Friday, July 2, 2010

How to Road Trip without Losing Your (Entire) Mind

Every year my family of five drives the 1000 odd miles from our door in Oklahoma to my parents' door in Pennsylvania. Because Pennsylvania is my hometown, this trip feels like one big treat planned just for me. Of course, it also has to do with reuniting grandparents and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, old friends, old places. But of course we all see the world through our own filters. I'm sure my kids think it's a big ole party for them and their cousins. My mom loves having all her babies around her. My dad likes seeing us use the family cottage. Everyone has their own reason to look forward to the trip.

And every year, on the drive, we experience the same emotional arc or cycle. It starts with eager anticipation and ends, well, it ends with a tired but happy family.

On day one of our trip this year, the first kid awoke at 5:45: ready to go. Everyone scrambled about, grabbing last minute items, talking about what they were looking forward to doing. We piled in, smiles on our faces, pictures taken, legs rested.

Two hours in, the electronics lost power, the boredom kicked in, the munchies arrived. (Roadtrip snacks are huge deal; I hide them as long as possible, not wanting tip my hand before necessary.) For the rest of the day, we rode out the moods. From excitement to boredom, to cranky, to tired, to chatty, to silent, to boredom, to cranky to tired to chatty to silent. We contended with the "arewethereyets." We played silly games. We looked quietly out the window, watching for the farthest away license plates. We are not above bribery. We are not above a few words hastily spoken. The closer we got to our destination the farther away it seemed and the more restless everyone grew.

We stopped half-way to visit a dear friend of mine. Reuniting with friends, stretching our legs in a wide open back yard, enjoying an adult beverage and adult conversation renewed us all. The kids caught fireflies and made new friends. The parents sat and talked. And talked. And talked.

Waking to gourmet breakfast made by our foodie friends was a treat like no other. It was hard to tear myself away from the luxury of being served breakfast, but PA will not wait. We loaded up the car and headed East, young man. And the cycle began. The second day the kids were much more mellow. They spent a lot of the time quietly gazing out the window. I kept looking back, concerned; my kids are not the quiet types. We still played some games. Everyone still had their choice of playlist. Snacks were replenished. But there was a resignation. The forward looking we had awoken with the day before succumbed to the miles of green, changing hilly to flat to hilly to mountainous. It all flowed under us as we took each mile.

Again, the closer we got the more restless we became. I prayed that no one would need a potty stop once we crossed the PA border. That's just the kind of thing that takes whatever wind you've got going right out of your sails. We pulled into Mom's and Dad's drive, happy, spent, and with a quiet anticipation. What had started as giddy physical excitment has transformed into a rested, inherent peace. Knowing we have ten days to soak up this beautiful place, these gorgeous friends, we are happy to have arrived.

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