It was one of those wood-framed double-bottom/twin-top bunks with huge wooden drawers, which eliminated the need for a dresser in the tiny room. Everything they needed was in that eight-by-ten-foot space—super cool bunk beds, a rug printed with roads and community buildings, a bright yellow chair shaped like a certain bright yellow bird from a favorite TV show, and stacked toy bins holding a wide array of metal racing cars, locking blocks, plastic animals, and superheroes. An extra-large green bin was, every now and then, filled with wooden trains, tracks, trees, and signs. Its contents were usually in use because, in our house, the train station never closed.
“Here’s your suitcase. Will you please pack it with what you’ll need for five days? We’re going to Nana’s and Papa’s tomorrow.” Cheers went up! The day we had all been waiting for was near.
I wasn’t sure what would get stuffed inside the soft-sider but was pretty sure it would need some mom-editing. It would likely be short on underwear and devoid of socks that match. Toothbrushes would never make the cut. Still, we would travel a lot in our lives, and I wanted them to know how to get ready. Why not start now?
Our house was so tiny, I’d be close by if they needed help. So I left them to it, going about packing for Joe and me in the next room. My husband would have done his part after dinner, but this way I could check “packing” off my mental to-do list. I wanted to pack the car that night so we would be ready to head out early in the morning. Joe could do the heavy lifting.
I could imagine what he’d say as I filled the bag. “An extra pair of jeans, four T-shirts, and whatever else you think I need, Bunny.” He’d been calling me Bunny ever since Nathaniel tagged me as Blue-and-White-Bunny’s mom. Blue-and-White-Bunny was his most special stuffed friend. You might say he loved him like a brother.
North Carolina had been our home for nearly a year. We were a full 10 hours away, not counting meal and potty breaks, from my mom and dad living way up in New York in the home where they raised me, my two older brothers, and my younger sister. The redwood ranch was set on a large lot with a huge yard to play in and fields on three sides. Matt, 4, and Nathaniel, 3, were excited at the prospect of riding through the fields on Papa’s tractor and helping Nana in the kitchen. Mom could always think of something they could help with. They loved that. No matter what they did, it would be fun … and funny. They loved that, too.
There would be barbecues in the back yard and friends and family stopping in to say, “Wow, you’re getting so big!” Nana would take the boys next door, where Aunt Dorothy would have a jar full of miniature candy bars and they’d each get to pick one (or two, or three). They might even get to sit on my brother’s motorcycle and pretend they were rough riders. Going to Nana’s and Papa’s was a big deal.
North Carolina was terrific; still I couldn’t wait to get home for a few days. I knew it was there same as always, but I had to feel it for a while. There was something delicious about being in the house where I grew up, my husband and little boys by my side. Joe had landed a postdoctoral position in the research labs at Wake Forest Hospital in Winston-Salem, and while it was a big move for all of us, it represented an enormous change for me. Until that point I had never lived more than an hour and a half away from family. Now it would take a whole day of travel to get there.
By the time we arrived it would be dark and quiet with just enough time left in the day for hugs, snacks, bath, and bed (and extra water, more hugs, potty time, and bed again). My sister would stop by the next morning with my eight-year-old niece and we’d catch up while the kids played. The boys adored their cousin and would have her throwing balls and blowing bubbles all day long. Nana would have filled the cookie jar on the counter. The cabinet would be filled with favorite snacks. When the kids were finally asleep, Joe would flop down on the bed snoring, still tired from the long drive the day before. My dad would probably fall asleep in his chair while watching TV, and Mom and I would play Scrabble, tap into her box of white zinfandel, devour a bowl of Cheez-its and make a party out of it. Yes. Going to Nana’s and Papa’s was a big deal.
I zipped up the big suitcase and headed into the boys’ room to check their progress. The bag was still sitting on the bottom bunk, closed, just as I had left it. I called down the hall to the living room, where they were probably watching Thomas the Tank Engine. “Come on and pack your bag, guys.”
“We’re done, Mommy!” Matt yelled back.
“Are you sure you have everything you’ll need?”
“Uh-huh!” Nathaniel called out.
“Oka-ay,” I said. “Come show me what you’ve got!” They rode a wave of hooting laughter down the short hallway.
Matt got to the bed first and unzipped the little brown bag, using his body as a barrier to reinforce the big brother/little brother hierarchy. ZZZZZZZip, all the way around, changing zipper speed at the corners. Nathaniel’s little hand had a hold on the top of the bag so that he could flip it open as soon as the zipping stopped.
The very neatly arranged bag would need no mom-editing after all. Its contents:
- one green metal tow truck with bright yellow boom and shiny silver hook
- one white helicopter with its removable propeller detached and tucked along the side
- one red firetruck complete with lights and sirens
- various superheroes, firemen, and pilots tucked in where they would fit.
I glanced over at the boys, their faces beaming with pride.
“It’s perfect” I said, smiling my biggest smile. “You guys did a great job. Thank you for helping.”
Well. I did tell them to pack what they needed.
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