When I chose a cross country road trip for our summer vacation like the ones I took as a child, I imagined a life-changing journey. In reality, we weren’t out of the neighborhood before my two boys asked when we’d stop for lunch.
I persisted, despite blank stares in response to my lecture on the Westward Expansion. I ignored endless whining. I crafted sandwiches on my lap. I refereed pointless arguments about the color of the sky and the fate of Pluto. I fixed a pair of cheap headphones repeatedly.
At the two-day mark, when we’d been locked in the van for approximately 800 hours, a stretch of time interrupted only by being locked in a cheap hotel, “Are we there yet?” had morphed into dark existentialism: “Will the dog remember who we are if we ever get home?”
By New Mexico, the atmosphere in our prison-on-wheels had become downright grim. “What if we die in the desert?” the 8-year-old piped up from the back seat. “Would anyone find us?” The 10-year-old looked up from his “Grossology” science book and helpfully added, “Well, first our bodies would bloat and possibly explode.”
I kept a mental tally of how much bottled water was left. Just in case. “Why is it so HOT?” the 8-year-old cried. “How is anyone even alive here??” he asked total strangers at a waterless, desert rest area. The rattlesnake warning signs didn’t improve our collective spirit, though it was either this threat or peeing into a sandy hole that led to a quick stop.
Eventually, we found water again - a friend’s swimming pool. Forget the Grand Canyon’s majesty, standing in four states at once, or summertime snow on a misty Colorado mountain. There was swimming.
“This is everything,” mused the 8-year-old from his floating lounge chair, umbrella drink in hand.
That was it. I clenched my margarita glass a little too tightly and took a shaky, angry breath.
“You know, we have swimming pools in Ohio…” I began, prepared to launch into a guilt-infused tirade against my ungrateful children and road weary spouse.
But then my little family looked up from the water, the relentless Arizona sun beating down on their wet, beaming faces. I paused the tirade.
In that moment, I knew why my own father had dragged our family back and forth across the country despite all the backseat complaining. It was the journey, yes, but it was also overcoming the journey. Together.
It was time to let go of what I’d thought this experience was supposed to look like and embrace our imperfect reality, the threat of rattlesnakes be damned.
“Just let me get my suit,” I said.