Walking through the doors beneath the familiar neon pink letters topped by a benevolent sun was like traveling back in time. Our 25-and 21-year-old daughters admired the color-splashed packages bearing the beloved Candy Kitchen name and zeroed in on the vast assortment of candies in every shape and color. Elise, our 25-year-old, added her personal favorite, rock candy, to add to her treasure trove of gummies and taffy at the checkout counter. Alexis chose sour gummies, just as she had in the days when she sported perky pigtails, and jelly sandals embraced her tiny toes.
I purchased birthday cake fudge (it reminds me of my mom’s homemade vanilla icing) and couldn’t help but notice the young family at the counter wrangling their impatient toddlers. Memories washed over me like the incoming tide. Our girls’ tiny voices echoed in my mind. They always opted for gummies, while our son Joey (now 32) went for rolls of bubble gum tape. On the way home, the girls could always wheedle a few precious strips of the chewy confection from their good-natured brother, and soon start blowing ginormous pink billowy bubbles that would eventually burst with a satisfying pop! Accompanied by shrieks of gleeful laughter. And sometimes, gum sticking to hair that required a quick roadside haircut.
My brief reverie was interrupted by the girls announcing they were ready to head home. Alexis grabbed my sleeve, as she often does, to guide old Mom to the next stop. Oh, how the roles reverse. I used to be the one grabbing her sleeve to guide her. This four-day mini vacation to Ocean City was a trip we had anticipated for months. Alexis had just finished a highly rewarding, but intensive summer internship and was preparing to return to college. Elise had been working long hours as an audio engineer and was heading off the next day to work at the PGA Tour in Delaware. And I was still recovering from a life-threatening medical crisis last year that rattled our entire family. This trip was the medicine we all needed. A time to come together, refresh, and reconnect. Personally, I don’t think kids ever grow too old for that. If anything, I think they appreciate it more as they get older.
Life’s a beach when traveling with little ones—even if the potty stops are more frequent. Backseat conversations usually revolve around, “When are we going to get there” (what parent hasn’t heard that one) or who’s going to catch the biggest wave or find the largest shell. There’s the great pizza place debate and Alexis being disgusted by Elise’s penchant for Taco Bell (which continues to this day). As they near the high school and college years, conversations evolve into school, friendships, and what they seriously might want to be when they “grow up.” They still ramble on about pizza and seashells, and memories of past trips and if dad will “get nailed” by another big wave while hunting for seashells at the water’s edge. Like the constantly changing tides, the trips morph into this whole other, an equally amazing experience where we begin to see the young adults our children are becoming. It helps that we’re not above pulling late-night pranks or walking to Food Lion at 10 pm and laughing the entire way along darkened streets. My husband and I are in our 60s, but we’re game for anything, and we’re flexible, too. Unlike when the kids were younger, our family doesn’t have to do everything together. Now, the kids can go kayaking, and we can explore elsewhere.
Whether we’re driving together or the kids are in one car, and mom and pops aren’t far behind (still driving the old soccer minivan), we continue to make memories. When the kids were younger, we played classic rock or moldy oldies on trips. Alexis enjoyed merrily singing along to “Viva Las Vegas,” especially because her favorite kindergarten teacher was from Vegas, and one of her best friends was named after the 50s rockabilly superstar. The kids would quiz us on the songs we liked when we were younger. As they grew older, they chose the music, some of which faintly echo riffs from our favorite old songs. It wasn’t until I heard Alexis playing a hauntingly familiar tune, Stephen Sanchez’s, “Until I Found You,” that I realized it sounded so much like Buddy Holly. It brought a bittersweet tear to my eye to realize the kids’ music subtly mimics ours. Elise has a special playlist when we travel, “Z Mama,” or “For Mama” in Polish, with favorites she and I both love, like Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, and Prince.
Restaurants were a hard no when my kids were young. We preferred cooking and dining in to enjoy a less calamitous experience where overtired toddlers and sunburns could be soothed. Nowadays, we venture out, and our working young adults enjoy picking up the tab occasionally. After her paid summer internship, Alexis couldn’t wait to treat us to dinner at Tailchasers in Ocean City. Joey generously flips for crabs at Beacon Seafood in Grandy, just before the Wright Memorial Bridge. One quick on and off the highway and we have steaming delicious crabs to savor at our rental in OBX, at a lot lower price. Speaking of crabs, whenever we’re anywhere near Easton, the Crab Shack is our jam. Their crabs are heavy, sweet, perfectly steamed, and spiced, and they’re reasonably priced.
We joke that anyone in our family would crawl from Central Maryland, on their hands and knees through three feet of snow, to get Crab Shack crabs. Yes, they’re that good. And like our car rides, sitting around picking crabs continues to be prime time for adult siblings to share what’s going on in their lives, and sometimes, like when they were younger, Dad and I referee when their very opinionated debates get a little off the hook.
As we continue to travel together, some things are different, but many things remain the same, like the songs and the food. Soon we’ll have an additional traveler, as our son recently got engaged. We can’t wait to bring Colleen along. Now, the heat is off us parents to make the trip a success. The kids can plan too and do what they like. No matter how old they get, our trips remain a symphonic blend of music and memories, and laughter that still rings from the backseat. I’m thankful our kids still enjoy traveling with the “old people,” and I’ll embrace every new memory and weave it into the old ones like a delicate heirloom tapestry. The highway is our road to memory lane.
Lead Photo: The author’s children on a beach vacation. Credit: Jackie Duda
About the Author
Jackie Duda is a writer with disabilities living in Frederick, Maryland. She loves getting out and writing about her travels with her kids and husband and their Golden Retriever, Henry. Jackie has been writing for nearly 30 years, with articles published in Woman’s Day, The Washington Post, Costco Connection Magazine, The American Institute for Cancer Research, and many others. Before writing, she was an English teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools. She chronicles her travels and day-to-day life with disabilities on Instagram @jackiesjourney4.