5, 4, 3…

Utah was the place where we had our first vacation without one of the five people in the little nuclear family that’s descended from Marci and me. Back in 2019, after five weeks of living and working at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, our family wanted to swing a little bit further West for some time off before heading back East to Ohio. Elliot, however, was eager to get back to Ohio so he could join his school marching band in their preparation for the fall season of his senior year of high school. So, we ended up deciding to buy him a ticket from Denver to Cleveland — knowing that he was going to need to become more and more independent in young adulthood, anyway — and then Marci, Olivia, Cor, and I drove west to Moab, Utah. Just the four of us.

It was kind of weird without Elliot. But we also had a lot of fun together visiting a really unique region that felt remarkably different from either Ohio or Colorado. We went to Arches National Park and hiked to Delicate Arch at sunset. We ate at the world’s dirtiest Wendy’s (or so we joked at the time). And then, after just two days in Utah, we continued further South and West to Northern Arizona for some time at the Grand Canyon and visiting our friend Linda in the Flagstaff area. The four of us filled out the space inside our Honda Odyssey and inside our Hampton Inn hotel room in different ways — as compared to how we had so frequently practiced things with the five of us. But it was a good experience, a growing experience (or shrinking experience, depending on one’s perspective).

Bonneville Salt Flats

In 2022, our family experienced an echo of the same phenomenon — also with the clearest reverberations being heard in Utah. Like her brother before her, Olivia practiced the independence of her young adulthood by spending the majority of the summer in Northeast Ohio, getting extra time with her closest friends who had just graduated from high school together and wanted to make the most of “one last summer” together before scattering. Elliot also happened to travel to Colorado that summer as a college student participating in the Leadership Training program — but that felt pretty different from him being there as a part of our Staff family. So even after my job assignment in Estes Park was completed that summer — allowing Marci, Cor, and me to get some time off — Elliot stayed in Colorado while Marci, Cor, and I drove west to the Salt Lake area of Utah.

Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory Point, Utah

It was kind of weird without Elliot and Olivia. But we also had a lot of fun together visiting this different part of Utah that felt remarkably different from the Utah we’d experienced three years earlier, as well as being different from Ohio or Colorado. We went to the historical site where the transcontinental railroad was completed and encountered the Great Salt Lake at the place where Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty intersected the coast. We discovered the Mormon Country’s fascination for mixed-soda drinks (where most parts of the United States have mixed-alcohol and/or mixed espresso drinks). And then, after five days in Utah, we continued further West to Nevada. Once again, the three of us filled out the space inside our Honda Odyssey and inside our AirBnB accommodations in different ways — as compared to how we had so frequently practiced things with four or five of us. But it was a good experience, a growing experience (or shrinking experience, depending on one’s perspective).

And now, this year, our family dynamics are changing further still. Elliot now has a “big boy job” way back East, in Pittsburgh. Olivia is now the college student who has chosen to participate in the Leadership Training program in Estes Park, Colorado. Marci is now operating a small business that cannot easily be mothballed for five whole weeks. And Cor is now going into his senior year with the Cross Country team, and as team captain he wants to help his team train for the fall season. Consequently, I am now spending the majority of this summer’s five-week stint directing the Collegiate Mentoring Program out west by myself, without Marci and Cor. But we’ve still arranged for them to fly from Cleveland to Denver to get two weeks out West: one week in Estes Park (getting to be together with Olivia and allowing me to continue my work) and then one week of time off further South and West, in the opposite corner of Colorado.

And even though we aren’t planning to spend any appreciable time in Utah with the three of us, we did discover that to get to Cortez, Colorado, from Estes Park, Colorado — there’s one route that only added twenty minutes while simultaneously allowing us to drive through a portion of eastern Utah and get mixed-soda drinks at a place called Lop’s Pop Shop in Moab! It seemed like such a lovely callback to our 2022 vacation with the three of us — and it allowed us to find another echo in Utah. This time, we’re driving our smaller Honda Civic (a sedan) instead of our larger Honda Odyssey (a mini-van). And we’re limiting our geography and our itinerary because of the aforementioned family dynamics for this summer. Still, I’m glad we’re figuring out ways to be family together as things shift and change. Even when things continue shifting, from five, to four, to three, to two… I think we’re going to be all right.

This entry was posted in Adolescence, Children, Family, Health, Introspection, Middle Age, Nostalgia, Recreation, Transition, Travel, Young Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink.

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