Thursday, June 26, 2008

All American Vacation: Day Two

Day 2: The Badlands

We definitely spoke too soon about the joy of family vacations.

We arrived in the Badlands after another dayish of driving. After wrestling Eight away from the Continental Breakfast offered at the Motel 8 (where we had a successful sleep despite my 1 a.m. blogging), we headed into Mitchell to see the much-overrated-to-the- non-consumer-oriented Corn Palace. We were, essentially, retracing the steps of a family vacation that I took at Eight’s age, with my folks and Cousin, and I wondered what had seemed so magical about this place to me then. Had thirty years and commercialism ruined it, or me?

The Palace was our first real foray into the one-two-punch of teaching budgeting and values, two priority lectures for an economist: giving Eight a small budget with which to work in terms of acquiring personal souvenirs and such, while at the same time gently reminding her that everything there was complete and utter crap that would be discarded as soon as her feet hit the pavement back in Minneapolis.

As an aside, she’s never had an allowance, let alone a budget. We operate under the philosophy at our house that everyone pitches in, in exchange for room, board and, in our case tuition, so there’s really no need for an allowance. While this may (on good days) serve to foster a sense of duty and fairplay among the kids, it backfires on us, however, whenever Eight comes into any cash, perhaps from letters in the mail from Grandma. The old greenbacks seem to burn holes in her pants and she’ll be sure to relieve herself of their burden at the first possible chance, be it taking the neighborhood for sodas at the local coffee shop, giving it to the poor at church, or to any stranger walking their dog on our block. Here! Have a dollar! No, really! I don’t need it! Take it! She’ll say. Once, our backdoor piano teacher returned a dollar bill that she had received from Eight in a thank-you card for the set of Great Books she had given us.

This is all to say that since she does not have her own funds, and we have never ventured on a so-called ‘family vacation’ we have never come upon this situation in which Eight wants to spend a little dough on stuff that we’d prefer to not purchase.

She quickly narrowed her search to a row of imitation kittens with faux, yet real-to-the-touch fur of various sizes and a fairly large price range. The one she had in mind cost $7.99, or about seven dollars more than we had hoped we’d spend at this juncture, day 2 of our vacation, anticipating an infinite number and variety of souvenir shops to go.

Note that, all political correctness aside, next to the bows and arrows, straw hats, cowboy and [Native American] play sets, and corn paraphernalia, the cats had absolutely nothing to do with the socio-political, economic, geographic, or botanological region in which we were visiting.

She ended up "pooling" her money with Big’s money (he involuntarily forwent purchasing an equally un-related item in his sights: a police car with doors that actually opened. He and I left the consumer orgy with him on my shoulders yelling about leaving his 'blue car' behind and me continually asking 'what blue car?').

And so, Stella, the fairly realistic, yet uncannily small, and, we would soon discover, sibling-rivalry-provoking cat, entered our lives.

Once in the car, Eight showered attention on her new purchase, trying out various names ("baby", "snowball", "kat", and "softy" before ultimately landing on the final name), and requesting additional snacks to feed her, and tempting big with the new toy in the car who seemed to be taking her attention away from him.

Big: I WANT the kitty!

Eight: NO!

Big: Whassername?

Eight: Stella!

Big: I WANT the kitty!

Eight: NO! She’s MINE!

And so it went.

About an hour later, when the newness subsided slightly, she allowed Big the privilege of holding Stella. At that moment in our travels we were about to cross a wide open expanse that included the Missouri river valley. It was beautiful and BioMom and I attempted to redirect the kids’ attention to the glorious nature around us when BioMom heard Big mumble under his breath: Throw kitty in river.

Unsure of what she heard, she asked him to repeat. He responded diabolically: THROW KITTY IN RIVER!


The first overlook of the badlands erased all of the unpleasantness associated with that hideous yet uncannily real-to-the-touch cat. The way that the land gives way to this glorious sea of striped contusions delving deep into the ground is mesmerizing. Had we not had a two-year-old hell-bent on flinging himself into the crevasses, we would have stayed for hours.

But the legacy of that short stop for us would not be regretting not spending enough time there. No. It was a simple sign. A sign that we stopped and took pictures of and about which giggled, somewhat nervously. It was this sign that would prove to ruin our night.

We next headed directly to our destination, the Cedar Pass Lodge (from the online brochure: Cedar Pass Lodge offers 22 historic cabins and is located mere steps away from hiking trails. Although there are no private phones and televisions, you'll be pampered with heat and air conditioning, a coffee pot, and hot bath. Note to self: when the lodgings are described as "historic" in conjunction with the use of the term "pampered", steer clear.).

Although unspoken, I suspect we all had our misgivings upon arrival. BioMom noticed the used plastic cup between the curtain and the window and the toothpick on the floor behind the bed (as Cousin would say, there is no good reason for a toothpick to be laying about anywhere), Big, the left-over coffee from some previous tenant (Baba! Coffee!!!, said he, running over to me with the cold pot in hand, rancid coffee spilling over the edges), and I, the certainly not innocuous hole next to the sidewalk and under the house to the right of the back door, clearly the home of some unknown critter. Eight's misgivings would become apparent to us at bedtime, though I'm sure they were in her thoughts upon our arrival.

Because it was naptime, Eight and I decided to go on a hike while Big and Mom relaxed in the cabin. We found a great place with a little fossil walk and a promised talk in 45 minutes. I thought we could go on a quick out-and-in walk to explore a path and the environs. We got about ¼ of a mile in when Eight started to panic. Every bird's squeek, bug's rattle, or wind in the grass had her screaming and running to me, clinging to my arms and begging to go back. The rattlesnake sign had clearly sunk in.

Apparently, however, the rattlesnakes only lived on one side of the highway because after seeing kids climbing all over the little hills on the other side, she was plenty comfortable crawling all over, and didn’t want to leave.

I’ll let BioMom’s soon-to-be-posted guest-blog describe the snake-infested night that we barely endured. Suffice it to say that we won't be returning any time soon to that particular destination. I’ll skip to the morning where in the quite din of water running over me in the shower, all I heard was fighting over Stella.


Eight: NO!


Eight: You can earn the right to hold her if….

It was all I could do to not take that flea-bitten tourist-trap and throw her to the rattlesnakes!

As we left the glorious Badlands, BioMom and I continued to marvel at the view, the beginning scenes of Nemo to our rear, our kids' eyes glazed over at the little screen hanging from the roof of BioMom’s Behemoth, when we realized that we may have inadvertently left Stella behind, in all of the commotion of packing, at the snake-infested shack.

We pulled over, and, after a bit of well-disguised searching (Eight: What are you doing? Panic seeping into her voice. WHO are you looking for?) found Stella between the Baked Cheetoz and the unopened bottle of blueberry and lemon infused vodka that we had hoped to christen the night before in the shadow of the badlands mountains at our rustic little cabin resort.

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