There are two conversations that I find myself in the midst of lately. The first one often begins with, “Yes, I’m pregnant. It’s my fourth.” And the other, “I’m taking my kids cross-country this summer, mostly by myself.”
This is where the music (if there were any to begin with) screeches to a halt.
Sometimes I get an incredulous look and one word response, like “wow.” (Silence.) Or I get the look – the you-must-be-crazy and you-know-no-one-is-making-you-do-this one.
I mean, what sane woman would pack up her three kids (7, 5 & 2) – with a six-month-pregnant belly to boot – and brave a four-week adventure through some twenty-or-so states?
And here’s why.
1. It’s all about the adventure. Sure, there will be many moments when I’ll question why on earth I took this on. But then, there will be all of those moments in between – moments of swimming in hot springs, and snuggling in hotel rooms, and listening to stories in the car, and staring up at the big, wide, star-filled Colorado sky. And all of the other unanticipated moments that I can’t foresee. It won’t be perfect, or easy, or without it’s hiccups and headaches. But that’s what adventure is all about — embracing whatever shows up. And making the most of it.
2. We’re a team. We dreamed this up together in the midst of the-longest-winter-ever here in Boston. We devised strategies for making the driving days as engaging as possible. We came up with a list of things-we’d-like -to-do-and-see along the way. This spring, my daughter’s been selling her artwork to raise “fun money” for the trip, and the kids are now planning a Lemonade and Toy Sale (and feeling quite entrepreneurial about it.) And while my husband can’t take the full month off, he’ll be joining us at different points along the journey – for the more adventurous camping and hiking endeavors – and, mostly, to give me some support wherever he can. Bottom line: we’re in this together. Come Kansas or South Dakota.
3. It’s the ultimate practice of Saying Yes. It’s about following my kids’ (and my own) whims more; Being more spontaneous; Deviating from the best-laid plans when curiosity calls – in life, as well as this trip. It’s about leaning into the moment-at-hand – in all of its chaos and imperfection and joy. The way that I see it is this: my kids will never be these ages again. My daughter may no longer believe in the magic of fairies come next year (and be excited to make fairy dresses from the leaves of Colorado trees.) And my son might not think seeing a real cowboy along the way will be the coolest-thing-ever. This is the opportunity right now. And I’m saying YES.
4. Being pregnant will help me slow down. Being pregnant complicates things, but only a little. It will force me not to power through, but rather slow down the pace – and allow us the time and breaks – to stretch our legs. Often. And while I might otherwise be tempted to pack a lot of just-in-case crap – and lug it back and forth to our hotel rooms – I’ve had to come up with a much lighter and kids-help-carry strategy. As someone who tends to power through and take it all on myself, this is good practice for me.
5. Good planning goes a long way. I’ve got a stockpile of stickers, books, treats and activities for the kids, as part of their daily-driving-grab-bags. I’ve ordered maps where I’ll plot out our path and indicate where Daddy joins us, when we’re visiting family or friends, where we’re camping, etc. We’ve got lists of books on tape, and stories from podcasts, and movies for the long stretches. And I’ve come up with different strategies for easing the logistical challenges of traveling with kids. While I have miles to go (like 4600) before I feel well enough prepared, this early planning has given me confidence in my ability to pull this thing off.
6. The possibilities energize me. I’ve learned that when I have this much energy (and inspiration) around an idea, I need to pay attention. No matter how far-fetched the idea might seem to others. Even as I consider the most trying parts, like how I might handle the I-just-want-be-home-NOW moments (when we’ve got days to go), I still want to do this. As with any significant undertaking, fear and doubt will sometimes creep in. But if on most days I’m excited about it – and the thought of not doing it deflates me – I know I’m on the right track. Even when I find myself in a moment of “what if?…”
7. I will discover more of my capacity. When my daughter was 18 months old, the two of us went to Malaysia (and Singapore and Dubai). We stayed with friends, but we also did a good amount of exploring on our own. There were challenging moments, when I had only myself to rely on for getting-us-through-it. And I did. When I came home, I had this unshakable feeling of being able to do anything I set mind to. I had discovered more about my capability – and capacity – than I had anticipated. There’s a certain confidence that comes from tackling this kind of adventure on my own. Even if it doesn’t go (nearly) perfectly.
8. Sometimes, you need to break the rules. Ice-cream in every city? You bet. Staying up late around the campfire or to see the vastness of the mid-western sky? Yup. Movies in the car during long stretches? Heck, yes! Sleeping in all kinds of arrangements? Whatever works. We’ll make the rules up as we go – and, for sure, we’ll break plenty when opportunity beckons. It’s about letting go of what we should be doing, which for me means giving myself a break from the expectations that I normally hold for myself. Whew. (Says my inner rebel.)
9. Two words: the She-Wee. I found a solution to my what-do-I-do-if-the-kids-are-sleeping-and-I-need-pee-again? dilemma. Who knew that a female pee-on-the-go device even existed? All pride aside, I’m all over this for those urgent pregnancy moments when I’ve just GOT to go. On my list of Ten Best Finds for this trip, this is right up there among the top. (Hey, no one ever said motherhood is glamorous.)
10. It’s a spiritual challenge. You might have gathered by now that I love a good challenge. There’s the logistical, keeping-us-all-alive-and-intact challenge. But, beyond that, I’ll be without my usual healthy coping mechanisms and, for the most part, the help of my husband. The real challenge will be staying present, grounded and in good spirits, at least most of the time. I might need a nightly video confessional, or to pick up journaling again, or just a whole lot of self-compassion. And that’s the point: whatever happens, if I can muster enough compassion for myself and my children and whatever-the-situation-might-be, I will have gained a lot more than mileage and memories.
11. I reserve the right to change my mind at any given moment. It reminds me of my third birth, when I turned to my midwife and told her that I was ready for an epidural. NOW. It wasn’t my plan, but I had no doubt in that moment that it was the best choice for me, given where I was in my labor. My second birth was straightforward and full of grace; my third was very difficult. And stalled. But I knew what I needed to do – and did it. The same applies here: if we’re a sad or otherwise distressed bunch, we’ll head home. There’s no shame in wrapping this up sooner than expected, as that’s all part of the adventure: knowing when to carry on – and when to come home.
And now, off to pack!