The pack attack

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‘Tis the season of carry-on bags, rolling duffels, and the much-maligned fanny pack. It’s summer break, and we Americans are on the move with all our stuff.

As the mother of three, one of the not-so-fun parts of vacation is the packing process. Most moms feel an unspoken obligation to remember to pack things that anyone in the family might possibly need while on the trip. Not only do we have to remember our own stuff, we must think through the “just in case” scenarios for everyone else, too. It’s no wonder most moms are tired before we ever climb in the car or board the plane.

Even now that my three kids are plenty old enough to pack their own bags, I still inspect their luggage before we leave to make sure the essentials are in there: Toothbrush? Deodorant? Clean underwear? Clothes that go together?

Even as I’m checking their bags and replacing their less-than-stellar choices, I can hear my own internal admonishment: Why are you doing this? They’re old enough to pack their own stuff. If they goof it up, they’ll just have to deal with the consequences and then maybe they’ll do better next time.

I nod and tell the inner, no-nonsense mom that she’s absolutely right. And then I go right ahead and repack their bags anyway. I can’t seem to help myself. Vacations are expensive, and nobody wants it to be ruined because a 12-year-old accidentally packed the shoes she outgrew a year ago and now her feet hurt.

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The packing process usually begins at our house at least a full day before we leave. I’m like a summertime Santa – making a list and checking it twice. Somewhere between the second and third pregnancy, I lost the ability to remember what needs to be packed so everything must be written down. Without that list, I’m just a confused woman with an empty suitcase.

I typed my checklist into a note on my smartphone so I wouldn’t lose it. I check off each item as it goes into the luggage, and then I use that same list again when it’s time to repack everything before we leave the hotel.

We have a trip coming up to take our three kids to New York City to enjoy their first bite of the Big Apple. I’m excited about seeing a Broadway show, and Ellis Island, and the kids’ reactions to the bright lights of Times Square. But one part of my brain is already at work on the “don’t forget to bring it” list – allergy medications, the kids’ retainers, extra socks, iPhone charging cords, and liquids in three-ounce, plane-friendly containers.

When the New York adventure begins, we’ll get into the car with all the bags to head to the airport, and I’ll say the thing I always say as we’re backing out of the garage: “I hope we remembered to pack everything.”

And Tom will say the thing he always says in response: “We’ll buy whatever we forgot to pack.” (In my experience, dads typically put about 10 minutes or less into the packing process and are much more cavalier about all the preparation before a family trip – which is either admirable or maddening, depending on who you ask.)

Perhaps one day, when the kids are grown and packing bags for their own families, I’ll become one of those carefree women who casually toss a few things into a bag and jet off somewhere fabulous at a moment’s notice. But until then, I’ll trudge ahead faithfully as the list-making, double-checking packmule that I am. Pass the fanny pack.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by getting her book on Amazon by clicking here

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