Friday, April 15, 2011
A Family Path
I sat down today to write this week’s column and nothing came. Some weeks I have a dozen ideas circling around my head, begging to be the topic of the week. Other weeks, it’s more slim pickings. This week, it was downright anemic.
It might be in part because my brain is otherwise occupied. In less than 12 hours a rental car will pull out of my driveway and will head West. For three days we’ll drive, then for three days we’ll explore the mountains of Colorado, and finally, for three days we’ll drive back. As the mom, if anything is forgotten along the way, it will always be my fault. So as the stack of ‘must takes’ slowly grew on the kitchen table (including, but not limited to video gaming devices, iPods, sunglasses, Sudoku books, drawing pads, granola bars, assorted chargers, and a fully charged camera), I suddenly had to slam on the brakes of my rattled brain and come up with something to write about this week.
When the afternoon started slipping away, still with no ideas, I resisted the urge to panic. Then my middle son walked through the door. His school day was over, but my writing day had just begun. I sat for a few minutes and listened to his latest stories from the halls of the high school, then I sighed deeply and told him I needed his help. I told him I needed an idea, something exciting to write about this week. I warned him that I felt like people were probably tired of hearing about our move, so what other topics did he think might interest readers?
He didn’t hesitate to offer his advice. “How ‘bout you tell them how you’re going to stuff your three kids into the back seat of a car, and make them suffer for three whole days?” You see, my boy is upset that we’re not renting a minivan for this cross country trip. The last time we drove that far, he had lots of room to spread out. But this time, we’re only taking three of the kids, and we figured we’d save some money (almost eight hundred dollars, to be exact) by getting a large car, instead of a van.
I’m fairly confident that he’ll survive. Heck, he might even have some fun. I’ve tried telling him this fact, but he’s currently under the teen spell of filtered hearing and all he can process is that he has to share breathing air with two brothers, for six days of total driving time.
But that same teen spell also prevents him from remembering the things his mom remembers. I was sorting through some old pictures the other day, and I got lost in a bad case of nostalgia. There on my screen were hundreds of snippets of memories, pockets of time that we got to block out the world and spend time with just the six of us. No ringing phones or work obligations to distract us. The open road was our path to family bonding. I was reminded, by the snapshot after snapshot of smiles, of just how much fun it is to just be ‘us’ for a bit.
The interesting thing is that the family dynamic changes with each trip. As my children age, and slowly turn into the people they are going to become, they go through personality spells. On one trip the littlest one will bond with his only sister. They’ll split sandwiches at Subway and share the headphone splitters on the DVD player. On the next trip he might latch onto his oldest brother, making their own special memories along the way.
The sad part about this trip to me is that our magical window is closing. This is our first big trip without one of our children. Job obligations are keeping my girl home. We’re down to three boys. In just a few short months, as my son heads off to college, we’ll suddenly be down to only two boys in the house. Only two boys to share the backseat and the booth at the diner. The pattern of our family, and our family trips, is changing.
I look forward to the next ten days. I know there will be conflicts. If three brothers could travel two thousand miles together and not fight once, it would concern me. But I know my gang. We’ll also laugh a lot. We’ll see some crazy sign on the side of the highway, for some weird truck stop or fudge warehouse, and we’ll beg dad to stop. If the pleas don’t work, someone will fake a bathroom emergency. Because, no matter what, we’ll get our fudge and buy that old fashioned rubber band gun.
We’ll stop in big cities and small towns. We’ll count down the mileage signs, as we get close to places the kids have heard about on TV. And then, when we finally arrive in Indianapolis, and Chicago, we’ll make the kids put down their distractions (“headphones OUT!”) and pretend to gaze at the city, from our highway view at 65 miles an hour. Then, for the four thousandth time, we’ll discuss whether driving by a major city counts as having ‘been there’.
Today it’s all ahead of us. I’m trusting that the rental car will be ready for us in the morning, and all my planning will pay off. If this trip turns out like the ones in the past, in a blink of an eye I’ll be back at this screen, our trip over, the bags unpacked, and I’ll wonder just where the time went. So if you run into my middle son, and he tries to complain to you, about how his mother must not care about him because she forced him to (gasp!) share a car seat with his brothers, do me a favor.
Ask him if he’s had any good fudge lately.