Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vacation: Bryce Canyon and the Landscape of Cancer

Continuing the saga of our recent family vacation, last Sunday morning we set out from St. George to our next destination: Moab. Our route would take us back through part of Zion National Park, then up to Bryce Canyon National Park. It took a little longer than we had planned on, so we didn't arrive at Bryce until early afternoon. Mark was keen on us going for a short hike at Sunset Point in Bryce; the kids were not. 

We had tried to psyche them up all the way to Bryce, but to no avail. We stopped for sandwiches at a rest stop a few miles from the entrance to the park. Being a Utahn (by adoption, 18 years on), I immediately headed for the shady picnic table; but Mark pointed out that it was too cold to sit in the shade. He was right. It had been a blast furnace in St. George, but it was considerably cooler up here.

Making sandwiches near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park

Another family arrived at the rest stop at the same time we did. Minivan. Dad about 30, several young kids. We had a 15-passenger van. Mark's brainwave. We removed the back seat in order to stow gear, and there were three bench seats to be shared among four children. 

Not for the first time, we sensed the curiosity and a degree of animosity towards us as a gay couple. I mean, we were a bit of an anomaly: four kids, two dads, two *mature* dads. The image of "this doesn't compute" was noticed on more than a few places during our trip - at poolside in St. George, in Zion, and now at a remote rest stop in south-central Utah. And there would be more. I just looked upon it as an opportunity to expose and educate and moved on.

We entered Bryce Canyon Park and somehow missed the turnoff for Sunset Point. We found it on the way back, but not before we had driven all the way to the end of the road, at Rainbow Point. Mark parked the van and asked who wanted to come with him to the lookout point. The girls went with him, the boys didn't; they couldn't be bothered. "Boring." Sigh. 

Mark came back to the van some minutes later with a story. He was taking pictures. Esther and Annie were standing nearby. Some well-meaning woman asked if Mark would like her to take a picture of him with "his children." "Oh," Mark replied, "these aren't my children. I've never seen them before." "Mark!," Annie (our seven-year-old) chimed in, "you're my Daaaad!" (How cool is that?)

We then drove back down the road toward Sunset Point and pulled into the parking area. The kids were not enthused about going for a "hike." (Apparently, walking anything further than a few feet constituted a "hike" in their eyes.) We got out of the van and walked toward the rim. Along the way, Levi - our nine-year-old - explained to me that he didn't like the outdoors and wasn't an "outdoors person."

How does a parent respond to that?? In so many ways, Levi reminds me of me as a child his age. But for the fact that my mother forced all us kids out of the house at every available opportunity, I would have happily spent my time inside, reading books. No video games in those days. Just books. But I would have been happy. Now, however, I wished Levi would open himself up a bit more to life. (He would "redeem" himself later on the trip.)

Mark had by this time capitulated on the short hike he had envisioned and was willing to settle for a family picture at the rim. After all, we had at least a four-hour drive ahead of us to get to Moab, so time constraints also militated against a hike. But we couldn't even get the kids to look happy for the picture, as this photo clearly shows:

On the way back to the van, I decided that it was a time for a "come to Jesus" meeting. We gathered the children at the edge of the parking lot, and I proceeded to give them a talking-to. I pointed out that Mark and I had spent considerable time, effort and expense on this trip, and we were sick and tired of them constantly complaining about everything. We'd had enough. They seemed to get the message.

Once in the van, however, I drove the point home even further. "Mark," I told the children, "might not feel well enough to take a trip next year. We must never forget that Mark has cancer. We need to appreciate our time now and to take advantage of the opportunity we now have to spend quality time together."

This sobered them. It was the first time in quite awhile that we had mentioned Mark's cancer, and the effect was marked. It was, in a sense, the turning point of our trip. The children were silent for several hours as we drove on to Moab. We had gotten through to them. And their behavior on rest of the trip would be different. Well ... at least some of the time.

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