never ends.

The bottom line is that whether the fantasy getaway involves solitude or circuses, time with family and friends creates memories that will never go away, which may or may not be a good thing. No matter how much you plan and how much research is done prior to the trip, vacations take on a life of their own. They become a separate entity from the everyday family dynamics and influence everything.

Don’t fight it. Just laugh and make sure Motrin® is on your checklist. It’s all in the family!

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Prince William County. Her column, Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.


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