We are delighted to feature this adventure story from talented Nebraska writer and children’s book author Lindsay Nolan. While traveling with young children can be challenging (and embarrassing), the beauty of the journey always shines through.
By Lindsay Nolan
Hand in hand, I led three-year-old Henry into the Bayard rest stop bathroom as he resisted and pulled on my arm. As waves of ice cream energy surged through his body and mine, I wondered if I was turning into the battered, run-down mom I hoped I would never become.
Moments earlier, he had announced at top volume that he had to poop. Yet now, only seconds later, he apparently didn’t have that same sense of urgency. The rest stop attendant continued with her duties, but I sensed a dart of annoyance shot in our direction every time she looked our way.
Henry did finally complete his duties in the stall. I tried to avoid touching everything I possibly could, while he practically lay on the tracked-down, tiled bathroom floor with every inch of exposed skin absorbing the germs.
After we were done, I opened the door with a pre-planned piece of toilet paper in hand only to find my husband visibly frantic with our other son, baby Reece.
“He just threw up everywhere,” Danny said. “It’s all over me.”
With outstretched arms, he gave me our dangling baby and ran outside to grab some wipes for cleanup. I looked down at my butter pecan ice cream and took a silent bite, trying not to make eye contact with the attendant. “Does she have kids?” I wondered to myself. “Probably not. If she did, she’d understand and she definitely does not understand. Or maybe she understands that we just don’t have any control over them.”
I let some of the ice cream dissolve in my mouth, indulging in sweetness for a moment before finally making eye contact.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said to the attendant.
From the Mouths of 3-Year-Olds
Seemingly softened by my apology but with no verbal response, the attendant reluctantly grabbed a mop and went around the counter to help with Reece’s mess. Danny approached the door with a pack of multi-use baby wipes: good for messes, a quick revive of the baby’s hair, sun exposure relief, a solid makeup remover…
“HE LOOKS JUST LIKE THE BAD GUY FROM BOSS BABY! HE LOOKS JUST LIKE THE BAD GUY FROM BOSS BABY!”
My three-year-old was referencing his favorite movie to describe the looks of – let me emphasize this – the FEMALE attendant helping us. Horrified, I told him to stop talking and to eat his ice cream; although I have to admit that, I did see the resemblance and secretly applauded his cleverness.
After the mess was cleaned up through a dual-effort from Danny and the villain attendant, we decided it would be best to eat our ice cream outside on the bench, with a view of the magnificent Chimney Rock. On our way to the door, I knocked over a large, metal stool as I went to pick up Henry. We went out with a bang.
“HE LOOKS JUST LIKE –”
“Thank God we never have to show our face there again,” I said.
Although that phrase would become a common exchange between my husband and me, we never regretted the memories created on our “Nebraska explorers” vacation.
It Started With Burwell
Danny and I originally planned a trip to a small town called Burwell to visit some friends at their cabin on the Calamus Reservoir, about three and a half hours away from our home in Omaha. We drove there once before with the kids and, although traveling with an 11-month-old baby and a three-year-old toddler can be challenging, I considered it a success for the most part. Perhaps that gave me the confidence to consider an extended family vacation that toured the state.
“We should break up the trip to Burwell this time,” I told Danny. “It was long.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Never mind, let’s go straight there and then drive around the entire state.”
From Burwell, we drove to another small but vibrant community called Alliance. Alliance was home to Carhenge, a parodied replication of England’s Stonehenge. The site was built by a man named Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father, formed from vintage American automobiles, painted gray and in proportion to the prehistoric monument.
Your first question upon encountering Carhenge might be “why?” But creator Jim Reinders’ answer would simply be “why not?”
I read the welcome plaque with admiration, learning about the creator’s life and his gift to his hometown. I let out a sigh of relief that we had made it to our second destination.
“We were able to reduce the time of the original Stonehenge construction by 9,999 years and 51 weeks.”
The boys were anxious to get out of the car by the time we arrived at Carhenge, so the piercing sun and humid, sticky air did not bother us. After touring the attraction, we went inside the gift shop where my kids suddenly shifted from well-adjusted members of society into unhinged animals – think werewolves at the sight of a full moon. The hot sweat surrounding my body in that particular gift shop in Alliance served as a foreshadow of what was to come at Chimney Rock.
Reece, who was learning how to walk, began to push the lone chair that he managed to find around the small room. The noise was monotonous and drowning, but he was happy and laughing. He recently learned how to throw tantrums, so I wasn’t taking my chances by removing the seat. Henry ran from all corners of the room, trying on hats and, I think, playing a game that involved touching every piece of merchandise in the shop.
We gathered our belongings, including a new, engraved penny that Henry and I flattened, and left in a hurry.
“Thank God we never have to show our faces there again.”
Nebraska’s Beauty Changes Our Minds
Our “Nebraska explorers” vacation also included several other attractions, including sightseeing at the Scotts Bluff National Monument, a prehistoric adventure at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, a drive through Fort Robinson, and pedal boating at Chadron State Park. We woke up from our hotel in Chadron the following day to begin our eight-hour trek home – me, basking in the silence of my precious children sleeping in the car and Danny, deep in his thoughts as we drove through several variations of the Nebraska landscape.
While both kids slept, Danny steered away from the highway and drove up a bluff that was marked as a nature view. We got out of the car for a moment, stretching our legs and peering over the cliff. I overlooked the land below; there were no cars in sight. The land stretched in either direction, full of foliage and trees with no end, and quiet surrounded us. A breeze lifted my hair and cooled my face and a peaceful splash of satisfaction washed over my entire body. The sun rested on my body, and I couldn’t move.
“This is beautiful.”
“Let’s do this again.”
“We will have to show our faces again.”
We sat on the hood of our blue Jeep and time stood still for several minutes, as we were drenched with the natural beauty of the state.
“It’s a little too quiet for comfort…”
We got back in the car, and I found myself rubbing my finger across Henry’s flattened penny, reflecting on the last couple of days. I was ready for the kids to wake up and I missed their energetic vibrancy.
Your first question might be “why?”
My answer would simply be “why not?”
Lindsay Nolan is a Nebraska native writer and illustrator. She graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and her Master’s degree in Managerial Communication from Bellevue University. She works in marketing in the healthcare industry. Lindsay is the author of two children’s books, “Peanut: A Storybook for Mighty Preemie Babies” and “Nebraska Baby.” Read more about Lindsay in “Omaha Mom Captures Spirit of Nebraska in New Children’s Book.”