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How My Anxiety Nearly Ruined My Family Vacation

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FAMILY VACATION ANXIETY
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Even with dozens of family trips under my belt, I still can't get myself or the rest of my brood out of the house without a meltdown. And I'm not talking about the kids, here. They're way past the age of tantrums. Unfortunately, I'm not.

It's not even the actual travel that makes me come unglued. I could almost justify that since travel these days seems to be fraught with peril. Mostly, I enjoy travelling -- once the trip's in progress. I don't even mind making the arrangements. I happily shop the travel sites for the best airfares and great deals on hotels.

I'm fine once we hit the road or get to the airport. Until then? I'm like an 18-wheeler that's lost its brakes on the way down the mountain.

Too often, before I lock the front door behind me, I am whipped into a frenzy, suffering that gnawing, doubting clutch of Trip Anxiety. My daughter calls it "that thing that makes us all scream at each other." Its symptoms include the three Ps: Procrastination, Paralysis and Panic. Mostly panic.

Maybe it's a throwback to the days of diapers, juice boxes and Goldfish... trying to anticipate everyone else's needs and neglecting my own. It seems no matter how far ahead I start to prepare --a day? a week?-- when the morning of departure comes, I'm an absolute wreck, frantic, twirling around the house in anguish. It's those eleventh-hour details that send me into a tailspin...

...Pack toiletries, pay bills, grab phone charger, run to bank, take dog to sitter, bring snacks, don't forget the meds or that book on the nightstand...

Are those really such insurmountable tasks? Maybe my standards are just too high.

My folks were epic trip planners. My dad had three-week summer trips out West or to Canada designed in a strategic precision an army general would envy: Historic sites, panoramic views, lakeside campgrounds and parks with pools for picnic lunches and afternoon swims -- all well before Al Gore and the rest of us had an inkling about the Internet. Mom oversaw the packing of sweatshirts, raingear and swimsuits and, decades before fancy, kid-friendly minivans, she strung a hand sewn, three-pocket tote across the back of the front seat for our crayons, drawing paper, books and Mad Libs. There was always a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and fresh-baked cookies and, if we were good, the promise of stopping for an ice cream cone later in the day.

When I try to live up to those standards, I have to remind myself that our family vacations weren't all Norman Rockwell nostalgic. We kids knew to stay out of Dad's way while he packed the trunk with some meticulous order known only to him. Kibitzing was not appreciated and there were often tense times once we hit the road.

"Do you want me to pull this car over right now?" my dad would threaten when my brothers and I squabbled, pinching and elbowing each other in the back seat. Sure, Dad. We want to be spanked on the side of an interstate highway. And God help us if we asked, "Where are we?" or "When will we be there?"

In hindsight, Dad must have suffered from Trip Anxiety, too. Like me, he probably lay awake the night before, revved by adrenaline, stomach churning, mind sifting through a hundred things on his to-do list. This was a man who imposed one hour of mandatory silence every afternoon following our idyllic roadside picnics. He clearly needed some peace. A prescient parental inspiration years before "time out" came into vogue!

Not to blame my dad, but maybe I inherited this problem from him. Perhaps his angst rubbed off on me, or maybe it's in our genes. Either way, I need to impose that hour of silence on myself, except I need to do it sooner and put on the brakes before loading up the car, before turning off the coffee pot, before I snap and go barreling out of control.

Ordinarily, I start my day with a quiet time of prayer and meditation. I also write and exercise most days. Life goes better when I do these things. For some inexplicable and unwise reason, I've repeatedly let any semblance of discipline slip on trip day. Almost subconsciously, I've deemed myself too busy and my tasks too demanding even though it's obvious I need that time of contemplation more than ever. Martin Luther was a busy guy, what with the Protestant Reformation and all, but he knew, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." Surely he didn't freak out if he forgot the darn toothpaste. (Did they have toothpaste back in the 16th century?)

Maybe it's not too late for me to turn it around. I'd really rather not careen out of control. I'd prefer to model grace for my daughter, not "that thing that makes us all scream at each other." I don't want to bite off my poor husband's head when he sheepishly asks, "Are you about ready, dear?" And, even if I do forget my phone charger, I'd love to toss my bag in the back seat feeling carefree and lighthearted. Isn't that what vacations are for?