In Praise Of The Road Trip

Published in The Ferndale Record, September 22, 2010

In the years before DVD players in automobiles, iPods and cell phones for each traveler, I rode 3,000 miles across the United States with four kids in a Volvo station wagon—twice. Our children each had their own books, blanket and pillow, one Sony Walkman between them, and a game of travel bingo. Yeah. It was like that.

If you’re at 35,000 feet you can’t pull off the road to see Mt. Rushmore or snag last minute tickets to see the Kansas City Royals.  You don’t really cross the Mississippi River or get to ride around the oval at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rather than stopping for a nosh at a local diner, air travel offers honey-roasted peanuts. You get a beverage in a small plastic cup, not a bountiful breakfast buffet at a Holiday Inn in Nashville, Tennessee. Plus, you can carry bottled water in a car without paying $4.50 for it after you go through security.

Sure, road trips take longer, can be less comfortable (although with modern amenities and standard airline seating, that’s debatable), and depending on the annoyance factor of whom you’re traveling with, car travel is occasionally dreadful. But I opt for it over air travel anytime I can.

Admittedly, part of my choice has to do with being an uneasy flier, but I like to think it’s more about everything you get to experience along the way.

This week, five of us are piling into another Volvo wagon and making the trip from Ferndale to Salt Lake City. We’ll attend a wedding and the festivities associated with it, load back into the car and return, all within just a few days. Flights were out of the question this time, and despite complaints from the teenage member of our group, it’s just the way it is.

This particular trip isn’t about stopping at every historical marker or cruising the scenic route. It’s about getting there, joining in the celebration, and getting home. We’ll be focused, and alternating three drivers to get us there on time.

We’ll travel through mountains and deserts with little or no cell phone service, and definitely no Wi-Fi. Chances are good we’ll play the Alphabet Game, the Geography Game, and of course, travel bingo.

We’ll have ample time to think, read, sleep, listen to favorite music on our iPods (foregoing the inordinate amount of Country-Western radio stations through southern Idaho) and see places that aren’t at all like Western Washington.

This time, the road trip is about the love we have for our family member who’s getting married. I’ll be in a car with four folks who are among my favorite people on the planet. I expect the usual conversation, the musing, and the family jokes.

But I also anticipate those moments of wonder when I’m hurtling along through relatively desolate places, and find myself engaged in meaningful, even unexpected talk with a fellow traveler—something often done quietly while others sleep. It’s intimate and bonding—and hard to do in a plane with 100 other passengers.

That drive is a long stretch, one that’s covered in only two hours by air. But this time, our road trip, is part of the wedding gift. And based on past experience, I suspect it could also be a gift for us, if we let it.

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The Last, First Day

Published in The Ferndale Record, September 8, 2010

[Note: Due to a teacher’s strike, school began September 14, 2010]

It’s the first day of school for Ferndale students, and I welcome it for the same reasons others do.

Back to days with more structure, brisk weather, tart apple crisps and spice cakes, new adventures and people to meet, followed closely by fat pumpkins and the staggering colors of autumn. For many of us, the start of the school year is more of a clean beginning than January 1st.

For me, this particular September comes with a higher than usual dose of nostalgia. I send the final child off for his last, first day of school. This morning will be much like last year’s beginning—the boy out the door on his own, ready to tackle his senior year and everything that means. This is a good thing.

When you’re in the middle years of sending children to school every fall, you sort of think you always will be. It becomes part of who you are. You brush your teeth, you go to work, you pay the bills, and you make sure kids get registered, oriented, loaded down with supplies, and off to school.

Then things gradually change—especially with boys. No new backpack or shiny, yellow number two pencils. No scheduled clothes shopping spree, no carefully chosen superhero lunchboxes packed with nutritious food they might eat but will probably trade or toss.  All that’s needed or wanted are last year’s notebooks, folders, and pens scrounged from a drawer, a current ASB card, and depending on the child, maybe a new pair of shoes.

While it’s weird to be at this stage in my life, after thirty-four years of raising children, it’s not so bad. The end is in sight, and the white sands and blue Mediterranean of a Greek island are hovering closer to the surface of my imagination. Sometimes I feel giddy sweetness. Possibility teems.

Besides, the boy is ready, too. Funny how it happens that way, don’t you think? We’re both facing new lives at the same time.

I followed his school bus to Kindergarten that first day, just to make sure he actually made it into his classroom. He was a runner, a pistol, and I needed to know he was safe. It’s taken years to back off, and I’m not quite through yet. But it’s getting easier—for both of us.

He is, of course, talking about his future plans and the beauty part is that for the first time ever, I’m not threatened by this. I don’t feel panic rising in my throat at the last child leaving the nest I’ve so carefully feathered all these years. It’s more than OK. It’s time.

This future life, while hopeful, is deceptively attractive at the moment. More difficult goodbyes are coming up, hard lessons, and as the months add up, I expect a wistful heaviness to settle on my soul. However, I’m also counting on some delight and joy mixed in there somewhere.

Sure, there’s the first day of college, but that’s different. He’ll be on his own, at least more than he is now. His siblings have done it and he will too. And while I cherish those years of my own June Cleaver-ish, fussing conscientiousness—he’ll be ready for the shift.

And for the first time, so will I.