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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: A backpack full of memories

“A road trip is a way for the whole family to spend time together and annoy each other in interesting new places.” -Tom Lichtenheld

By Stacy Turner

As we sat down together to figure out what we’d each like to do this summer and the topic of taking a family road trip came up, our kids confessed their dread of the drive.  Not because of carsickness or boredom, but because of the typical fights over navigating to our destination over unfamiliar roads.  

My husband is the self-appointed driver, not because he’s got a great sense of direction (he admittedly lacks that gene), but because he complains that I drive like an old lady.  Instead of using old school maps to plot a course (I’m an old school map lover), he relies on GPS navigation, which doesn’t always work well.  Not that we’ve ever ended up teetering off a cliff or driving into a lake like one of the true-life "death by GPS" stories, but we have added countless unnecessary miles to more than one trip. 

We’ve gotten into some pretty heated exchanges on the road that left one or both of us feeling pretty frosty.  Later, we can joke about how it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going if you’re heading in the wrong direction, or how lack of tech skills means the turn-by-turn directions often aren’t relayed until after we’ve missed a turn.  But in the heat of those moments, no one wants to be in the car, let alone headed off on a week of togetherness.  Our kids recently confessed that during one particularly trying vacation, they worried we would get a divorce on the first day.  It was humbling to learn that some of the childhood memories we’re making with our kids included their parents acting like children.

This year, we agreed to do better. I learned to delegate some of the pretrip planning that used to take up most of my time and patience, and my husband agreed to bring an actual paper map to verify the GPS wasn’t taking us on any unplanned detours.  The pet sitter was lined up, keys in hand, with plenty of food and supplies.  No one decided at the last minute that they didn’t have enough of the right size clean underwear or socks, and everyone had their bags packed and ready the night before our planned departure. We packed the car, packed a cooler, added an extra supply of patience, and headed out on the open road. We may have missed a turn or two, and we may have realized en route that the map was outdated by 20 years, but we gave each other grace in those moments.  And surprisingly, we reached our destination with no blowups or marriage counseling needed. 

We consulted a trail map to plot our hike into the campsite that would be our home for the next four days, carrying everything we’d need in the packs on our backs.  After an hour-long hot, sticky, and mostly uphill hike, we found our campsite and began to set up our tent.  Only to learn that one of our tent poles had broken.  Without any tantrums or outbursts, we spread out our gear to figure out how to re-engineer a solution with what we had on hand, Apollo 13-style.  Using a combination of rope, broken tent poles, nearby trees and a bit of McGyvering, we erected our tent.  Like a bad haircut screaming out for a hat, we topped it with the rain fly and called it done.  You’d never see this monstrosity at a camping store, but it got the job done, keeping us dry during the inevitable rain that plagues every camping trip. 

After all was said and done, my family was rewarded this year with much more than the typical, “NO! I said RIGHT, not LEFT!” drama. We left with a backpack full of memories of just being together—rafting the white water of Pennsylvania, enjoying campfires, playing countless card games, and enjoying the solitude of the woods in our bad haircut tent.