Friday, November 13, 2009

A Van Full of Teens

In just one week my family of six will be pulling out of the driveway in a rented minivan and heading west. For two and a half full days we will drive across the country, hoping to land at my family reunion in Missouri. We have taken cross country trips before. Most of them didn’t end at vacation spots. Most of them ended with finding a new life in a new state. When we moved from Washington D.C. to Utah we took the roundabout way to get there, circling down through the gulf coast states. So we are not unfamiliar with long car trips.

There is one small fact, however, that is worth pointing out. On exactly none of those trips were there any children whose ages had the word ‘teen’ in it. I feel that we might be treading on new ground here. We have not had a big family trip in several years and this time around three out of the four non-adults in the car will be teenagers. I may be delusional or way too optimistic, but no, so far I am not scared.

Don’t laugh, but just the other day I realized I am actually excited about our upcoming trip. I started a small pile in the corner of the dining room, of supplies we might be needing next week, and I got that old familiar countdown feeling. A big change is on the horizon. Everyday life as we know it will be turned upside down for just about ten days. And I think I am not scared, even with the detail of a car full of teens, because down deep I think this is something our family is good at.

With all of the moves from one state to another, and all the trips to out of the way places, we have logged a lot of travel hours together. We’ve never been to Disney or taken a cruise. But we’ve spent days in the middle of the Navaho Nation as Jeff attended work related meetings there. The next day we stood on the Four Corners marker and crawled through cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. We always found adventure along the way and it taught us a lot about who we are as a family.

There is something magical about packing a vehicle full of only the essentials, slamming the doors shut, and driving away to a new place. A place where friends and peer pressure lose their power. A place where new sights, sounds, smells and flavors are around every corner. A place where most of the daily life rules no longer apply. No chores to fulfill, no beds to make, no rooms to clean. Just free living, dependent on only what fits in that duffle bag with your name printed on the side.

On every cross country trip we’ve taken it’s been a joy to leave behind the distractions that pull us apart. Suddenly our familiar world is confined to a metal shell on four wheels. It’s us against the world. In each of our moves we consistently settled into a unique pattern, where the kids could be friends with each other and it was okay. Despite age differences they learned to find a way to enjoy their siblings. There wasn’t much choice, it was a matter of self preservation. Either make friends with your little brother or die of boredom. It seemed to be a no brainer.

And I suspect our children will fall back into that mode a week from now. Even though they are growing up, and their interests are growing apart, I have a good feeling they will find that old place, where we are all in it for fun and the sibling rivalry and teasing can be laid aside for a while. I am packing several fresh decks of cards and plan to teach them the classics while they are my captive audience. Beyond Go Fish, we will play Spades, Spoons and any other game I can find in the card game library book I checked out today.

Since my oldest two learned the most about reading a map and navigation by being in the front passenger seat as we moved from Utah to New York, maybe it’s time now for the younger two to get their turn. There is nothing more thrilling for a child than having dad hand you the map and saying, “You are in charge of telling me which road to take and which exit to look for.”

This time around we own a few ipods. I have purchased headphone splitters and am looking forward to my children sharing their music. In our regular chaotic life everyone has their own style of music and their own specialized playlists. As the hours drag on and card games are not enough to relieve the boredom any longer, I plan to hand out the brand new splitters and have a music exchange. They might actually discover their playlists have overlapping songs.

So now I’m off to make more lists, create more piles of supplies and harbor more happy thoughts. I suppose a part of me is hoping if I dream it, it will come true. Maybe you should ask me, two weeks from now, how it all went, if the kids rose to my expectations and enjoyed each other, for the most part, on our long haul across the country. I hope I can answer with a rousing, “YES!”

But just in case it doesn’t all go as planned, if I’m sporting a scowl or any physical scars, you’re welcome to keep your questions to yourself.

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