First of all, allow me to formally acknowledge that there is a reason why it’s called a family “trip” and not a “vacation,” especially if you are the mom. By now you know the drill: spend the entire day before your trip packing everything you can imagine your kids needing for the next week- clothing for every possible weather scenario, books, pacifiers, toys, sippy cups, and of course you have to drag out the faithful pack n play from the attic (knowing full well that the baby is not going to sleep in that uncomfortable metal prison and will be bunking with you after the first few minutes of crying on night one)!
Then you wake up crazy early the next morning to get a jumpstart on the trip, but you forget that it takes 2 hours just to pack all the last minute snacks, make sure electronics are charged and ready, and make lunches, only to rush back inside at the last minute because you forgot the toothbrushes, you didn’t turn down the air conditioner, and honestly you could probably pee again after all that.
After you finally load all the kids into the family van, you embark on a 6 hour trip that your kids manage to stretch into 8 hours with the help of multiple, unscheduled bathroom breaks (because you know they can’t possibly all pee at the same time), gratuitous snacks, and sibling arguments that always end up waking a sleeping baby.
Once you eventually arrive at your destination, you spend the next week doing all the mom things you normally do, just in a different location and with the added difficulties of a house that’s not baby-proofed. And you spend all your free time applying So. Much. Sunscreen. By the time you arrive home, you are faced with mountains of laundry, hours of unpacking, cleaning all the sand out of your trashcan-on-wheels, having to sleep train the baby all over again, and you wonder if it was even worth it!
Well I’m here to tell you that it is!
Every summer growing up, my family would embark on a 2-3 week trek across the country. We would pile in the old “silver bullet” (an ‘86 Dodge high top van), and drive up to 4,000 miles round trip. It was always anyone’s guess when (not if) it was going to give up and break down. And, without fail, it was always on the hottest day of our vacation. We always stayed in campgrounds (except that one exciting time I randomly had a fever that warranted enough concern to stay in a local motel overnight). My parents would sleep on a fold out bed in the van, leaving my brother and me to brave the elements (and possibly mountain lions) in our leaky, second-hand tent. There were many times (especially as a sulky teenager) that I felt cheated with our budget vacations. My friends would tell me of their trips to the beach, eating at fancy restaurants and lounging in the sun all day. And here I was, eating peanut butter rice cakes for lunch every day and sharing a tent with my brother!
As I was writing this post, my mom reminded me of the time that we were on one of our trips and I was complaining to my dad about how I just wanted a normal beach vacation. He drove us all the way from Washington State to Destin so that I could have the beach experience I so desperately wanted. And you know what? I don’t even remember it.
What I do remember is panning for gold in Colorado, experiencing the magnitude of the Redwoods in California, swinging on the udder of the World’s Largest (metal) Cow in North Dakota, almost having a heat stroke in Big Bend National Park but recovering in time to enjoy the meteor shower that night, mining for diamonds on a rainy day in Arkansas, touching 4 states at the same time at the Four Corners Monument, feeding carrot sticks to wild donkeys in South Dakota, jumping down the impossibly tall dunes in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, the beautiful landscape seen from our train window as we rode from Silverton to Durango, bathing in the hot springs with random strangers in Ouray, and all those hours spent whispering silent prayers as our faithful van slowly chugged up those steep mountains roads and hugged the tight curves while John Denver tapes blared through the stereo.
In my 7th grade geography class, we were reading about Mount St. Helens. There was a picture in my textbook of a rusted out car that had been ravaged by the volcanic eruption that happened so long ago. The next day, I brought a picture of my brother and me sitting in that same car. It was a memory I would never forget from one of our many road trips. My friends crowded around me saying, “You’ve been there? Wow you’re so lucky!” And you know what? I was.
Maybe on that day in the picture, my mom was hot and sweaty after hiking around Mount St. Helens. And she was dreaming of the days where she could actually take a private shower that didn’t involve wearing flip flops in a crowded campground bathroom. And as she was assembling yet another unappreciated peanut butter rice cake, she was listening to the constant symphony of 2 kids arguing over whose feet are touching whose seat, and wondering if it was all worth it.