“It’s really about the anticipation of the trip – not the trip itself,” I overhear the tired mother tell the eager insurance salesman over coffee. He nods his head and says something about a pricey trip to the ocean, thousands of dollars spent and nothing remembered by ungrateful children. He’s trying to make a sale; she’s trying to be heard.
Their dialogue circles from her family’s recent move to a staycation spring break and the fight to ignore selfies of sand-covered toes. These snippets of coffee shop conversations have a way of drawing me through the window to someone else’s life, but today they turn my attention to our own upcoming travel plans.
As we gear up to venture out on our most recent road trip this afternoon, I am afraid this woman’s conclusion might just be true. Am I chasing the glorious wait, the excitement of what’s around the corner, of having something, anything to look forward to? That first spark of where could we go? What could we see? What could we dream up this time?
The planning. I love it. I almost live for it. Or do I actually live for it? The vacation we are leaving on today came out of a lull in conversation on our last road trip to Tennessee not even three months back. All I had to do was open an atlas, and I had worked out an East Coast itinerary before we’d even made it out of Michigan.
And here we are. Spring break begins in six hours, I have a semi-clean SUV, a half-packed cooler, a glove box full of Pixar movies, “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack and 90’s era Seattle grunge, four totes of kid clothes lined up on a twin bed, a suitcase in my closet surrounded by stacks of clothes piled high, a hubby with a bad back and two pill bottles full of fingers-crossed-keep-him-upright-dear-God, and a road map that will undoubtedly end in pen-ink circles and arrows pointing to our next destination. Like she said, “It’s really about the anticipation of the trip.” It’s the dream of what’s to come that brings the joy. But I want her to be wrong.
What I have right now, right here in front of me, grabbing at my arms and face, begging for my attention – they’re pretty great. They’re also pretty needy. “Mommy, hear me, hold me, help me, feed me, see me.” Okay, okay, just wait until the vacation starts, when Mommy doesn’t have bills to pay and dishes to do and meals to make and stuff, so much stuff, to cloud my vision of you.
In six hours, I will see you again with fresh eyes and ears in tune to only you and Hugh Jackman belting out catchy sentiments that bring me back to life. But in this moment, I need to pack. I really need to pack. Just give Mommy six hours to wrap up the undone things and pull them together in that semi-clean SUV, shove us all in there breathing the same air, singing the same songs – “Come alive, come alive” – as we head south and east and away from all these responsibilities, these mundane distractions.
We wind our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. We meet hiccups along the way like we always do – an allergic reaction in the middle of a fancy restaurant, a hysterical three-year-old on an Amish buggy ride, a ruptured ear drum and quick trip to the MedClinic – but spirits remain high. My eyes remain open to the joy seated beside me and behind me in that car that feels smaller by the mile, but small feels good. It feels intimate and void of the daily distractions that keep me longing for that next escape.
We watch our movies and sing our songs, and with pleading voices the boys request “The Greatest Showman” circus anthems over and over again. They have favorites, the back and forth bartering in “The Other Side” and the fearless run-out-of-the-shadows call to life in “Come Alive.” My six-year-old tells me every chance he gets, “I don’t understand why this isn’t called ‘We’re Dreaming with our Eyes Wide Open!'” “Come Alive” just isn’t cutting it for him. They got the title wrong; he is unrelenting.
We drive through Delaware, Maryland, and D.C. then rest awhile in the mountains of Virginia in a cabin that reminds me of our home. More hiccups come – a busted bumper in a parking garage, a three-year-old asleep at the start of a 1.5 mile hike through dim caverns with no stroller, an argument with my husband in front of our children in which I may or may not have called him something that rhymes with smocksmucker. The mood grows as dim as the caverns for a while, but eventually lightens.
We explore by day, play cards at night and throw rocks into the river. I wonder if this was our home, would I stop dreaming of some new place? Could I finally be at peace with the present and put the atlas away? The baby has another terrible night of sleep, and by morning, I am a miserable zombie woman. The dreaming would not stop, even if we owned the beautiful river cabin in the foothills. The river cabin would become our new normal, and normal has a way of becoming mundane. A miserable zombie woman cannot change her spots.
But these trips, these escapes from our normal, help me see my family again without the glare of the to-do-list sitting on my kitchen counter. These trips remind me that the daily grind (and the long line of chores that come with it) are not worthy of blocking out our view of one another. Whether we’re home or out on the road, we can’t shut our eyes to these moments to dream of something better. Cleaning milk off leather seats, taking the 8th trip to the restroom as my dinner grows cold, loading the washing machine, brushing tiny teeth and clipping dirty toenails – what could ever be better than these moments with these smiling, whining faces?
“Mommy, he’s cheating!”
“No, I’m not! He’s cheating!”
“I need another snack!”
“Come alive…come alive!”
“Can we watch a movie?”
“I love road trips!”
“I want to go to our home!”
“Where’s the hotel?”
“Is us there yet?”
“Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open!”
“I just don’t get why it isn’t called “We’re Dreaming with our Eyes Wide Open!””
It’s chaotic and loud and beautiful and music to my ears when I’m actually listening.
We leave the river cabin on a rainy morning, the first poor weather we’ve met along our journey. We head west and north on hectic expressways and roads that curve through mountain valleys. It’s ten and a half hours home, and while my husband isn’t sure we will make it in one day, I can already see us there. We’ve been gone long enough, and I miss the mundane.
We make it back just before midnight and tuck each child into waiting beds. I pull the bags from the car, happy to do the work of putting our lives back in order. When everything has made its way inside, I wash my face and brush my teeth (just kidding – who has energy for that after 14 hours on the road?). I climb into bed, but Hugh Jackman keeps singing his song, “Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open, ‘cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open.” “They really did miss the mark on that title,” I laugh to myself. I cannot get that line out of my head.
Sitting here, reflecting on the past week, I am struck by the fact that our atlas, although opened and sifted through on this most recent trip, holds no new markings to direct us to the next adventure. We will go again like we always do, but for once, I did not steal time away from the actual trip in anticipation of another one.
In the final hours of the drive, we asked the boys where they would take us if they could plan our next road trip.
“Florida!” my oldest shouted.
“South Dakota!” said our middle man.
“Sowf Dakoda!” repeated the three-year-old, following his brother’s lead.
The baby sucked his bottle and looked around from brother to brother as the new wave of excitement entered the vehicle, fresh dreams rushing in to an almost-over vacation. We laughed and asked each kid what made his choice so special.
My oldest wanted to search for shells like we did last spring on the Florida beaches. My middle man wanted to see the giant faces carved into the mountain, a memory from two years prior. The three-year-old replied with “Norf Dakoda!” because he’s three.
We talked about each of these familiar scenes, cemented as happy moments in young minds. We talked about where we could go, what we could see “just one more time, please!” and what new dreams we could create for our family, but the atlas remained firmly nestled between the passenger seat and center console. We spoke our dreams into the moonlit vehicle, then went back to singing our circus songs and recounting all we’d done on the very memorable adventure that had a few remaining hours to be enjoyed, so we enjoyed them.
Maybe my six-year-old had it right the whole time. It’s not wrong to delight in the anticipation of what waits for us down the road, around the bend, over the hedge. We can embrace the excitement that comes with what’s next as long as we can still see the stretch of road we’re already on, as long as we are “dreaming with our eyes wide open.”