Road Trippin’

Over the twenty-four years that I raised my amazing daughters, I had such great fun, but little of my fun and none of my favorite memories happened inside of the car on road trips. My husband’s jerky driving, the din of headphone leakage emanating from the backseat, Mack’s inability to sit still when not sleeping, whining dogs, Mack’s rancid basketball shoes, and my travel anxiety and fear of semi-tractor trailers made road trips something of a personal hell for me. Destinations were usually just great, but the journey? Not so much.

My nerves drove Kevin and Savannah nuts, but my worries simply amused Mack. She always tried to ease my tension in the car, if only for a short while. Occasionally, she offered a loud and lengthy belch that invited groans and comments and distracted everyone for a time. Sometimes she sang a song, frequently mimicking Shakira by singing out of the side of her mouth through clenched teeth. And other times she would just say something like, “quit trippin’ and enjoy the scenery, Momma Bear. Everything’s just dandy up in here.”

While Mack was amused about my anxiety, my epic preparations for every road trip, no matter the length or the distance, bemused her. In an effort to calm my journey jitters, I have always over-prepared for short trips and vacations. Weeks before embarking on any kind of getaway, I begin preparing what my girls always called the “mommy folder.” I make notes and I collect maps and travel information about hotels, restaurants, and activities. I create checklists. I pack early. I check and recheck my lists. I put post-it notes on toothbrushes and phone chargers so I will not leave anything important behind. I use a final checklist when packing the car, some items going in the night before departure. This behavior, I understand perfectly well, is an effort to take control and ease my fears. I also understand that it fails every time to meet those expectations. Oh, it is true that I do not forget items at home. But I am still anxious. I am still a difficult traveler. And this is the part that really confused my happy-go-lucky, anything-goes, calm, cool, and centered daughter.rental car in Ireland

Through every stage of my preparations for travel, Mack would laugh at me, shake her head, and roll her eyes. She had no earthly idea why I would expend so much energy on the “mommy folder” when all I really needed to do was to throw some clothes in a bag, trust everyone else to pack their own stuff, and call it good. Of course that is what Mack would advise, because that is exactly how Mack traveled. She rolled out of bed a few minutes before departure, threw into a backpack a few items of clothing (sometimes from the dirty pile in her room), and happily flung herself into the car. Certainly, Mack’s style frequently resulted in packing dirty clothes or forgetting something she needed—like athletic socks, her toothbrush, or a swimsuit (the photo below is a case in point). I was the one who fretted, over-prepared, and had every item I needed; and still the journey offered me no joy and no peace. In contrast, Mack never worried, never prepared, often left necessary items behind; yet for her, the journey was always a delight. Except for her “Macko the Terrible” toddler phase, Mack was always a happy and funny little traveler.

not a swimsuit my love

This past week, as I have prepared for my first ever extensive road trip alone—a research visit to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—I have thought a great deal about Mack’s traveling philosophy. As I have fussed and fretted about how to make this long drive and this busy research trip go as smoothly as humanly possible, Mack’s faces of incredulity have appeared in my mind’s eye. As I have made my lists and checked them twice, I have heard her voice chiding me for being so particular. As I mapped out my twelve-hour drive in both directions and made notes—two weeks in advance!—Mack was sitting on my shoulder, shaking her head at me in total disbelieve. I could hear her saying, “dang, woman, I woulda just tapped that address into my phone when I pulled out of the garage!”

If Mack were here today, she would tell me to have fun on my little adventure. She would giggle at my jitters, tell me to breathe, and ask me what I had in the “mommy folder.” More than anything right now, I want to channel Mack’s calm acceptance of a journey that might not go as planned. More than ever, I need a healthy dose of Mack’s inner peace. Mack had the right idea about a lot of things; and her serene approach to a long trip in the car was a hell of a lot healthier than mine. So, on this trip, I am going to try to be more Mack-like, to worry less, to laugh out loud like a crazy person, and to relax. Maybe I will even belch and sing like Shakira. I think Mack would love the thought of that! Most importantly, however, I am going to breathe. And, for once in my life, I am going to enjoy the journey. No “trippin” on this road trip, Mack. I promise.


