Tomorrow we'll get on a plane - well, two planes - and make our way across the country to Arizona, where CG was born and raised.
When we moved here to Virginia two and a half years ago, we decided the only way our California-wimpy selves could survive winter would be to head to his parents' place in Arizona - or some other warm place - every February, when the snow had just started to outstay its welcome.
(Now, of course, we are afraid we might actually miss the only real snow of the whole winter.)
Last year we went to Jamaica for a week in February, courtesy of my parents. This year we will spend a week with my mother-in-law in Tucson, going to the rodeo, the playground, the desert museum, all the while reaching our faces to the sun like a couple of lizards.
It feels important to us both to take the girls there, not during a busy holiday but during a time when you can focus on the landscape, a time when you can spend days just puttering around the yard looking at the cacti. If nothing else, CG hopes the girls will know that a saguaro isn't just a picture on the wall.
I thought we'd do this every year, assuming we could afford it. But planning this trip has brought a sad realization: this may be our last year of February trips. Next year, when Z is in public school for first grade, there will be a lot of pressure to keep her in school, with no absences for family vacations. I don't know why this surprises me but it does. Didn't I take trips during the school year that weren't an official school break? Aren't trips to see family, not around a school break but when we really, actually, want to travel, an important part of childhood?
As it is, Z's kindergarten will roll along without her; they're taking their first field-trip, to see a play, while we are gone and she is heartbroken about missing it. Yesterday she loudly lamented her unfinished art project that will languish and "be lonely" next week when the other kids finish theirs. She worries that she'll miss the rest of the lesson on the heart, "a very important organ, Mommy," she informed me indignantly.
Yes, she is excited to go to Arizona, but she is also suddenly aware of life going on here without her and she doesn't like it.
I have a sense that this trip is an end of an era, the era when our family made vacation choices based almost solely on what worked best for the grownups.
Though I am excited for Z to start public school next year, I feel like we are in a raft the top of a churning rapid. The school system will have its way with us and we will do our best to navigate the waters, keeping our little raft, our little family, intact along the way.
School means we most likely will not be taking week-long trips in February any more.
Here's hoping this one is a last great hurrah.