When I was young, we used to take a week long family vacation every summer to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Ohio. It was a 9 hour trek, that my brother and I, and sometimes my older sister, would make in the back of a pickup truck. Crazy visual there, huh? Wind whipping through our hair… Umm, no. Pretty posh for us littles at the time ~ A cover for the bed of the truck, a twin mattress with the zoo themed sheet so we could determine territories. A cooler filled with snacks and a cassette player with The Oak Ridge Boys playing Elvira on repeat
until my mother thought she would go insane. And then a week of swimming, cornfields, ice cream, and cousins. I hold very happy memories of those weeks away from home.
Life had dealt me some pretty big blows and I really wanted, to be honest I really NEEDED, to get away and create happy memories with my children. I felt I had to offer them something better to look back on than what we had just survived. Without a lot of money, it couldn’t be a big Disney-esque treat. But
perhaps that good old fashioned road trip would work.
When it came time to plan a family vacation with my three, times had changed. No more rolling around in the back of the truck playing with stuffed animals and matchbox cars, wrestling and snuggling up to fall asleep on your own bed to travel. It was uncomfortable booster seats, seat belts and a pretty optimistic plan for a first trip. From the Southern Adirondacks to Memphis to visit my best friend from elementary school, then home via Charlotte to see my sister and “brother”, Hershey park if the kids were good on the way home. 18 days…
OK, a little background here. At this point I was separated, just beginning to gain back my footing and starting to recognize bits and pieces of myself in the mirror. My self image, self worth, and self confidence had been pretty battered and bruised. As I started to plan the logistics I started to panic. Could I really do this? What if something happened along the way? To me, to the car, to the kids… I knew I needed to do this, but I also knew I needed support. Who better to call in for help than Grandma???
Almost 3 weeks unfettered access to her grandbabies?? And I promised no Elvira?? She was in! And so began our “Southern Adventure” in late June of 2010. We planned to drive no more that 6 hours a day, stopping each day to find something to break up the monotony of the drive. Every 2 hours to stretch little legs and fill little bellies to prevent meltdowns. Day 1 was the last day of school, we headed to Grandma’s to add her suitcase to the pile and get a good night’s rest before stealing her from
Grampa. A big celebratory send off of ice cream that night set the tone.
Day 2 was probably the most stressful for me, and it was those first few hours. As we came closer to the NY/PA border every self doubt and fear came to the forefront ~ what if I really couldn’t do this? My ex had told me he didn’t have the time to come rescue me when it all went to hell in a handbasket. Did having Mom
along counter that? Would it be enough? Was I enough to keep my kids safe? My heart raced, my chest constricted, my grip on the wheel tightened. Ethel, the GPS we bought specifically for the trip (and the kids felt needed a name), showed that state line creeping ominously closer… and suddenly we were in Pennsylvania.
Wait, what? We just rolled right on through the line? No tire blow
out? No engine blowing up? Miles ticked off and the kids still chattered and sang in the back. We continued to roll. I laughed out loud. My little world had just literally opened its borders! We had Ethel, Rand McNally, and AAA TripTiks to work from. We knew we had construction coming up so we stopped for a potty break and a snack. To this day, crazy as it seems, one of the most memorable things on that trip was the crazy timed relay
races we ran that second day at that rest area, and the fact that I ran with them.
My son picked up a coupon book for hotels, and suddenly our accommodation worries (the only worry my mother carried across the border) vanished. Visitor centers at each state line provided us with inspiration for adventures. Amazing caverns, a float museum, a giant Cootie, and an aquarium helped entertain us on our way to Memphis. There we walked a scale replica of the Mighty Mississippi at Mud Island and visited the Memphis Zoo with one of my best friends.
Our goal was to put feet in as many states as possible, so our trip to North Carolina brought us through Corinth, MS (picked because we lived near Corinth, NY), Alabama, and Georgia before heading to Maggie Valley (for obvious reasons!) and then the Charlotte, NC area. We happened upon an amazing Civil War Interpretive Center, playgrounds, a gorgeous rest area with a little nature walk, and tried buttermilk pie on our way. While visiting my sister, my son celebrated his birthday and we were schooled on NASCAR and
the rodeo, big hits with us all!
Keeping Hershey Park as an “If You Are Good” reward worked beautifully – as we rounded out our 3000 mile trip with stops at Luray Caverns and Natural Bridge to explore the history and beauty of the area, the kids had learned enough to ask wonderful questions of the guides. And our trip to Hershey was a few days surrounded by chocolate nirvana as we rested up to trek home.
Another night at Grandma’s to return her to Grampa and fill his ears with all our adventures, and then three tired lil’ monkeys headed back to the Southern Adirondacks filled with memories that 6 year later still pop up randomly in conversation.
For me, this trip was cathartic. Something inside me broke free the more miles I put between myself and that NY border. With every turn of the wheel, I was proving that I was capable of
planning and implementing a safe trip. That I was able to provide for my littles, keep them safe and sound, but most importantly I was giving them some wonderful memories that, no matter what came next, no one could steal. WE would always have this adventure.
This trip did more than give the 5 of us great memories, it forged a bond between us through these shared experiences. We have inside jokes that we have explained to others, but no one really “gets” exactly, like we do. We problem solved together, the 5 of us working to formulate a plan for the day, to pick out a landing zone for the evening, deciding if the pool or free breakfast was
more important that night as we searched. We supported each other as a team, even if we were tired, hungry, and cranky. We made it, all 18 days, all 3000 miles, together!
Since that trip I have happily added states and adventures to my list. I am at 275,000+ miles now as the kids and I continue our adventures, keeping traditions that began on our “Southern Adventure”. This one trip changed my whole outlook on who I was and what I was capable of. It was truly a blessing!
Every day can bring us a new adventure, an opportunity to reframe how we look at ourselves, our circumstance, our world. I wish for you many happy memories on your journeys!! 🙂