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Next Step TherapyWednesday, December 4th, 2019

My sons and I have traveled quite a bit over the past ten years, on cruises, to islands, to Las Vegas and Arizona.  They have seen Washington D.C., Niagara Falls, and the Grand Canyon.  They have been to Disney and Universal Studios, been swimming with dolphins, been in a submarine, and have had a helicopter tour.  I do not consider them spoiled in the least.  I consider them well-traveled.  While others chose to buy a cabin or cottage, a boat or ATV’s, or maybe a camper, we spend that kind of money on trips.  Some people would say that at the end of the trip, we have nothing but pictures and maybe a T-shirt, but they completely forget about memories and shared stories.  I am always touched when one of my kids says, “Remember that time we went to _______, and this happened?”

I have had three goals while traveling with my boys.  One has been to expand their horizons, letting them know that the world is much bigger than just Venango County.  People live differently in Mexico.  People in Aruba speak English, Spanish, German, and their own dialect, Papiamento.  My second goal has been to ensure that the boys would be confident about accepting opportunities away from home.  That they would never pass up an internship or would feel that they had to go to college in the neighboring town.  Both Noah at twenty and Elijah at fifteen could be dropped off at an airport today and manage to get themselves across the country with ease.  My third goal has always been to spend quality, uninterrupted time with them before I die, or they get too old and busy to want to do those things with me.  I have absolutely no regrets about the money I’ve spent on these trips.

So, Noah has not been on a vacation for years, due to football and baseball.  He got accepted as one of ninety students in the pre-athletic trainer program at WVU and was immediately assigned “hours” at one of the five training areas on campus.  By the second semester, he was one of forty students competing for eighteen slots in the actual athletic trainer program.  He interviewed in a suit in front of seven professors, and in combination with his grades and recommendations from graduate students he had done “hours” with, he made it into the program.  That summer, between freshman and sophomore years, he was invited to come in for pre-season football training.  He went back to school three weeks earlier than most, while WVU put him up in a hotel, and he spent twenty-one fourteen-hour days with the WVU football team.

While other freshman and sophomore college students take four to six classes, study for tests, and write papers, Noah was taking Anatomy classes, Cadaver lab, and basically working a full-time job at the same time.  Over Christmas break this year he took an online class that took about four hours a day.  This semester he was assigned via WVU to Fairmont State College, a half hour drive south, for four days a week.  The kid is a machine.  You and I should have so much energy and be so organized.  Despite all of these work hours, he’s made the Presidents’ List once, and the Deans’ list twice.  However, like all machines, maintenance is required.  Therefore, when he called in February to tell me that he was on spring break March 9th through the 18th, I made an immediate decision to pay for him to go on vacation.  I fully expected him to say he wanted to go to Florida with his friends.  I was surprised and speechless when he asked if I would be ready for a vacation too.  What he really and truly wanted was for me to take him and his friend Kahlil to Las Vegas.

The kids had asked in the past to take a friend, a buddy, on vacations, and I had always said no.  I wasn’t paying for extras, and I wasn’t comfortable taking a kid who wasn’t mine out of the country.  But, last summer I took six teens to Cedar Point, boys and girls, two hotel rooms, and it was a good time.  At these ages, I’m not babysitting anymore.

Noah and I agreed that we would take Kahlil, and go have an amazing adventure, while he rebooted.  Noah told me that between his schedule and studying for midterms, he did not have time to look at shows and activities…he trusted me to schedule and pick.  I hung up the phone and got a little teary-eyed.  My kid still wants to vacation with me and trusts me to pick activities that he and his buddy will enjoy.

I got online and starting booking this trip, and after racking several thousand dollars on my travel credit card (I could hear it crying and begging me to stop), I was suddenly overwhelmed by guilt that I wasn’t taking Elijah on this trip.  I walked out to his desk, where he was doing homework, and said, “Hey, I’m booking things for this trip, and I’m feeling really bad that you aren’t going.”  Elijah looked at me with all of his fifteen-year-old wisdom and said, “Mom, how many trips did I get that Noah didn’t go on?  Four? Five?  I’m not jealous.  I think its great.  We’ll do something over the summer.”  Although the rest of this blog is about my trip with Noah, I just want you readers to know that my Eli is the closest thing to a soul-mate I’ve ever had.  He is the one that after a crappy day you want to sit on the couch with and binge watch a show while he makes incredibly funny sarcastic comments until you are in tears from laughing.  Noah is my heart, Eli is my soul.

So, Best Trip Ever, complete with Vacation Tips, Vegas Tips, and addressing anxiety and chronic illness.  It all relates.



When was the last time you had an absolutely perfect week?  A week when everyone was healthy, a dog didn’t ralph on your comforter at 3am, a week when nothing broke down, and you didn’t have an unexpected expense?  Can’t remember?  Exactly.  Everybody looks forward to vacation and believes that it will be magical and perfect.  It won’t be.  Why in the world would you think that you are going to leave the comforts of your environment and regular routine, deal with traffic and strangers, and have a perfect week?  I didn’t get this at 30 or 35.  I do now.  This should not deter you from going on vacation and giving your kids an experience.  I merely point out that between traffic, construction, car breakdowns, unseen expenses, illness, etc., no matter how well you plan, something is bound to go awry.  This can actually be turned into a learning experience, and a “story” that your family will cherish for years.


