August 25, 2014
I was born wanting to go places. My mother reports that I toppled my cardboard bassinet in the newborn nursery while thrashing around. She believed I was trying to break free. I walked too early as well, and had to wear special shoes affixed to a metal rocking plate because my legs were not yet strong enough to carry me.
But I also traveled in the conventional sense with my family. I remember our drive to Florida, specifically drinking orange juice at the state welcome center and throwing up as I stepped off the Mad Tea Cup ride at Disney. I recall the trauma of getting lost once while away, though I’m not sure where we were when it happened, and taking photographs of my feet on the beach in Caesarea during our first trip to Israel.
When I was old enough to travel on my own, I seized any opportunity to explore locales both nearby and far flung. Luckily, my husband shares my sense of adventure. In the early years of our marriage, even when we lived on a shoestring, we still found a way to go places. We occasionally went abroad, but mostly went to off the beaten path spots close to home and checked out as much of our own city as possible.
And then we had children. Their blessed arrival cut nights out down to zero, and we were really fine with that. But we agreed that we would not suppress our wanderlust, no matter how complicated traveling with the boys might get.
We flew together to Croatia to visit family when our eldest was 8 months old. A year later, I made the same trip alone with my son. My back ached as I carried him, his car seat, the diaper bag, my carryon, and my purse onto the tarmac to board our connecting flight from Zurich. Yet I delighted in the experience of being there with him, even as he soiled his diaper just before takeoff to the chagrin of the buttoned-up business man to his left.
In fact, experience has been the point from the beginning. We wanted to pass along our curiosity to our sons, and we believed that travel was the ticket to ensuring that their world view broadened beyond their own four squares. Besides, it gave us an excuse to continue prioritizing what we loved. We went wherever and whenever we could. But when we couldn’t go far away, we took the boys on closer adventures, like the gorges in upstate New York or to a zoo the next state over.
About ten years ago, we happened upon the idea of an annual road trip across the US. A road trip’s flexibility appealed to us as a young family, especially the way it allowed for spontaneous stops along the way. As a new American, my husband wanted to see his adopted homeland and its northern neighbor. To my own shame, I’d been to Albania, but had never been west of Madison, Wisconsin.
The decision launched what has become the defining experience of our family life. We’ve piled into our minivan nearly summer since, with the exception of our trek to Seattle (we flew on expiring miles) and two road trips in tiny cars while visiting relatives in Europe. We’ve gone as far and wide as Vancouver, BC and Maine, Mt. Rushmore and the Green Mountains, Disney and Amarillo, Texas. Our goal is to visit all 50 states and the 10 Canadian provinces (maybe even the territories, too). We’ve made it to 38 and 6, respectively.
Loved ones and acquaintances alike often wonder how we’ve managed with our noisy, messy brood in the car. After all, they’ve seen the boys in action out of the car. Portable DVD players – since replaced by Apple products – always helped, as did rattles, action figures, crayons and activity books when the boys were much younger. We’ve never underestimated the busy potential of a crunchy snack, and we’ve often pleaded with G-d to please, please, please make the boys nap.
We’ve managed potty training, scream-inducing ear infections, precarious car seat escapes, stomach bugs, sibling rivalry, teenage orneriness, and a flat tire on the NJ Turnpike. There have certainly been “Don’t make me stop this car” moments, yet I always say these trips are like childbirth. The gross and the horrible recede from memory once we’ve pulled back into our driveway.
In the days before our recent trip to the Canadian Maritimes, we had to face the hard truth about our minivan. It has given its all for 12 years, but it was no longer up to a ride of several thousand miles. The boys are also growing up and we don’t know how much longer they’ll be able or willing, given their own lives and plans, to come along for two weeks each summer. Perhaps the van’s retirement was a metaphor for the end of an era.
We quickly suppressed such thoughts and accepted that we were either going in my husband’s 5-seater or we weren’t going at all. Wholeheartedly, our three boys, whose legs are far longer than mine, squeezed into the back. Some of the luggage went beneath my feet in the front. It was cramped, but that did not obstruct our view of the wonderful things — both manmade and created by G-d – we saw along the way.
Like our other trips, this recent journey offered family bonding at its best. The boys may have found a way to wrestle even while stuffed into the back seat, and they got mighty loud. But they enjoyed priceless, uninterrupted togetherness with one another and with their parents. That the trip further fed their curiosity about the world and nurtured their ever-growing sense of adventure are bonuses I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Please, just don’t ask me about the state of the car.