I may not have kids this summer, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still learning. Come with me as I tell the story of how I had what I thought was perfectly planned vacation, without my kids, without a real plan in place… and how I barely made it out alive… sort of.

*A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

I don’t take them often, but when I do go on vacation, I hate coming home to a mess. Now, despite previous postings complaining about the state of my home, the size of my trash stacking contests, and the impressive way I can never seem to put away the folded laundry, alas, I have this thing about coming home to a clean house (Weird, right?). So, even though technically my vacation started on a Wednesday, I did what moms do… what most people go out of their way to avoid on vacation. Dishes, steam clean carpets, mop floors, washed – dried – AND put away laundry, had the oil changed in the car, and managed to get an entire week’s worth of homework completed in seven hours. No doubt, by the time my vacation truly started (albeit on day 2), I would be ready.

*The best laid plans…

I made the 5 hour and 6 minute drive in 4 hours and 39 minutes. Sounds good, right? Yeah, well, so did stopping at the local drive through for the ritual of grabbing drive thru food for the trip, only to pull away from the window realizing I ordered food for myself, and my two kids, despite of the fact that my two kids are actually in another state. For the record, drive thru tacos do not travel across state lines very well when it is a multi-hour drive. Also… perhaps remember your audience. When visiting family you have not seen in almost a decade, you would do well to remember that chances are, if they did vacations big and huge ten years ago, they’re probably not gonna want to  sit on the couch and just rehash old times…(more on that to follow… trust me).

*The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Despite the fact that my aunt has remarried to one of the nicest men I have ever met, and my cousin has a girlfriend I had heard of, but hadn’t met before (but I have now, and like a lot), it was shockingly easy to just… fall back into to old habits. In one evening, we were caught up – on ourselves, on mutual acquaintances gone but not forgotten… there was teasing, there was laughing, there was… drinking. Do you remember the first time you drank alcohol in front of your parents, or other such adults who helped raise you? Have you ever maybe perhaps had a little TOO much to drink, and try to get in a hot tub with others equally drunk, miss the step, and sprain your ankle? No? I mean, nah, me either. Okay, fine, yes I did, and trust me, if you have never been on a vacation that you assume will be laying on the couch catching up on old times only to discover early the next day that in fact you are spending two days in sunny downtown San Diego going to Sea World, and then the San Diego Zoo… all on a sprained ankle… then you my friend, have not really been on vacation!

Through the new (to me) relationships, the change in (my) vacation plans, the incredibly stinging (because I’m an idiot) sunburn, it was shocking and amazing all at the same time how in reality, nothing had changed. My cousin and I teased, got frustrated, and made up all in the single 2 hour car ride, and my aunt lectured my cousin and I as though we are not rapidly approaching 40-years-old.

Time has not passed us at all in the last 10 years apart.

*You learn something new every day

Vinegar takes the sting out of sunburns. No, really – it sounds gross, and smells worse, but it’s true. I didn’t believe it either…

More shocking than the vinegar situation, or how embarrassing it is to not only have to ride an electric scooter through the San Diego Zoo because your cousin’s girlfriend tried to kill you in a hot tub, or being passed up by an old lady with a cane WHILE riding in the electric scooter… wait, I digress…

What I mean to say is that, for the last couple of years I’ve learned to start being okay with the boys gone during the summer. Last year I learned to accept it and be okay with it. This year – I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed making a decision and sticking to it. I enjoyed having fun all on my own – when I wanted, how I wanted, where I wanted.

Mini-family reunion aside, my most precious moment of this entire vacation, was the night I sat alone in a hotel room, with the window open, and just sat listening to the city from eleven floors up. In that moment, I wasn’t a mom, office manager, friend, cousin, niece, or daughter. I had nothing to clean, nothing to fix, nothing to take care of. I was just Wendy, and in a shocking moment of clarification I realized these moments are few and far in-between. It was the perfect moment of peace, one I had never felt quite like that before. In all honesty, I can’t wait to get to know me just a little better.

This is feeling like the summer of the solo-trip with Dave (Our Story Begins)  taking a sojourn by himself recently as well. What about you, when was the last time you were completely alone, with no one to answer to? What did you learn about yourself? Did you like being alone and if you haven’t done this in a while, why not?

More from GEM:

What Makes A Marriage Work? THIS!

Field of Dreams: Church, Little League and Lessons in Equality

Life Lessons: Shelby Alexander Griggs

Wendy Syler Woodward has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 12 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and this year returned to college for her B.A.  Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler