By Lori Florida
Every couple hundred miles, my sister and I stilled as we watched Mom rifle through the box of magic at her feet. Before long, she’d reach into the backseat with new treasures from her hidden trove, specifically chosen for each of us—a favorite candy bar or new cassette tape, a Mad Libs book or a dollar bill for gas-station ice cream. I’m guessing Mom can still pull up memories of my sister and me fighting over the middle line of the backseat despite her brilliant diversions. But my strongest memories are of unexpected fun.
When I was a teenager, my best friend’s family invited me on their road trip through the mountains, even though I would be the sixth person in a six-seat sedan. But at least I took the seat on the hump between my friend and her older sister. Car sickness is evidently a genetic disorder, because I seemed to be the only kid in the car whose stomach didn’t react adversely to the scenic route Mr. Liddell chose. As he exulted over the beautiful views, my friend and her sisters passed a mason jar back and forth in front of me to catch the puke. When we stopped to rinse out the jar and take some deep breaths, a few miles into flat land and feeling good, the whole car began to laugh about the situation. Laughing proved to be a good approach as we encountered food poisoning, creepy fly-paper bathrooms, and a campsite within feet of an active railroad track.
Whether the way is easy or rough, family road trips provide lots of deposits to the memory bank. Approaching both the positive and negative with a smile and “What a hoot!” attitude can make even the tough trips feel like treasures.
Now that I’m in the front seat answering the “When will we get there?” questions, I realize the power I hold to create our road trippin’ environment. With the right approach, our van can transform into a magical memory maker. My tools are a bit different from the ones my mom employed, but they have the same goal: fun.
A good road trip requires equal parts proactively avoiding drama and creating reasons to laugh. We avoid Taco Bell to keep the fart smell to a minimum. The Chwazi Finger Chooser app is the new coin flip to make sure everyone gets a fair turn choosing the movie/podcast/music/window seat. I announce early on that the Momma Judge will only hear cases about how you can help someone else get something they need, but not about you feeling unsatisfied. Being on a road trip automatically means you have more than you need. A vacation is a luxury. Dissatisfaction with our luxury is simply not what my ears are willing to hear on a road trip.
My job is to smile all the time, and my happiness eventually trickles to the back of the van. I’m willing to be the butt of embarrassing videos and laugh at all their jokes. Snapchat and Dubsmash are our endless companions. I offer prizes for the most pages of a book read from one stop to the next and take bets on how long it will be before someone needs a potty break. A road trip is a great time to learn the words to a favorite rap song. If you are as bad at it as me, it eats up miles of travel time but leaves you with a skill your kids’ friends think is cool. Lots of front-seat kissing between Mom and Dad is a good memory to give your kids too!
Leading a family vacation is a serious part of our jobs as moms. Studies have shown that vacations affect our children’s intellectual and emotional development. The downtime and togetherness inherent in a road trip give a turbo boost to many of the serious goals we have every day in our parenting. God wants us to “teach [his Word] diligently to your children, and talk of him when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7 ESV). That feels like a pipe dream in a culture that views family time as an unaffordable luxury. Take your kids on a road trip and steal back some of that precious “walking by the way” time.
Years after our troubled yet hilarious trip through the mountains, I found a care package in my mailbox from Mrs. Liddell. Nestled among some treats was a roll of sticky fly paper. Memories of an unsinkable vacation with people I loved came flooding back and pulled a belly laugh from me. Memories like that are born unexpectedly out of long, unscripted moments together.
This summer I plan to collect ideas for what to include in some care packages of my own—evidence of inside jokes shared on the road as a big, crazy family.
Lori Florida’s life is all about her people. She’s convinced that being Mrs. to one and Mommy to eight will be her most significant way to serve Jesus. She wants to use her life to cheer on and coach the women coming behind her. Lori blogs at loriflorida.com.
Photograph © Dino Reichmuth used with permission