It’s spring break in Grand Haven, but spring break or not, we’ve always been a family that travels. For a week or sometimes just a couple days, we hit the road whenever we get a green light to go. We are privileged in this way, having been able to show our boys so much of this country at such young ages. Their excitement each time they discover something unexpected, something new, makes the work of these trips worth it. Burrowing down into crisp hotel sheets at the end of a full day with all of my children gathered in the same room, I listen to them drift off one by one until I am the only one left awake. This is when I finally recount the hours, tucking the highlights away for a bit of warmth on a day when it’s hard to find the sun.
“Wagon Wheel” pounds from the radio, and we are headed south. “Louder,” shouts a kid from the back. I should insist on manners but don’t. I’m so tired of talking. “Where we going?” says the baby. “Mama! Where we going?” he repeats. “To the mountains,” I say. “Where?” “To the mountains.” “Where?” Forget it. It’s impossible to hear in this car, but the song and the sun beat against my chest, begging me to turn it up, so I do. We are calling in the good spirits to bring back that joy we lost all those months ago. Joy was a fickle friend last year, and the warmth soaking through the windshield says she promises to change. She means it this time; I want to believe it. As the chorus hits, my husband points out a waterfall charging down the rocky roadside, a scene created by heavy morning rain. The kids keep count of each stream leaping off the edge. Eventually, an argument erupts. There is a cheater in our midst, someone fudging numbers to claim all the glory for himself.
2020 has taken its toll on everyone. Each of us feels the pressure building as the election year, an ongoing pandemic, and the continuous tide of racial injustice violently collide, one thing against another against another. And though our individual worries may differ greatly and our lives are impacted to varying degrees, few of us can deny the unexpected strain and frustration this year has brought.
It is the week of the Fourth, and COVID or not, Americans are traveling. My family is no exception.
We pack our bags, jigsaw the backend of our gas-guzzling SUV until everything fits, then wait an extra hour on a last-minute package from Amazon. It is nothing if not American.
We are rebels charging down a two-lane highway. We are free. The radio blares. Kids buckled snugly in the back ask every few minutes where we’re going. We don’t answer. We’re just driving, and it feels good.
This current crash course in introversion has been rough.
“Did you know that some people charge two, even three dollars for a cup of coffee? Coffee!” the cashier scoffs as my husband hands her $1.25 for the gas station blend that’s been sitting on the warmer since dawn. It’s pushing 1 o’clock, and we are the only patrons in this forgotten town.
“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.
My Facebook game is strong. I have a cover photo boasting a towering mountain range from our last trip out west. There’s a profile pic with three happy children and a smiling husband.
A few summers ago, I convinced my husband to join me, our rapidly growing fetus, and our two-year-old and ten-month-old boys, on a 3,500 mile, 13 day trek to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. This Canadian adventure was the very first of what has become our annual (sometimes semi-annual) family road trip, these unruly journeys that have cemented themselves at the very top of my favorite way to travel.