The Tale of My Spring Break Breaking Point

Spring Break Main
We had planned a great Spring Break for our visiting relatives. What could possibly go wrong? Image: Lisa Kay Tate

My brother-in-law forgetting his shorts on his Spring Break visit should have been an omen.

For the first time in more than 10 years, my brother-in-law and his family were making the more than 600-mile trek across Texas to visit us during Spring Break.

My husband was so happy to see his brother, he began planning a checklist of things to do in our area. Some great local stuff, like sand-dune sledding, not to mention a visit to Carlsbad Caverns. Turns out, not even a Supernatural-connected stop could fully save the vacation.

It was the kids themselves that did.

In the beginning, my husband had it all planned out:

They would arrive Monday night. The parents would get the fold-out bed in the living room with their teenager on a cot in our office (aka spare bedroom). Tuesday, head to Fort Bliss and see the museums and sites, then that evening we would go downtown for dinner and to see the beautiful new plaza. Wednesday, it’s White Sands in the morning, followed by Cloudcroft for a nice stroll at the historic trestle trail and along the little Main Street. Thursday, carpool to Carlsbad Caverns (somewhere we had been urging them to visit for a while), and head into Midland for the night. Friday morning, tour the Commemorative Air Force in Midland, before the in-laws head back to their home in Dallas. We would have a leisurely drive back home.

Not long before their visit, my husband was on the phone with his brother, who decided he wanted to add a trip up our local Tramway to the mix, as well as eat at our off-beat tourist bar and restaurant, Rosa’s Cantina (yes, that Rosa’s Cantina). Downtown and The Plaza were out.

“Don’t you think you’re over-planning just a little bit,” I asked while he was squeezing in another potential activity to our schedule.

“I just want them to have the most fun they can have,” he said.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, just about everything.

They arrived Monday, and the first thing we realized was we overlooked the obvious. They had two kids. Where would their younger son sleep? Since we were out of rooms (the office was almost too small for one cot) the best option was putting him on the floor of the girls’ room in a sleeping bag set-up.

It was then my brother-in-law discovered he left all his shorts at the hotel back in Midland…as well as his phone. Luckily, we would be going to that same hotel when we all headed that way later in the week. The men took a trip to Dollar General, while my sister-and-I got all the sleeping arrangements in order for everyone. They came back with some “great $5 shorts” my brother-in-law was planning to wear for most of the outings.

That was all good, and the first night was spent relatively trouble free at a nice restaurant until we checked the hours of the Tramway. Open weekends only. First item canceled. Disappointing, but fine. More time for all the other things.

Next day, at the Fort Bliss entrance, we needed passes to get on base. Usually, this is about a 15-minute wait for us, tops, but instead we waited nearly an hour for our passes. When we got ours, my husband mentioned to the guard how their one gate seems to get really backed up on busy days.

“We have a second one,” the guard said. “You should have gone there, the wait is only five minutes.”

Good information that would have been handy one hour ago. We only made it to the first museum, and on the way out my youngest daughter had to use the bathroom–of which we immediately got kicked out, because they were being cleaned. Since time was as backed up as her bladder, we needed to forego the rest of the fort and head to the restaurant…quickly…which was across town.

That made for a tense little drive for my daughter, who then learned the joy of what a cramped little cantina bathroom looks like. She wasn’t pleased, but when you gotta go….

Over dinner, we mapped out the next day. White Sands should be fun. Thanks to Spring Break and Texas, everyone else thought so as well. Turns out, according to the clerk in the remarkably packed gift shop, we hit the park on it’s busiest week of the year. It took some driving and walking to find an empty dune, for an hour or two of sledding.

The first trip down the dune, my brother-in-law’s $5 shorts ripped the all the way from the inside of one leg to another. He spent the rest of the sledding time in what looked like a high-cut kilt.

As fun as the sand-dune sledding was, it was hot, so in a couple of hours everyone was ready to head for cooler temperatures in the mountains of Cloudcroft for a bit; not before we had to make a stop in at the Alamogordo, Wal-Mart for some emergency shorts. My brother-in-law had to go in with a jacket around his waist, so he wouldn’t qualify for a “People of Wal-Mart” meme.

We made it up the windy mountain to the scenic overlook on the trestle we were planning on taking the trail to, and stopped for photos. When we got back in our SUV, my husband turned on the ignition, and we were greeted by a light show of red warnings and loud beeps. We had “overheated.” On a mountain cliff. Thirty minutes from the nearest mechanic in Alamogordo. We checked the engine, and it had plenty of everything it needed; so we all tag-teamed back and forth in my brother-in-law’s ride to a small diner to make sure the kids got some dinner. Our hopes were our vehicle would have cooled down by then.

It didn’t. We called AAA who said they would have a tow coming up from Alamogordo. We also called my dad in El Paso (more than an hour away) from a ride back from Alamogordo. All remaining Cloudcroft plans were scrapped.

The rest went as follows:

Kids went home in a crowded car with the in-laws; all mechanics in Alamogordo gone for the day…tower had to come from Ruidoso Downs 90 minutes away; my dad arrived long after dark; the tow truck a while later. In the meantime, we waited in the dark, dressed for a sunny day in white sands. Our thin jackets were meant for late afternoon, not late night. It was 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

When we got to Alamogordo — where my SUV would spend the next eight days thanks to one faulty sensor — we left the keys in the night drop, and my dad drove my husband, dog and I (all of us who couldn’t fit in the in-laws’ car) home.

Spring Break carlsbad
A Carlsbad Caverns mini-diorama is a great souvenir, especially when you can’t actually get into the caverns. Image: Lisa Tate.

We made it home by midnight, exhausted. At least we had Carlsbad Caverns and the air museum to look forward to, right?

