There’s a lot to be said for taking a vacation without a surly teenager along.  So when we cheerfully packed our thirteen year old son, Darion, off on a youth retreat to Ridgecrest in North Carolina on July 4th, Doug and I decided to treat ourselves to a few days of “doing what we want to do” without having to listen to the complaining.  Let me just say that Darion is very good at being thirteen.  And God bless our youth leader who braved a ten hour drive both ways with a van full of teenagers!  We don’t pay her enough.  As we cheerfully waved off the group departing from the church parking lot, we cried, “We’re free!”  Of course we said this silently to ourselves because there were actually people present who were going to miss their kids.  Go figure.

Within a couple minutes of seeing the tail lights of the van move out of sight, we hopped into the truck and set out to see some things we had always wanted to see as we hustled through Alabama on our way to somewhere else.  It seems we have spent twenty-eight years on our way to somewhere else and never had the time to stop and see anything along the journey.  And without Darion, we could see each and every waterfall and hike each and every trail we wanted, exploring nature in the way it was meant to be enjoyed.  We could actually hear the sweet songs of the birds and the chirping of the cicadas without the endless barrage of “Nature is stupid!  I hate hiking! How far do we have to go?  I’m tired.” Loud melodramatic teen-aged angst sigh.  “How many more stupid waterfalls do we have to see?  I just want to go back to the hotel and watch TV.”  For some reason, Darion fails to understand that if we wanted to watch TV we wouldn’t pay $100.00 bucks a night in a strange city to do so.  In fact, we wouldn’t even have to leave Valparaiso.  Somehow, his endless tirade of dissatisfaction tends to spoil the ambiance of communing with God’s creation.

We also got to eat at establishments other than our son’s usual culinary preferences of “drive through” with a large order of fries, without sulking and the announcement of, “Fine!  Then I’m not eating!”  I suppose his not eating is somehow meant to punish us, but I’ve never understood why.  Truly, if he kept his word, we’d save money.  Unfortunately, he always capitulates, as pretty much every restaurant carries chicken tenders and fries.  But oh, for a few days, we relished the sweet taste of our selfish pleasures.

Not only were we able to enjoy nature, we were also able to visit historical areas, such as the First White House of the Confederacy and Old Town, Alabama, which would no doubt have been deemed “boring”.  I was able to cross one more item off my bucket list—touring Helen Keller’s home and seeing the outdoor drama, “The Miracle Worker,” performed on the grounds.  The play alone was phenomenal and completely worth the trip.

We also got to see the only Coon Dog cemetery in the country.  (At least I think it’s the only one.)  Don’t laugh at me.  Some people like to go antiquing or to art museums on vacation.  I enjoy quirky things like the Coon Dog cemetery.  And although the visit was done more as a lark, we were surprised to see several other visitors there.  So apparently I’m not the only oddball out there.  My husband, being the good sport that he is, indulged me in this fifteen minute fantasy.  It was either that or two days shopping at the outlet center in Foley.  He chose wisely. I was a little disappointed to find out that the movie, “Sweet Home Alabama,” was mostly filmed in Georgia and the Coon Dog cemetery in the movie was not the actual one, but rather a movie set based on the real thing.

Now for some reason, our teenager, who is embarrassed to tears when we breathe the air in his vicinity, felt the need to call us at least a half dozen times a day—like when he awoke at 6 am, when he ate every meal, when he was on a break, or before he went to bed at 11 pm.  He was always quite concerned about where we were and what we were doing.  And he doesn’t even have his own phone, which necessitated the humiliation of having to borrow one from his friend to call his—gasp—parents!  (Yes, we are cruel and abusive parents who have ruined his existence by denying him his personal cell phone rite of passage.)  As tempted as we were to say we were in the midst of shipping all our worldly goods to Bali with no forwarding address, we resisted the urge and assured him we would be home before he returned.  (After all, Bali isn’t that big.  He could probably find us there.)

Sure enough, we were back to greet the youth when they arrived home the following Tuesday night and our son is back to his usual uncooperative and churlish self.  We are wondering how much we would have to bribe the youth leader to take a longer trip next year.