American Road Trip!

This post is a bit late, yet wanted to share our road trip to the Midwest to visit family over Christmas. I had our tickets booked but my husband wanted an adventure (insert cringe here*). It has been a number of years since our last road trip and I think time had wiped out the memory of his last declaration after the 1,400 mile each way journey ("We will never drive that again!"). Twelve hours a day for two days was the goal in each direction, starting off at 5am to stop by 5pm.

For weeks we looked at atlases and historic sites along the way. He made some good arguments. This is an educational experience for our son! Getting him out on the open road, breathing that American air, seeing the vastness of the agenda was hatched. We would make stops at historic spots such as Lincoln's log cabin, the St. Louis Arch and the house Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in (we could see Pa's violin!). Yet it wasn't until he threw in the rented luxury SUV, four star hotel stay with indoor pool and hot tub that I agreed.  If we were going to be driving all day, at least we would be able to exercise the kinks out at night- I would just have to ignore the germophobe within for the sake of childish fun. The overall trip would be more expensive than flying but would be a memorable family experience.

My husband is a stubborn man. Really, really stubborn. Although I offered to drive many, many times, he had it in mind that if he let me take a turn, even for a few miles, then he would no longer have the right to claim that he had driven us the entire journey. I respected this in the manner that he respects my need to check the stove ten times before leaving the house. Sometimes in a long and happy marriage you just have to compromise. Plus this worked in my favor...I tried to staunch the guilt by keeping him entertained - but it turns out that singing Gangham style thirty times in a row at the top of your voice is not what he finds entertaining. Nor is beat boxing on a lap tray or distracting him with lots of geography questions.

It turns out we had a LOT of fun. It was found in unexpected places. The bathroom breaks in small towns. The rough housing breaks in truck stop parking lots. The laughter over big poppa pickles and funny bumper stickers. There was an intimate family joy in marveling at spectacular sunsets and gorgeous sunrises.

I was prepared with tons of car games, DVDs and scavenger hunt ideas yet the best times were spent in simple conversation. Yes, we did manage to locate a lot of state license plates (although mom and dad were more excited about adding license plate stickers to the state atlas than Monkey.) Trapped in a small space for ten hours a day led to organic connections. Monkey talked about his friends at school and asked truly soulful questions we hadn't realised he thought about. We enjoyed each other's jokes and stories without the distractions of "what has to be done" or the thousand and one other things that compete for our attention.

I once again appreciated the beautiful Midwestern sky under which I was raised. My family traces back nine generations born within the same 50 mile radius. Really and truly. Before (and during) that we branch off into Cherokee Indians (both sides of my family, those romantic lots), French fur trappers from Canada, English settlers, Dutch adventurers and Scottish ancestors. There is even a rumor of a bit of Irish somewhere - like many Americans. They were US Marshals and farmers. Soldiers who have fought in every single American war since 1776. Safe house operators for the Underground Railroad, cowboys, mischief makers and survivors of the Great Depression. Business owners and not so simple people who took chances and put down roots in a wild territory. Is it any wonder than tenacity is my greatest characteristic?

It made me appreciate the vast dome of sky that is missing from New York's mountainous, populated region. Although we passed through 6 states, there was a commonality to every town we passed through. We remembered that people are really nice in America. They hold open doors to pass through and wish you a good day with sincere smiles. People in New York are nice too - there is just a protective wariness about them that often prevents unsolicited kindness. New York was the first time anyone asked me where my "people" came from. It was years before I realised this was because there were so many second generations in New York, the melting pot and traditional gateway to America.

The best part of the journey, however, was reaching our destination. Seeing the folks and hanging out with the cousins. Listening to my dad whisper to my son and the utter adoration my son has for my parents. It was weird passing by my old high school and seeing how much things change while your memories stand still. I love seeing how my foreign born husband melts into the landscape. How much heartfelt joy he demonstrates for his adopted country. Although a US citizen for many years, it is still a surprise how much he enjoys our history and defends our missteps. How effortlessly he is part and parcel of our extended family and how he shares my love for them in equal measure. It was sad to leave them, holding close for one last hug before hitting the pre-dawn road.

Coming home was more relaxed and we had a new GPS to play with - which actually got us lost in Ohio. We were alone at the hotel's indoor pool and had a blast being as carefree as we liked. The weather turned rough but we thought of the pioneers who first crossed the same land years before us. How had they driven animals through this wind and ice? How did they make camp without bathrooms and kitchens or soft adjustable beds - for months on end? Drive wagons over uncertain paths instead of smooth interstates with signage? Once again, it made us value what sacrifices the people before us made in order to map out and build our country and how meaningless the little conveniences truly are. How important human connections are. 

It turns out that the road trip was one of my husband's best ideas. Even the challenges turned out to be fond stories (ex; pulled over for a missing light by a state trooper in Illinois who turned out to be a really helpful person.) We enjoyed the entire trip so much and it turned out to be a great learning experience for Monkey. That is not to say we did not all dive individually for laptops and iPads upon our return home. A little bit of space is valuable in so many ways.

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