It was in the high 90’s that day with no shade to be found and, still, we trekked a short hike with several bottles of waters on hand. My kids thought they were true explorers on some kind of moon-like territory. I just remember how desperately I needed to pee until I finally found a corner that offered momentary privacy and, thankfully, no rattlesnakes.
Later that afternoon, we set up our tent in the wide-open, desert-like sprawl of the Badlands – and went to sleep beneath the most gorgeous – and hugest – moon I’ve ever seen. It was magnificent.
And yet, we almost didn’t go that day. The weather forecast made any kind of hike – and camping out there – seem a bit crazy. My husband was concerned that we’d be hot and miserable and stuck without a Plan B, at least for sleeping.
But we went anyways, because I had my heart set on it. And it ended up being one of my fondest memories of this trip.
Looking back, it’s symbolic of what this entire adventure was like for me.
There were plenty of reasons why perhaps I shouldn’t have gone on this roadie. Like having a two year old, being pregnant and being largely on my own. And yet, while there were times when I was short-tempered (ok, down-right irritable and impatient) and very much in need of other adult company, it was, overall, an awesome experience.
I was fully in it.
There was little else that occupied my mind or time, other than plotting out our next stop, or day, or decision-to-be-made. I spent little time on my electronics or making phone calls, and lots of time belting out Dixie Chicks songs while driving the open plains, and answering the onslaught of kid-questions that inevitably came my way. (Yes, the former sometimes restored my sanity from the latter.)
There was a certain spaciousness that I found along the way, where time and schedules no longer mattered much – and yet, arriving at the next destination brought with it a sense of accomplishment; each destination being it’s own milestone of sorts.
On one day, we stretched a three and a half hour route into a nearly eight hour drive, following the signs for the world’s best pie and biggest wind chime (and maybe because I also blindly followed my GPS through some of the slowest, windiest side roads in the middle of Illinois…in a rain storm.)
This was our adventure.
And while there were those maddening moments of fishing a yo-yo out of a poop-filled toilet (the memory alone makes me shiver) or breaking up a fight between my oldest two in the middle of the Garden of the Gods (humiliating), every day promised us a new experience, a new view, a new breakfast buffet (which I add for the sake of my waffle-station-loving kids.)
And that excitement infiltrated our days, some more than others.
On one of the last nights, my boys and I cuddled up in the avocado-green, single bed that my mom slept in as a little girl (now at my aunt’s house in Erie.) We took out my phone and began to scroll through all of the pictures of our trip. With each photo, we recounted the memory – and retold some stories. There was the super-late night bike riding with newly met and adored cousins in St. Louis; the trip through the mountains to the Carousel of Happiness in Colorado with their beloved Nani; the hiking and camping in the beautiful Black Hills with their survivor-man Daddy; the posing with the (now desired) BB gun at the Christmas Story House in Cleveland; the “best” hotel pool with the super awesome water slide, which even I could not resist. And on and on…
(Then, of course, there was discovering McDonald’s – with its Happy Meal toys and drive-thru ice-cream cones – which I had previously hidden from them for the past seven plus years…)
It felt as if we’d lived half a year in the previous four weeks alone.
It was the anticipation and the first time experiences and the not-knowing-what-we-might-come-across-today that kept us wanting to be there, wherever it was that we were.
On the last day, as we neared our home, I asked my kids who wanted to go home – and who wanted to turn around and do it all over again. It was unanimous: they wanted more road-tripping (or perhaps McDonald’s.)
It wasn’t until I settled back in at home that I nearly collapsed from the exhaustion – the mental and emotional holding-it-all-together – and it all, suddenly, seemed like a whirlwind. I still had a month before school began – and a few other getaways planned – and yet, all the planning and dreaming up and being on the road for our big summer adventure was now over.
I was too tired to wish to go back, but also clinging to the memories we made along the way.
And yet, it wasn’t really, completely over. I realized, after being home for a week, how the experience had expanded my boundaries. Each day, I found myself planning some off-the-beaten-path day trip; my kids nor I no longer minding an hour plus drive each way. And my tolerance for my kids being on their own – and out of sight – had grown significantly. I wanted them to go explore, even if it made me momentarily uncomfortable. It was that wide-open-plains experience – or perhaps mindset – that I’ve wanted to live on, even in our small city life.
And my capacity to handle it all seemed somehow deeper, too. It’s not that it made me infinitely more patient (actually, my fuse was pretty worn down), but as the long days stretched before me, I felt more equipped to take them on. My muscles of getting-us-through and managing-it-all seemed stronger. After all, I’d done it all summer without the conveniences of a home base or friends with whom to play. Not perfectly or flawlessly, by any stretch – but I’d done it, none-the-less.
And now, I want more adventures together. Having witnessed my kids’ ability to rise to the occasion (mostly) – and having survived even the times when they (or I) didn’t – so much more seems possible. I’m already dreaming up fly-fishing and horseback riding in Montana next summer, or the beauty of northern Maine, or maybe an island somewhere where I can be barefoot, all day, all night. Yes, even with a seven-month-old in tow.
Maybe that will come to fruition, maybe not.
But I know this much: we must breath oxygen into these ideas and dreams of ours – no matter how inconvenient or off-beat or unreasonable they might seem. Because, looking back, it’s the captured memory of the kids-in-cowboy-hats-seeing-a-new-corner-of-the-world that I’ll savor, and hold onto, and cherish. Always.
(And next time, I’ll be sure to get my own pair of kick-ass cowgirl boots, as well. Mama needs love, too.)