It is this same old Honda Element (shown here on a road trip to Colorado) that will deliver me to North Carolina.

Here are some road trip photos I love…

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Tiny rental car in Spain.

A Purple Bulldog

Last week, a large envelope arrived in the mail with a Truman State University logo in bold purple letters. This was the kind of envelope that announced quite clearly that it conveyed a very important and official parcel. Upon holding that envelope in my hands and feeling the somewhat squishy character of the item within it, my heart skipped a beat…or maybe two…as I realized that the envelope and its contents possessed the feel of a padded diploma portfolio. I am not sure why I knew it, but even before I pulled out the lush purple folder with Truman State University embossed in gold letters across the front, I knew that Mack’s college—the school she had picked on her own, the school she had embraced with every atom of her budding intellectual being, the school she loved—was recognizing her collegiate accomplishments along with its spring 2015 graduates.

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The tears freely flowed down my cheeks and I forgot to breathe as I fixed my blurred gaze upon that beautiful diploma. I cried because this represented Mack’s hard academic work and her success at Truman. I cried because she will not graduate with her best college friends and classmates one year from now. I cried because this will be her only college diploma. But I also cried because I realized that Mack had made a very wise college decision. That she had chosen a special school that embraced her as much as she had embraced it. And that my baby girl had spent her magical two years of college at a very special campus where individual students matter. The letter accompanying the diploma validated my realizations, and the tears just kept coming as a read it…

True Bulldog 1

I am grateful and happy that Mack chose Truman State. Mack was incredibly happy there. And at every turn, she met teachers, administrators, editors, a coach, and friend upon friend upon friend who were all happy that Mack was there, too. But I can tell you that back in March of 2012, when Mack was procrastinating her college choice right down to the wire (of course), I had no idea Truman was such a special place. I had not even heard of this small liberal arts school in rural, northern Missouri until after we began searching for a suitable substitute for Oberlin College, which was way out of our price range. In our last-minute research, we became impressed with Truman’s rankings for academics and value. After we visited Truman for the first time, we came away with a pretty good feeling about the lovely little campus with its solid red-brick buildings, lush green spaces, and architecturally impressive library. The academics, especially in English, the varied writing opportunities available to all levels of students, and an invitation to play NCAA Division II golf added to the allure. But I was still worried it would be a poor substitute for Oberlin; and late in the game, I favored Mack’s other choice, Saint Louis University.

Once Mack narrowed her choices to Truman and SLU, she refused to discuss it further. She wanted to be left alone to quietly make a decision on her own. I tried not to press her, as I wanted the final decision to be hers; but, of course, I fretted more as each day passed. Mack’s nonchalance about it added to my stress, but she expressed no worry whatsoever. Finally, just a couple of days before a deposit for housing was due, Mack chose Truman State. She was calm and deliberate in delivering her decision and explaining it. She told me that she believed it made the most sense. It was affordable and would require very little in the way of student loans. It offered the liberal arts curriculum she wanted, as well as a strong creative writing department and a B.F.A. if she decided to pursue that path. And playing golf for free was “the bacon on the burger,” she quipped. Mack’s decision made sense, I had to admit. But I immediately worried that she had simply made a practical decision, choosing Truman not because it spoke to her heart but because it was more affordable. When I expressed my doubt about her choice, Mack said: “Mom, the school color is purple. I’m going to be a Bulldog. What could be better than being a purple bulldog?!!” I responded that a college wardrobe of her favorite color and the lovability of the mascot was no way to choose a college. “Nah! Hush, hush, Momma Bear,” she chided me. “It’s all good. I’ve found the right place. I feel it.”True Bulldog 5

Of course, like so many other things in her life about which I had fears or doubts, Mack was right all along. Her hunch…her feeling…about Truman State was, indeed, all good. Within just a few days of arriving on that campus, it was Mack’s place. She found a comfortable home there, and it was from that amazing little college in northern Missouri that I watched the scholar in Mack emerge. Truman was the place where she bloomed and beamed and blossomed. It is a good feeling now to understand so very completely that the most important choice that Mack made as a young adult was absolutely perfect. Truman’s kind and human gesture in awarding a diploma for the academic work Mack completed adds one final proof attesting to the special place it really is. Truman is a smart and quirky little school with a whole lot of heart, just like my Macko. Thank you, Truman State University, for giving my baby exactly what she wanted: a happy and healthy and hopeful place to flourish.

Purple bulldogs forever.

Mack sporting some of that TSU purple…

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Mack is the first golfer on the left, next to her coach, Sam Lesseig. He was a sweet man, greeting Mack at freshman orientation with her Truman State golf bag. He and his wife fed the girls at their home and showered them with kindness and small gifts. Mack reported to me after a Christmas feast of lasagna, that he had given her a coloring book and crayons so that she could chill out a little while studying for finals. She was so tickled about that. Sadly, Sam died suddenly in the summer of 2013.

The Prom Plot

Mack did not attend her junior prom, and in the opening months of 2012, she was showing absolutely no signs of interest in attending her senior prom, either. I tried to talk her into going. Her friends tried to talk her into going. But she was not hearing it. She kept saying things like, “school dances are lame,” “I’m just going to go to after-prom in my skinny jeans and a t-shirt,” and “I look weird and feel awkward in a floofy gown.” Of course, she had never worn a gown in her life, so there was no way she could have known how she might actually look in one. I was certain she would look just gorgeous in a prom dress, given her long and lean physique, but Mack was not hearing that, either. She had never enjoyed getting dolled up, she disliked dresses and makeup, and it really was not that surprising that she was being so stubborn. By February, I was resigned to her decision and gave up trying to change her mind.

But Mack’s boyfriend Abhinav did not give up, although he knew Mack well enough to understand the challenge he faced. Abhi was a very bright kid, and he realized that much ingenuity on his part would be necessary for success. It just so happened, though, that Mack was a writer for the high school newspaper, and one of Abhi’s best friends, Emma, was the Senator’s editor. So Abhi hatched a sneaky plan, sought out some tight-lipped co-conspirators, and crossed his fingers for a little luck. Emma was very fond of Mack, so she was immediately on board with Abhi’s plan to use the Senator to invite Mack to prom; and the newspaper’s good-humored advisor Ms. Negele was happy to be involved in the conspiracy as well.

The devious schemers believed that a printed, very public invitation would certainly give Abhi the “yes” answer he was seeking, but that success demanded total secrecy. It would be imperative that Mack remain in the dark, and since she was a senior member of the small newspaper staff, keeping the plan hush-hush until the March issue of the paper was printed, delivered, and distributed throughout the school would certainly be a trick. The newspaper staff always worked as a group to layout pages, copyedit, and finalize each issue before sending it out for printing. Therefore, Emma and Ms. Negele had to work carefully to make certain Mack did not see any early versions of the page on which Abhi’s invitation would appear. But, in the end, the newspaper issue was finalized and sent off to the printer, complete with the bold prom invitation, and Mack was none the wiser. On the morning that the paper would greet more than 1,300 Springfield High School students, Mack would see the invitation to prom from Abhinav, and she would have no choice but to say “YES,” right?

But for Abhi, some doubt crept in, and he started to worry. In fact, he started to agonize over what he and his co-conspirators had done. He began to question his judgment. He now wondered if the plot had not only guaranteed him a “NO” answer from Mack, but might also have set her up for school-wide embarrassment that might even jeopardize his relationship with her. His cold feet got the best of him, so he arranged a breakfast date with Mack before school on the day of the newspaper’s distribution. Now Mack always showered the night before school and rolled out of bed just in time to throw on sweats and a t-shirt and then speed the one mile up Washington Street to the high school in her old Jeep.  Frequently, she even failed to make the first bell. Therefore, convincing her to get up in time for breakfast must have been a challenge. Apparently, though, Abhinav was persuasive. But when he picked her up that morning an hour before school, I was shocked. I do not remember how he had lured Mack out of bed that early, but I think it may have been the promise of free Mel-o-Cream donuts!