Whatever you estimate your vacation to cost, just automatically double it.  If you plan to spend your $3000 income tax return on a trip to Disney, plan for $6000.  Tips.  Parking. Got the meal plan for three squares a day, totally forgetting that its hot and your kids need hydrated…at $4.00 per bottle of water, three times a day.  Spent $300 on a Princess brunch?  Nobody told you that at every “experience” you will exit through the gift shop.  Your seven-year old princess wants the princess gown and tiara, for $72.  You put it on your credit card. These are not “bad” things…they are the unseen expenditures that happen away from home.  ALWAYS, ALWAYS, pop into your bank before you go on vacation and let them know that your debit/credit card needs authorized from this date to that date in Florida/Arizona/Internationally.

It went like this:  Noah finished his last final Thursday at noon, packed his car up, and came home, two hours before the snowstorm hit.  He goes to dinner with his dad, while I start to get progressively more anxious about getting to the airport when we now have a winter storm warning with up to six inches of snow expected.  We’re flying out at 6 a.m., need to be to the airport at 4 a.m., need to leave the house at 2 a.m.

Noah comes home with Kahlil at about 8 p.m.  We discuss.  I get online, make a reservation for right now at the Hyatt attached to the airport.  We throw our stuff in the car, and drive through snow to the airport.  We check into the Hyatt at 11:00 p.m.  It is at this point that I realize that Kahlil did not have dinner.  We get room service.  I am $300 over budget, and we are 1.5 hours away from home.  See Vacation Tips #1 and #2!

We are on the plane at 5:40 a.m., the flight is on time, and off we go.  Complete with not getting to sit together, an entirely full plane, and the five-year-old child on the Autism spectrum who sat behind me.  He managed really well but did kick my row of seats for the entire 4.5-hour flight, until the lady next to me growled at him and his mom.  Lovely.

Okay, not an auspicious start, but when we hit Vegas at 8 a.m. their time, and stepped out of the airport, it was sixty degrees with abundant sunshine, and the whole travel ordeal was forgotten.  I heard both boys sigh with contentment.

In the taxi, I told Kahlil that we were about to check into the biggest hotel he had ever seen, but that several were much bigger here.  When we walked into the Excalibur lobby, Kahlil said, “Ms. Cowles, every hotel that I’ve ever stayed in in my whole life would fit inside this lobby.” Yep.

We had adjoining rooms, so we check in, unpack, get cleaned up, and I give them the “talk.”  “Gentlemen, you knew when you agreed to come here that you are both twenty years old and the drinking and gambling age is twenty-one.  No alcohol, no gambling.  If you get me thrown out of here, I will kill you both.  Twice.”  They laugh.  “It virtually does not rain here, there is no humidity.  The atmosphere will suck the liquid out of your body. Your eyeballs will dry out, your lips will crack.  It is critical that you hydrate throughout the day, and at least some of that needs to be water.  Kahlil, it would break my heart if you went home and told your mother that you nearly starved to death.  Tell me when you are hungry.  Here is a hundred dollars each, if we aren’t together, use this for drinks, snacks, or the arcade.”  Both guys have wide-eyes as they tuck a hundred-dollar bill into their wallets.  “Finally, there will be many, many scantily dressed females.  You may look all you like, but don’t even think about touching.  Got it?”  Noah replies, “No gambling, no alcohol, stay hydrated and don’t touch half-naked women.  Got it.”

We toured the Excalibur, the Luxor, and Mandalay Bay, as they are all interconnected by indoor walkways.  We got lunch at The House of Blues.  We looked at the inkwork at Mandalay Bays’ tattoo shop, which started a five-day discussion regarding whether we should get tattoos in Vegas.  Eventually we grabbed a taxi and headed to Freemont Street, “Downtown,” the original Vegas, as we had tickets to a show that evening at the Golden Nugget.

Freemont Street is like Mardi Gras, but every day, as the several blocks between the old casinos like Binions and the Four Queens are traffic free and filled with street performers.  We went to the Box Office at the Nugget and got our tickets, then toured the hotel.  The biggest golden nugget ever found is on display there, as is their shark tank that has a slide through it.  We walked the entire street and found that there was a desert vehicle show – jeeps and atv’s that race in sand.  We toured that.  We grabbed a sandwich at El Cortez, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to eat, and then did the “Fear the Dead Experience” which involved comically running through a facility while being “chased” by zombies and ending up in 3D movie seats while we “shot at” zombies on the screen.  Lots of fun, not terribly scary.  Based on our scores, I am only surviving the apocalypse if I am with Noah and Kahlil.

It was finally time for the show!  I could hardly contain myself, as I LOVE shows, but I was a little concerned about whether the guys would enjoy it.  We took our seats, and then stood up with the rest of the crowd as GRAND FUNK RAILROAD hit the stage.  They sang, “I’m Your Captain,” “We’re an American Band,” “Locomotion,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”  It was an excellent show, and the guys said they weren’t sure if they enjoyed the crowd or the band the most.  Either way, we had been up for about twenty-four hours, and it was time to call it a night.

The first day in Vegas was a success, seven more to go!

VEGAS TIP #1 The Golden Nugget is currently running a program called “52 Nights.”  They bring in an older band/performer every Friday night, for one show only.  On my last trip, I saw The Guess Who!  Upcoming bands are Blood, Sweat and Tears, Herman’s Hermits, The Box Tops, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Buckingham’s, and more.  This is a smaller venue, ticket prices are reasonable, and the two bands I’ve seen thus far have been outstanding. Go to, pick Vegas, pick entertainment.


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