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.
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.
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…