At breakfast, Abhi presented Mack with a copy of the newspaper, and this is what greeted her on the FRONT page…

prom newspaper

I would have done just about anything to have seen the look on Mack’s face when she stared down Abhi’s printed invitation. I have no idea what she immediately did or said. What I do know is that she agreed to be Abhi’s date for the prom, and the two of them went on to the high school to face the student body together. Abhi’s decision to let Mack in on his secret before arriving at the school was, likely, wise. Throngs of students had already seen the paper by the time they arrived, and Abhi’s prom invitation was the topic in the halls and in the classrooms all day. Mack handled the attention with style and a great deal of humor, as she did most everything else in her life, and she laughed and joked with the multitude of friends, teachers, coaches, classmates, and teammates who greeted her throughout the day.

The plot had worked, and I never heard Mack express anger or even displeasure at Abhi or Emma or Ms. Negele. Yet I do think she was a tad embarrassed that day, being the topic of conversation and facing all of that attention. But I believe it was one of those rare moments in her life that Mack quietly admitted to herself that she was deserving of a little extra attention, that she was special, and that special people in her life were willing to go to extraordinary trouble just for her.

And so, together, Mackenzie and Abhinav attended their senior prom, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to see Mack in a gown. She let me spend a little time on her hair, but she wore no makeup and had chosen a very sensible pair of flat sandals. And just as I had predicted, she looked gorgeous…a divine image of natural beauty. But, hey, I will let you all be the judge of that…

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Here is a fun little video of Mack posing for pictures before prom. The quality is very poor, but it is good enough to see Mack doing her thing. She is dancing a silly little Irish jig…her goofy way of rejecting any pretense or pomp that might creep in when one is wearing a floofy gown!

Note from Emma (Co-Conspirator Extraordinaire): “We usually laid out all the pages of the newspaper before sending them to the printer so everyone could see what it looked like. The front page “still wasn’t finished” when we laid out this issue. I’m surprised she didn’t know about it before. She was a really good sport about it, as she was with everything that came her way!”

Note from Abhinav: Thank you for putting up that video and blog post, definitely one of my favorite memories in my life and will never forget her face when she found out. Still have multiple copies of that [newspaper] in my room.

Forever and For Always

Dear Mack,

Today’s is Mother’s Day, and I just wanted you to know that I am still your momma bear…forever and for always. I think you always knew how much I loved you, but I hope you also always knew how proud I was of you…how proud I am of you. I am proud to my bones to be your mom, and that is forever and for always, too.

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Momma bear loves you, Mackadoodle. Forever and for always.

Ain’t I Sweet?

Mack had this face and pose she would frequently strike for photographs that always made me crazy…at first. She would cock her head slightly, open her mouth to reveal the top row of her beautiful teeth, and place her hand dramatically upon her chin. It was an irreverent face. It was a quintessential form of Mack satire. I knew this, of course, but every time she did it, I was exasperated. I would ask her if she was even capable of being serious for just one damn second. She rarely bothered to answer my question, and I don’t blame her. We both knew that the answer was NO! So we would proceed with this familiar routine: Mack would hold the pose, I would act annoyed, and then she would change my mood from annoyance to delight. She would say softly and sweetly, and sometimes with a little cluck of her tongue:  “Ain’t I sweet?” And then I would smile or laugh and snap the picture that she wanted.

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Mack just had a way about her. She could turn my frown upside down in .02 seconds flat. She had the power to make people smile, wash away their anger or frustration, and interject levity at the very moment someone began taking themselves way too seriously. It was a charming gift. Mack understood that she possessed this special magic; and she used it freely, casting it about with a magic wand. With her faces and her silly retorts, she was being goofy and using her unique brand of humor to chase negative moods out the window. Yet I think the humor was just the instrument of her real magic: the ability to make people in her presence happy. Mack was all kinds of funny, and making people laugh was a pleasure for her. But deep down in her heart and in her soul, Mack was more than funny. She was kind and good and all kinds of sweet, too.