On one such adventure, Brown Sugar had to go potty so Songbird took her to the rest area bathroom. Next we stopped at McDonald’s because the Lone Ranger didn’t like the nuggets from Chik-Fil-A. Then Eddie had to buy ice for the cooler where he took another twenty minutes to gather the other seven things I’d forgotten. As the Crusader crawled over the back seat to get an apple for Maven and Doritos for Think Tank, he disturbed the poodles in their crate, and their whimpering roused a dozing M&M. I nursed him back to sleep for the second time when we stopped for gas; we decided it was cheaper to refuel near home. That’s right: almost two hours into the trip, we’d crept a mere five miles away from our own driveway.
I dread packing for a trip more than I hate eating okra. To feel productive without actually doing anything, I create mental lists before our departure: Bring both types of soap. Leave the portable baby bed, but grab a crib sheet and blanket. Pack lightweight pajamas for the first, warmer location and robes for the second, cooler one. Take paper, crayons, and board games to fend off boredom and a television overdose at the grandparents’.
The lists go on and on, but the actual packing doesn’t get started until the night before. That’s when the pedal hits the metal. Then I’m arranging seven piles of clothes—at least three additional days of underwear; bathing suits or sweaters, depending on the season; matching outfits for the girls, caps and sneakers for the boys; extra diapers for the little one, more jeans for the big ones. It’s a “no” to the stuffed animals, a nod to the graphic novels, and a “maybe” to the craft supplies. More than likely, they’ll stash these gems under the seats beside the textbooks that never make it out of the car. I trip over Eddie’s suitcase that’s ready to go and mutter, “Who knows?” when Eddie asks when he can load the car.
Actually, getting our show on the road is more a Ringling Brothers than a Cirque de Soleil production. There’s a method to our madness, but it’s still maddening. Departure day is all about minimizing how late we’ll leave and of course, how much later we’ll arrive. Cranky and tired, we’re going in every direction but the one that leads to the car: grabbing toothbrushes I couldn’t pack the night before; stopping the newspaper and the mail; turning on extra lights. The dogs get underfoot so we don’t forget them and the baby wails so we can hear him. It’s all carefully unorchestrated, as painfully necessary as a measles shot.
By the time we finally throw ourselves into the car we’re too tired to drive around the corner, let alone hundreds of miles. We finally make it out of the state, but a few hours, three Wee Sing CDs, and two movies later, we’re still on the road. By our journey’s end Brown Sugar has nosed me out for best traveler. All Eddie and I want to do is push the kids into our host’s waiting arms and head to the nearest hotel to regroup for a day or two.
So, why do we do it?
For scientific study. Why mimic ocean movement in plastic bottles when we can experience the waves breaking on the rocks below Pemaquid Lighthouse? We’d rather paddle to lobster traps than just read about lake ecosystems. Checking out the bird’s nest Grandpa found in the blueberry bush trumps studying animal habitats in the safety of the schoolroom. What’s more entertaining: watching mama run from spiders or climbing giant bugs in Nashville’s botanical garden? (Okay, that’s a draw.)
For art appreciation. I can hum “You Are My Sunshine” for twenty-five miles to hear my mom sing spirituals to M&M. The Lone Ranger’s colored-pencil renditions of New York’s skyscrapers, Blue Ridge mountains, and Pisgah National Forest cascades are works of art. Maven wears out her pencils, retelling her siblings’ escapades in her journal. Our a cappella remix of the “ABC Song,” “Bah, Bah, Black Sheep,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Traffic Light,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” lulls M&M to sleep as we cross yet another county line.
For math application. Ever compare the drive from New Jersey to Maryland with the time spent crawling through Virginia alone? What about calculating the hours spent in line for a 90-second rollercoaster ride? Teaching the Crusader about gas mileage has more life application than doing inverse functions.
For Bible study. When someone screeches, “He touched me!” she’s not talking about Jesus. But that only inspires me to focus on God’s creation whizzing by the car, and meditate on His Word:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4)
Since God can “draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line…” surely He can reel in the two battling it out behind me. (Job 41:1).
The family road trip…what better way to study God’s Word, geography, psychology, and sociology than watching my little people trample, chew on, argue with, explore, and evaluate everything from the tiniest ant at the rest stop to the hapless diner “lucky enough” to sit beside us at Cracker Barrel? Every fight, traffic jam, sore back, and pit stop draws us closer together; getting to the lighthouse, grandma’s house, the beach house, and our own house is the icing on the upside down cake. Have car, Google Maps, and Bible – will travel.
Now, if I just didn’t have to pack…