As the unofficial end to summer approaches, I find myself looking back through the last three months, and already feeling nostalgic towards the Summer of 2010. This was the summer my kids were all still single digits, the summer my youngest learned to swim by himself, the summer my oldest wanted her own blog, and the summer we took a twelve day family road trip.
My husband and I are big fans of the Family Road trip. In fact, we’d opt for the car over a plane almost every time. We practically lived on the road for a month after we graduated college, camping at the nearest state parks, and stopping at every historical marker we could find. We’ve driven to Washington, D.C., New York City (and through it!), Columbus, Ohio, the Big Sur, Washington state, and as far north as Montana. I imagine we’ll even drive to Alaska one of these days. There is just something so exciting about packing the snack box, the drink cooler, the “fun” bags of entertainment, the pillows, the movies, and the ipods. It’s a little more complicated now that there’s more than just the two of us, but trying to show our kids a little of what makes us tick is more than worth it.
This year, we set a lofty goal. We blocked off the time, packed the car, and set our sights on the Grand Canyon and California. My husband has a passion for the big hole in the ground, and I have one for Mickey Mouse, so we rolled them both into one extra long, extra intense family bonding moment. I know people thought we were crazy. They might not have said it, but they thought it. And, there were times on during this twelve day jaunt that I wished I’d listened to them, but I looked at my half-full Diet Coke, and persevered.
We had our little bribes to help pass the time, and one of them was the roadside picnic. We packed treats we normally don’t buy, such as Goober Peanut Butter, Cheetos, and Oreos; feasting while sitting around a fabulous concrete picnic table. Those picnics were almost as fantastic as staying in a hotel, which apparently is the best part of family vacations in general—at least in the eyes of my kids. I’ve often wondered if we went to the Decatur La Quinta whether that would be just as fun as leaving town on an actual vacation. This year, because of the length of the drive, I padded the fun bags with extra “stuff” like notebooks and disposable cameras for the kids to journal and take pictures as we drove from state to state. They took pictures of each other, the view outside their windows, the view from the big hole in the ground, and of course, the hotel rooms. On top of both the roadside picnics and extra “fun” in the bags, we would stop once a day and splurge on a gas station fountain drink or Slurpee. I don’t care for them myself, but apparently Slurpees are the best things since…hotels.
Many movies, ipod playlists, desert views, dam tours, and hotel stays later, we finally reached the West Coast, and Disneyland-which we had held as a secret the entire time. Because of our love of just the road trip, I think my kids were confused that there was something else at the end of all the driving, and it took them a while to warm up to the Happiest Place on Earth. But, they eventually fell in love with Mickey, as we all do, despite thinking that the Wise County Reunion was just as much fun. I’m not sure what that says about Disneyland or Reunion, but it definitely says something.
We fell into the same routine on the long drive home, breaking it up by visiting friends and relatives, but again eating meals on the road, digging through the bags for “fun”, and stopping for a daily Slurpee run. But, by this time the kids were done with the novelty of the desert, and Texas seemed so very far away. They were tired. They were sunburned. They missed home. There were times I turned to my husband and verbally reminded myself that we were family bonding, that we were building family traditions and making memories…all kinds of memories. Good memories. Bad memories. Ugly memories. Family memories.
When we finally crossed the Texas State Line, the kids cheered, their moods lightened, and they, too, looked back on the previous two weeks with nostalgia. They laughed at my nickname for the Grand Canyon, they giggled at being able to say “dam” in reference to the Hoover Dam Tour, they smiled at meeting Mickey Mouse, and sighed at the cozy beds back at every hotel. A thunderstorm hit the car as we entered Decatur, and my youngest exclaimed that we were “finally out of the desert!” Those last few miles we sang along to one of our favorite songs, picked up pizza for dinner, and agreed it was a Great Road Trip…and look forward to the next one…next summer.