Family road trips always sound like a good idea when you're planning them... by yourself. Then, about an hour into the trip you find yourself fighting to regain control as all those ambitious plans crumble into a living hell of arguing children and bathroom breaks. My inclination is to say "especially in my family," but wouldn't you be so inclined?
When my father-in-law invited Justin, Story, and me on a trip to Kansas he had planned for a relatives 50th wedding anniversary we were excited. I even more so because he even planned it so that we could drive through Ponca City where my grandpa (Mom's Dad) lives. I haven't seen him in probably seven years.
I left work at about 11:30 because we planned to leave at noon. At 2:00 Justin was still packing and my father-in-law, mother-in-law, step son, step daughter, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew were cursing him in their cars in our driveway. Eventually we were on our way.
I don't remember how we managed to go on road trips without a GPS system. The GPS is only useful in a two-car situation though when any of the people in the car that's leading know how to work the GPS, OR when the person following (who owns a GPS and is proficient its operation) knows that the person leading doesn't know what they're doing and is good about using their turn signals. We ended up on some very sketchy back roads in Oklahoma before we finally worked out which car should be in front.
We met my Grandpa for dinner in Ponca City. He looks exactly the same as he always did only a little shorter, a little more frail. I didn't know what to say to him and was nervous the whole time because I thought I was going to cry. He looks so much like Mom and when we left I did cry, and he gave me a big hug and gave Story a big hug and Julie, my sister-in-law got pictures. I'm so glad that I got to see him.
It was one of those quick trips during which you drive for hours everyday and stay in a different hotel every night. Story pointed out every tractor between Fort Smith and Wichita, and even some tractors that weren't there. I brought my pillow from home with the pillow case that matches the sheets and then left it in the hotel the first night. Justin's knee locked up in the car when we pulled over for a quick break and I had to run around and catch him as he fell out of the car, breaking off my toenail past the quick as the sole of his shoe caught it on the way down. We visited some relatives of Richard's who had a beautiful house that was so clean the vacuum triangles were still visible in the carpet and Story pooped twice during the hour that we were there. We knew that it's impossible to make a quick decision about pizza toppings in a party of ten, but tried to do it anyway, the kids fought about who got to play with Story, and it's very clear to those of us in the backseat how key communication is when a father is driving and a son is riding shotgun.
You'd think that eventually people would learn that tranquil family road trips are a trick of the imagination. Yet we keep planning them, and keep thinking that "this time it will be different." We're like addicts who are always after that perfect high, that perfect trip with the pictures and the laughing and the quiet kids playing cards in the backseat and the parents who never get lost. That will probably never happen, not in any family, but in mine, on this trip, I got to see my Grandpa. I got to eat my weight, every morning, in continental breakfasts that have improved exponentially from the dry-danish-and-muffin days. I got to laugh with Hayden about the guy who picks up Steve Martin and John Candy at the Wichita hotel in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles." Story saw tractors, Justin learned that his sister Julie might care a little bit about him after all, we got to see Holly laugh one last time before she heads off to be a teenager, lightning in Kansas is beautiful, and while family road trips are inherently horrible, I will always get excited about them, I will always enjoy them, and I will always look forward to the next one - if we're invited. It was a wonderful trip.