Ship turned mean mom into ferry-godmother

I never really think about taking a summer vacation. With kids’ ball games, summer camps, Young Marines drills, county fairs, family reunions, agricultural opportunities, church responsibilities, pets, lawn mowing, custody agreement limitations and little disposable income, the odds of the cosmic tumblers aligning sufficiently to allow it are remote.
So when earlier this year I learned my employer needed me to travel to the Upper Peninsula, I decided to incorporate my children into the outing. They’re old enough now to be decent traveling companions, at least theoretically. And they liked the idea they would be going to the UP State Fair, as their father’s vacation plans with them had them away from home during the week of the Branch County 4-H Fair. It’s just too bad he opted to steal my thunder by taking them to the UP the week before I was slated to go there.
“Hi kids, please unpack your bags so we can wash all your stuff, repack it and hit the road again in the same direction,” is what the situation required. Most parents would have difficulty delivering that line with contagious enthusiasm. However, having spent six years of my career arranging for multiple adults to go to either jail or prison, telling my children they’re going on back-to-back, same destination trips, wasn’t that difficult. It’s all in the spin.
“I’ll bet you’ll be tired of sleeping on the hard ground, catching and cooking your own food, and swimming in lakes and rivers by the time you get done camping with your dad,” I said in my well-rehearsed pitch to them. Connor cocked an eyebrow, immediately suspicious.
“Where are you going with this, Mom?” he wanted to know.
“Well, I have the opportunity to go to the UP for my workplace during the second week in August and thought we could turn it into a real vacation,” I said.
“Mom’s boss is making her go to the UP and she wants to drag us back up there,” he interpreted for Kate, who happened in on our conversation. I ignored Connor and launched into a description of the hotel where we’d be staying, with its large indoor pool and a hot breakfast area where you make your own waffles.
“It must be a pretty bad assignment or she wouldn’t be trying to sell us on the hotel amenities,” Connor again addressed Kate, shaking his head. This forced me to play the trump card I had been holding off on revealing: ferry transportation on the return trip.
“And we’ll drive from Escanaba down to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and take the S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan to Ludington to shorten the drive,” I baited, then waited. I knew they enjoy the Mackinac Island passenger ferry. I slowly reeled them in with this ferry’s on-ship movies, concessions and places to plug in electronic device chargers. They bit.
Overall, our UP “vacation” went well – if you are good at ignoring or mitigating arguments over who gets to ride shotgun, use my cell phones, charge his/her iPod, or lie down in the backseat. I am skilled at tuning out their bickering – until it escalates to someone kicking the passenger seat from the back or beaning a fellow passenger with an empty soda bottle to settle a radio station argument. Listening to an entertaining book on CD biography of comedian George Carlin was about our only mutual interest, although at times I was forced to turn it wayyyy up to drown out complaining and name calling.
The S.S. Badger was the highlight of our vacation. We boarded, re-bonding over stories of a guy we know who has an obsession with badgers. My kids got their fix of junk at the snack bar and watching “Delivery Man” and “Smurfs 2” (although Connor wants it noted he bailed on the latter).
I stayed on deck, reading, sunning and writing this column, venturing downstairs only to use the bathroom and long enough to overhear a BINGO game that got me high-tailing it back to the upper deck and the peaceful sanity of a well-worn plastic recliner.
Thank you, S.S. Badger, for transforming me from a mean car mom into a ferry godmother.

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