When we made it to Carlsbad, we learned Spring Break is also the caverns’ busy season. There was a Disneyland-worthy line going through the visitor center lobby, back into the gift shop and out again to get in. We had never seen it that busy. The ranger told us the wait for the elevator, back up would be three hours…and we later learned one of them was broken. There was an estimated 4,000 people in the caverns that day, and no way we would be able do the walk back up the trail, with two kids and two teens, without wading against a tide of fellow tourists.

So, we decided to forego the caverns we had been telling everyone they “need to see,” and pretty much the main attraction my brother-in-law’s family wanted to visit. So, we drove the rest of the way to Midland on some of the most sparse back roads on the planet. The highlight of our day was letting my daughter get her picture in front of the Kermit, Texas sign so she could prove it looks nothing like the woodland area they depicted in of one her favorite shows, Supernatural. I explained to her every place in those shows looks like the U.S. northwest or western Canada, but that’s another post for another time.

When we made it to Midland, it was already past dinner, but too late to really go anywhere. The two youngest kids, deprived of some good running-around time, were bouncing off the walls. When we got to the hotel, the desk clerk gave a judgmental eyebrow to my daughter, who was thrilled to show him the great big pansy she had picked from the elaborate pot next to the entrance.

My husband, older daughter, and brother-in-law ran to pick up some Chinese food at a place next to the hotel. They ended up there for nearly an hour, as the restaurant forgot their order once, and completely mangled it the second time.

Meanwhile, while we were waiting back at the hotel, in the in-laws’ room, the kids were getting hungrier and more restless. Snack crackers weren’t cutting it. One of them decided to try to jump off the bed, which caused a nice large noise, and apparently was too loud for the elderly couple below. They sent Judgy Clerk up to give us a warning. When the group came back with the food, instead of heading down to the patio to eat, everyone was so tired they all wanted to just eat in their room…all eight of us.

Then my husband informed me they were checking the air museum hours while they were waiting for the food, and the museum was closed tomorrow. It was only open one day a week now because it is in the process of moving most of its exhibits to Dallas, where the in-laws had just come from.

I quit!

Closures, long wait, ripped clothes, broken vehicle, overcrowed cave, hyped up kids vs. crabby hotel guests, and other no-go well-laid plans of mice and men caused me to have what could only be described as a system shutdown. I politely left the kid watching to the husband and departed to my room, where I tried to finish the editing work I brought with me. I couldn’t even read; I was so over everything.

Not very mature, I know, but we all have our breaking points.

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You know, for a Spring Break where all our plans fell through, we actually got to do and see quite a bit. Images: Rick and Lisa Tate.

When my family returned to our room, we got the kids into bed, and I stayed up to work while everyone else slept like tired dogs.

The next morning consisted of breakfast at the hotel and a stopover at a park to say goodbye to the in-laws. As they drove off toward Dallas, I felt terrible about everything they planned on seeing pretty much not happening.

When we got home that afternoon, I was feeling a little sorry for myself as a failure of a good host and a good mom. I wanted everyone to have a great Spring Break, and it all went PFFFT!

I felt bad enough sending our guests all the way back home without showing them the best time possible. And, now, my own family would only have a weekend left to really try and enjoy their weeklong break.

While I was enjoying my little silent pity party, I began to go through my purse, clearing out the wadded tissue, old receipts and other post-trip shrapnel, when I pulled from my wallet a dried-up, little purple disc. It was the pansy my youngest had picked in Midland. She had placed it in my wallet for safekeeping.

This little blossom, similar to those available in little plastic six-pack sets on the sidewalk in front of supermarkets, was a treasure for my seven-year-old.

Looking at this little, dried blossom, I realized something.

While I was being so uptight about wanting things to be right and lamenting every disappointment, my kids were having fun.

They were enjoying the simple pleasures of life and the excitement of road tripping with someone their own age.

While I worried about the limited space in our home forcing one cousin to sleep on the ground, they were having a big slumber party.

While we were sighing about the long wait into the military post, they were laughing and playing tag.

While we were getting all the baggage (physical and emotional) loaded into our rooms after a day of basically driving, they were sitting in a “fancy hotel” lobby eating huge complimentary green apples, as if they were royalty.

No matter what we were worried, discouraged or disappointed by, the kids knew better. It was all just part of the adventure, and the adventure, I discovered, is in the little things.

This was true for both our teenagers and younger kids. The things they will remember about this break include drinking old-fashioned sodas at a country store while watching toy trains chug around the wooden ceilings.

My teenager will recall how cool it was for the young soldier to who greeted us as the Fort Bliss museum to recognize the fandom on her t-shirt, and what a treat it was for my seven-year-old and her cousin taking home some paper models of tanks.

They will talk about burying themselves, and the happily compliant dog, up to their chests in the cool white sand, hidden below the hot surface. They will remember discovering desert animal tracks and a new type of butterfly they’ve never seen.

They’ll even remember how fun it was to run across a rest stop that looked like an Agent Carter era airport, in the middle of “nowhere,” and having a mint shake in the car on the way home on St. Patrick’s Day.

I remembered even that cold overlook we were stranded on at night had the most beautiful starry sky I had seen in ages.

Sure, we didn’t exactly have a perfect travel guide Spring Break vacation, but we also we also didn’t have a Griswold Family style breakdown.

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Vacations may not always be perfect, but they don’t have to be when you know what to appreciate. Image: Lisa Tate

You know, for a Spring Break where it, at first, felt like we didn’t get to do anything, we sure saw and did a bunch of fun and interesting little things. All of this added up to one big and priceless family memory.

And that pansy?

I’m keeping it pressed in our scrapbook next to a Spring Break group photo of two bedraggled families and one black dog standing on a sea of white sand, hot and gritty.

And smiling.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.