on the road

September 5, 2017

As a family that frequently travels overseas, this summer we decided to stay close to home. We got in our car, a lot, and drove around Ontario and Quebec and Upstate New York. With no planes to catch and agendas to keep, it was liberating.

Family road trips are a romantic idea –– bare, dirty feet and toothy smiles in the back seat, a gentle breeze flowing through the car, all your favourite soft rock playing on the radio. You tell stories and play games that your parents played with you, and if you’re lucky, stop roadside for soft serve, or a dip in an ice cold swimming hole. That’s sort of what it was for us. Sort of.

But then there were the toddler tantrums and epic fights over the iPhone; the pinching, scratching and hair pulling; (the children) the cursing and yelling; (the grownups) the emergency pee stops, and those constant, brain-numbing updates from our GPS-fixated son. “29 minutes to go,” “28 minutes to go,” and so on, and so on. “You have reached your destination.” Hallelujah.

“I don’t want to get out and walk,” our son, aged six, said at the suggestion of a hike to the Kaaterskill Falls, only to charge ahead like a seasoned mountaineer once we got there. “Why do we have to drive all the way to the Dia Art Foundation?” our eight-year-old daughter said before turning Richard Serra’s sculptures into a breathtaking playground. “But we don’t want to drive one whole boring hour to a silly farm,” they all chorused in, and then ran free and wild among radishes, kales and cows at Arundel’s Runaway Farm.

Give and take, give and take, this is how it went. And some drives were better than others. The stretch between hip upstate New York hamlet, Hudson and Hunter Mountain, where our hotel was, got particularly tense when our three-year-old pulled a massive clump of hair out of the six-year-old’s head. If truth be told, she beat me to it. My son’s whining is like a drill to the head. And the tears from all three at the Buffalo border as we sat in moving-like-molasses traffic, was enough to make the most patient human turn to Hulk.

And then there was my own restless mind to contend with. Long stretches in a car force you to think. ‘What is right in my life?’ ‘What is wrong?’ ‘Should I do a tick check on the children?’

But then I’d listen to our eldest child sing along to Christopher Cross while our three-year-old made phone calls on her plastic phone to the Queen, and all would be well. All three of them laughed at each others jokes and farts, and even sat in silence looking out the window for long, beautiful stretches of time. We’d marvel at every deer sighting, and say “mooooo” every time we saw a cow. We’d count the American flags, each one. Clouds quickly became dinosaurs and whales.

A road trip is not something I’d do again in a hurry, but there’s a lot to be gained from them, lessons in boredom and compromise, for starters. With no planes and trains to catch, we travelled on our own clock. There’s a freedom and spontaneity to road trips, which is no easy feat when travelling with kids. Most importantly, road tripping forces you to embrace the journey and make it part of the overall experience.

It was the drive home from Montreal via an amazing dinner in Prince Edward County that I’ll treasure most. The sun was setting on the barn speckled fields, and all three children –– a pile of beautiful, grubby bodies –– were fast asleep in the back. My husband’a hands were on the wheel and John Mayer’s ‘The Search for Everything’ was playing on the radio. Well, I thought, it doesn’t get better than this.

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